Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Army's Court-Martial Rules: No Camera No Foul

The US Army has made a clear statement:

"Bad Conduct by its soldiers will NOT be tolerated"--but only if its photographed. Otherwise have at it"

This is the only way to explain Its decision not to charge 17 soldiers involved in detainee deaths

Army officials have decided not to prosecute 17 soldiers involved in the deaths
of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military report says. Military
investigators recommended courts-martial for the soldiers in the cases of
three prisoner deaths for charges ranging from making false statements to
murder. Officers rejected those recommendations,

So lets review The Army's actions on a series of cases out of Iraq:

(1) Abusing prisoners and taking photographs- Court Martial

(2) Consensual Mud wrestling with other soldiers in your skivvies, while video camera is rolling? -Court-Martial

(3)Beating and torturing POWS in US Custody to death out of camera range? - no Charges

When the first news of these detention deaths broke, we were promised that "The army will thoroughly investigate these cases" and to their credit that's exactly what the investigators did.
Unfortunately, however, what they left off is that the investigation is complete waste of time, as the investigators will be overridden and the crimes they uncover will be swept under the rug:

In one case commanders decided not to file recommended criminal charges against
11 soldiers involved in the death of a former Iraqi Army lieutenant colonel. An
autopsy indicated the man died from blunt force injuries and asphyxia.{ Ed-thats
Police talk for "beaten to death"}
Investigators determined
there was enough evidence for negligent homicide charges against two soldiers
and for charges, ranging from making false statements to assault, against nine

Time to make some arrest and bring'em downtown? Nope. The soldiers' Commanding Officer ignored the investigators and nixed the prosecution:

The accused soldiers' commander however, decided that the soldiers were
justified in using force against the Iraqi because he was being aggressive and
misbehaving. The case is closed.

So never mind that the soldiers beat a man to death, and never mind that the lied to cover it up. No charges will be brought. Apparently the CO decided that the prisoner was bein' uppity and
deserved to be smacked around. Too bad about the whole beating him to death thing we 're awful sorry about that

Note also made this decision. Not a JAG officer, not a senior CIS officer but the soldiers own C.O.! Can you say "conflict of interest?" If the soldiers were court-martialed for their actions it would raise serious questions about their training and discipline, for which, surprise, their CO is ultimately responsible. Remember that Gen. Janis Karpinski was disciplined even though she didn't know about the abuse because she created the "command environment" where it was able to happen. Conveniently for this CO there will be no such questions, because, at this direction, nobody is charged with anything.

The reason given for another decision not to charge is even more amazing:

In another case, Army Special Forces commanders decided not to bring charges
against a soldier accused of shooting and killing a detainee in Afghanistan in
2002. The Special Forces commanders decided there wasn't enough evidence to
bring that soldier to trial, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Well sure, as any prosecutor will tell you, when all you have is a body, an Autopsy, the murder weapon, the prime suspect and dozens of eyewitness who can be forced to testify, you'd be a fool to try to bring that case

But this last one absolutely takes the cake :

The third case involved a soldier who killed an Iraqi detainee in September
2003. That soldier's commander decided the soldier was not well informed about
the rules for using force against prisoners.

One of the First maxims I learned in law school was "Ignorantia Juris Nemi Nem Excusat", or in the vulgar "ignorance of the law is no excuse. Apparently army CO's get a different handbook one in which it says a soldier can be excused of murder using The George Costanza defense:

"Oh I'm sorry should I not have done that?"

Precisely how "well informed" about the rules of engagement do you need to be before you realize its wrong to kill a human being under your care?

The message the army is sending on treatment of prisoners with these actions as compared the court-martials of Grainer and England is clear."no Camera, no foul". The only military actions that get prosecuted seem to be those captured by news crews or souvenir "look ma I'm a torturer!" photos. Abuse that causes Dapper Don Rumsfeld to have to answer uncomfortable questions on capital hill is wrong and will prosecuted swiftly and severely. Abuse that does not make it to the nightly news is fine, dandy, and even encouraged.

So, while the investigations into the treatment of POWS by our Army continues,:

We take each and every death very seriously and are committed and sworn to
investigating each case with the utmost professionalism and thoroughness," said
Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Criminal Investigation Command.
I can save you the trouble of reading the reports and skip straight to the outcome: ;The murders get away with it.

Smoking Gun: Bush Lied about Osama and Tora Bora during campaign

The AP got its hands on a very interesting document recently.:

The AP's Robert Burns reports:

A commander for Osama bin Laden during Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union
who helped the al-Qaida leader escape American forces at Tora Bora is being held
by U.S. authorities, a government document says.
The document represents the
first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden, the mastermind of
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at Tora Bora and evaded his

Now this gets interesting because as you may recall:

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asserted during the presidential
election that commanders did not know whether bin Laden was at Tora Bora in
December 2001. They dismissed assertions by Sen. Kerry, that the military had
missed a chance to capture or kill bin Laden while al-Qaida made a last stand in
the mountainous area along the Pakistan border.

Well it appears they DID know, since have been holding someone at Gitmo for helping him escape:

The document, provided to The Associated Press in response to a {FOIA} request,
says the detainee.. "assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora."
"The detainee was one of Osama bin Laden's commanders during the Soviet jihad,"
it says, referring to the holy war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s."

Of course that was back when OBL and his buddies were the good guys.

Bang. Can you smell the cordite?
That ladies and gentleman is what we call a smoking gun. 6 months too late to mean anything, and more than likely about to be widely ignored by Big Media, but a smoking gun nonetheless. Proof positive that Kerry was right and we DID botch arguably the most important battle in the War on Terrorism.

The way this document came to light is a perfect illustration of why we have to keep fighting the good fight on ghost detainees, Gitmo prisoners, and people like Jose Padilla:

The document is what the Pentagon calls a "summary of evidence" and was
presented against one of 558 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay on Dec. 14 for a
hearing to determine whether the prisoner was correctly held as an "enemy
combatant." The assertion about his efforts and bin Laden's escape is made as a
statement of fact; it does not indicate how the information was obtained.

Now we know those hearings are a sham. They are designed by the Pentagon solely to flout the Supreme Court rulings requiring them to allow the detainees access to due process. But even these hearing lift the cloak of secrecy a little bit, create a paper trail, and go at least a little way towards holding the government accountable. Without the relentless efforts of the ACLU and its allies, we wouldn't even have had this much.

Now if only we'd had it earlier when these statements were being made:

Cheney said Oct. 26 that Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in
Afghanistan, had "stated repeatedly it was not at all certain that bin Laden was
in Tora Bora. He might have been there or in Pakistan or even Kashmir," the
Indian-controlled Himalayan region.
Franks, now retired, wrote in an opinion
column in The New York Times on Oct. 19, "We don't know to this day whether Mr.
bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001." He added that intelligence
assessments of his location varied, but bin Laden was "never within our grasp."
On several occasions Bush cited the column as evidence that bin Laden could
have been in any of several countries in December 2001. "That's what Tommy
Franks, who knew what he's talking about, said," Bush said on Oct. 27.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Breaking News: Terry Shiavo seized as an enemy combatant

Attorney General" Alberto Gonzales announced that early this morning FBI agents
had raided a Florida Hospice and taken Terri Schiavo into custody.
Mr Gonzales said the action was taken under after "specific and credible"
intelligence was received that led to the designation of Ms. Schiavo as an enemy
Gonzales strongly denied any suggestions that this action was in
any way related to the current effort by the Republicans to override 20 US
State and Federal Courts, who have all ruled against the re-insertion of Terri
Schiavo's feeding tube. He did note however that, its the adminstration's
position The
Courts have no rights to review challenges to the designation of or detention of
enemy combatants
When it was pointed out that the Supreme court
had rejected that argument, Gonzales also pointed out that He's already
stated his position
that the president is free to disobey the law so
he saw no problems.
He referred the Reporters to Scott McClellan for
additional comment
At the mid-day Gaggle Scott McClellan answered further questions from reporters:

MCCLELLAN: Thank you. I have a brief opening statement about the
president's actions today then I will take questions. As you know the
president today designated Terri Schiavo as an enemy combatant and ordered
federal agents to take her into custody. The president acted on specific
and credible intelligence that Ms Schiavo was actively involved in plots to
attack U.S. Targets and assets domestically and overseas. The president
has resolutely stated his commitment to keeping America secure, and his actions
today again demonstrate that commitment.

Q: Scott how could Terri Schiavo
possibly constitute a threat to the United States? She's been in a persistent
vegetative state for almost 15 years?

MCLELLAN: I would point out to you that several eminent doctors, the President's own brother and TV Psychic John Edwards have all disputed the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state for Terri Schiavo

Q: okay assuming for the sake of argument she's in a
"minimally conscious " state how can _

MCLELLAN: as I've told you repeatedly I will not answer hypothetical questions or engage in debate of possibilities.

Q: Okay Scott, given the FACT that Terri Schiavo has been confined to a
hospital bed for the last fifteen years under constant medical supervision,
how could Terri Schiavo participate in an Al-Qaida Plot?

MCLELLAN: You have to understand that we are no longer dealing with conventional threats. The enemy's tactics are constantly changing, and it's a race to
keep up with their methods. Sure, before 9/11 we could afford to treat
this as a law enforcement matter and wait for the results of brain scans or
swallowing reflex tests. But we are dealing with a new world and new
threats and the president cannot afford not to act when US interests are
threatened. He is a strong resolute leader who takes decisive action

Q: But Scott, you have to admit it seems strange that Muslim
extremists would recruit a comatose Catholic girl from Florida

not here to debate the tactics employed by the enemies of America. We
received specific and credible intelligence and we acted on it.

Q: can you describe this evidence?

MCLELLAN: I have here for distribution a copy
of our response to Michael Schiavo's petition for habeas corpus in federal
court, we have filed a reply brief stating the basis for our action
unfortunately, as you might expect The
evidence is secret, and thus all the pages of this pleading are blank

Q: Scott how can you expect us to believe that this is anything but end-run
around the courts in an effort to appease evangelical supporters of the

MCLELLAN: Well I have to say I'm personally offended at your
suggestion that the president would play politics with a matter of national
security. He is also extremely distressed at decision of Minority leader
Reid to play partisan poltics with a matter of such grave importance by
calling for an investigation into this matter. It just goes to show why
most of the country does not trust the Democrats to keep America safe from the
very real threats posed in this Post 9-11 world

Q: Scott we've just heard a
rumor that due to a paperwork mix up Terry Schiavo has been subject to
"extraordinary rendition" and was deported to Uzbekistan, care to comment?
MCLELLAN: Well look I think we've ..um.. said everything
there is to say on this matter. Next Subject. Yes, Mr. Gannon,
do you have a question?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

OH Really George?

From today's Washington Post

This is a complex case with serious issues, but in extraordinary circumstances
like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life.(Applause.)

-George W. Bush, Governor of Texas issuing one of his many death row

Okay, Not Really. No, that was our Dear Leader today, explaining his decision to sign the Schaivo bill to a crowd in Houston

Now since the president didn't burst into flames on the spot, we can only assume whatever celestial entity was in charge of the SMITE button fell asleep, and we'll be charitable and assume the attendant press was too busy getting out of lightening strike range to ask the proper follow-up questions. Which leaves us to do it for them:

The Irony of W's commitment to the "Culture of Life" even though he presided over 152 executions In Texas (an all time record since the founding of the Republic) Has already been noted.

I'm far more interested in his assertion that it is "Best to Err on the Side of Life". A noble sentiment and one I wholeheartedly agree with. But one that's a little difficult to see in his record . in the words of the late great Warner Wolf...."lets got to the Video tape" :

Bush approved the execution of Odell Barnes, whose court-appointed lawyers
failed to interview witnesses who might have helped their client, and conducted
no scientific investigation of blood and semen evidence the state said linked
Barnes to the crime
Hmmm. Well, maybe an aberration, Let's try again:

Bush signed off on the execution of Canadian Joseph Stanley Faulder, convicted
of murdering a wealthy oil heiress, despite the fact that theprosecutor had been
hired and paid for by the victim's family , and that the state had withheld
evidence that its principal witness waspaid more than $10,000 to testify against Faulder
. The state's chief psychiatric witness, whose testimony was essential to securing a death sentence, was later expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for presenting unprofessional testimony in Texas death penalty cases.

Nope. No "erring on the side of Life" there. Maybe he was just getting warmed up. He'll get it this time:


Bush also did not pardon Betty Lou Beets, a 62-year-old grandmother. Beets was
eligible for a death sentence under Texas law because she wasconvicted not only
of murder but of aggravated murder. {aggravation wasbased on} the state's claim
that she killed her husband in order to recover his insurance and pension
benefits. Without the aggravation,Beets could not legally be condemned to death.
Beets' attorney, E. Ray Andrews (who later served a three-year federal
prison sentence, never told the jury that Beets didn't even know about the
insurance policy on her husband at the time he was murdered. She learned of it
more than a year later thanks to Andrew himself.
Andrews had obtained the
literary and movie rightsto Beets' life story in lieu of payment for defending
her. Had he revealed her ignorance of the insurance policy, he would have had
towithdraw from the case and testify on her behalf. That would have also meant
losing lucrative rights to Beets' story

Nope. A clean whiff. Still, I'm sensing a pattern:

Bush refused to stop the execution of James Beathard, whose co-defendant, Gene
Hathorn Jr., recanted his testimony following Beathard's conviction and said he,
not Beathard, had been solely responsible for the murder of three members of
Hathorn's family. TheTexas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to grant Beathard a
new trial because state law requires that new evidence be presented within
30days after a judgment is entered. Hathorn's recantation came 11 months too

Aha! Now it makes sense. Apparently, Bush only errs on the side of life in complex cases. In the ones where the evidence of the person's innocence is overwhelming, then its perfectly fine to "err on the side of Death". yes it all becoming much clearer:

Bush also failed to intercede on behalf of Andrew Cantu, who ended up
representing himself after two lawyers assigned to his case withdrewand a third
never even interviewed the defendant, claiming he didn't know where to find him.
(He apparently didn't try death row.) Cantuwas executed without either state or
federal habeas corpus review ofhis claims.

See? that was A simple case, none of those lengthy Due Process appeals or nuthin'. Just like this next case. It was real simple, no confusing evidence at all to consider:

In 1997, Bush approved the execution of David Spence for the grisly stabbing
deaths of three teenagers, despite evidence that Spence mayhave been framed by
police and the lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime.

It all fits. And it also explains his remarkable efficency in presiding over the State's death factory. With the invaluable assistance of Our Attorney General Al "what torture?" Gonzales; W was able to make simple even the most complex cases removing anye need to "err on the side of life" For Example

In 1995, a one-eyed drifter named Henry Lee Lucas was headed for execution by
injection in a Texas prison for the murder of an unnamed womanThe task of
recommending whether then-Gov. George W. Bush should grant a reprieve or commute
Lucas's death sentence fell to Alberto R.Gonzales, In a memo Gonzales marshaled
a case for Lucas's guilt... Left out of Gonzales's summary was any mention of a
1986 investigation bythe Texas attorney general's office that concluded that
Lucas had not killed the woman

And Gonzo was invaluable in reducing to its bare essentials the famous "sleeping Lawyer" case:

Carl Johnson was executed in September 1995, during the first year that Governor
Bush was in office, Mr. Johnson was represented by alawyer named Joe Cannon, who
slept through the major portions of the trial and who was apparently notorious
in legal circles for thisbehavior. In his challenges appealing the trial and
conviction, Mr. Johnson argued consistently that he had had ineffective
assistance ofcounsel, primarily based on the sleeping lawyer who represented him at trial. Gonzales one-page summary of the case made no mention of these claims.

I could go on but that's enough. I'm getting a little sick.

The sanctimony surrounding this issue is overwhelming. The Republicans and W in particular love to parrot the phrase "Culture of Life" at every opportunity to Bad they've obviously never read Evangelium Vitae where that catchy phrase originates. Seems the Pope s worried about just a bit more than feeding tubes :

"whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation,
torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself;
{Cough Abu Gharib, Gitmo, Salt Pit, "extraordinary renditions"cough}

whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions,
arbitrary imprisonment, deportation,
{ Jose Padillia, the thousands of Arabs
rounded up after 9/11

as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and
responsible persons;

{ Bankruptcy Bill, Social Security privatization, }

all these things are infamies indeed. They poison human society and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator",.5

Are you Listening George?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Deficits Scarier than Terrorism to Business

USA Today is reporting that

The budget deficit has overtaken terrorism as the greatest short-term risk
to the U.S. economy, and concern about the current gap is rising, a survey of
U.S. businesses shows.
That's the Blockbuster result of a Survey done by the National Association for Business Economics. The survey also found that only 9% felt that social security was in crisis and support for private accounts was far less than other fixes. 89% said Medicare was a far bigger problem than Social Security and the most popular fix was making some of the highest income elderly help pay for their own care.

That sound you just heard was the Chickens coming home to roost. The Republican's drunken sailor way sare beginning to alienate a crucial part of their base, the part with money.
This is a huge opportunity for the Dems to exploit. Handled correctly, we can use this issue not only to wedge the current Republican congress, but to peel away support and money from the Right as we prepare for the `06 re-taking of Congress

What makes these findings so significant is that the NABE is also not some liberal lefty college academic think tank. Instead it is a trade association of working business economist and it tends to lean heavily to the right. In fact, according to the Web site The Nebbish of Darkness himself, Alan Greenspan, is a past president of the organization.

And even more importantly Terrorism is not an abstract fear for business. 9/11 had a seismic impact on the national economy. I worked for SBA in the aftermath and saw 9/11 listed as the cause of business failure on literally hundreds of bad loans. The GOA estimates for New York alone were over 200 billion in losses. I suspect the over all impact to the country may well have been an order of magnitude more.

Now however these business have something far scarier to contemplate. Bush&Co's reckless spending ways are causing economic havoc. As the High Priest of Capitalism himself, Warren Buffet says:

The evidence grows that our trade policies will put unremitting pressure on the
dollar for many years to come," Buffett writes. "The decline in its value has
already been substantial, but it is nevertheless likely to continue. Without
policy changes, currency markets could even become disorderly and generate
spillover effects, both political and financial." That's careful language, but
what Buffett is saying is that America is risking a financial crash -- a
bursting bubble -- if political leaders don't do something about the trade

Suddenly the unholy alliance underpinning Bush's administration has developed a serious schism. The Repuliban will keep supporting Bush as long as Terry Schiavo is breathing, but the business community is getting restless. Everything may appear fine and dandy inside the Bush Bubble; but business are forced to live in the real world. Cold hard numbers, and corporate bottom lines are extremely "reality based" (with the exception of Enron, Global Crossing, HealthSouth, Worldcom, and AOL) and they are not good and getting worse.

This Ladies and Gentleman is both our challenge (to save the American Economy) and our opportunity (to break the iron grip of the republicans on business)

Its not going to be enough to simply sit back and carp. The Republican disinformation campaign has successfully painted democrats as fiscally irresponsible for years, and in the minds of most business owners that label has stuck. So however disenchanted they are with W, they are not going to turn blue unless we give them a good reason to. It time to start flogging this issue for all its worth. We need to remind folks how much better things were when we were in charge (remember the surpluses?) .

I think we should also lead the charge to revive Gramm-Rudman (after all wasn't it a Bipartisan bill? Are the Republicans now backing away from fiscal discipline in our time of need? And for that matter why not start calling for a balanced budget amendment once in a while ?(why should Republicans have a monopoly on proposing impassable symbolic amendments?) After all wasn't that in the very Contract on America, most of these frauds swept to power with?
Bottom line is for America and for our party we need to make this moment where we stand up and make a huge ruckus about the Budget.

Schiavo Lays Bare all the Republican Hypocrisies

I took up political blogging about 6 months ago as a therapeutic exercise to control the anger and Loss I felt at the end of the last election. And while I tend to write 1000+ word missive everyday about all the sins of our current administration, I haven't been able to write about this case. Mostly because of the utter inchoate rage I feel every time I hear more about what narrow-minded hypocritical zealots are putting her husband and poor dead Terry through.

Terry is dead. Not mostly dead, not almost dead VERY dead. She has not awakened in ten years and she's not going to. I almost think the husband is going to have to call John Cleese as at witness to properly describe how deceased she is. I wish I could be funny about this but in reality its a abomination what it being done to this woman. Worse yet, it lays bare all the hypocrisies of these appalling Republicans who dare to claim they are motivated by "moral values"

Imagine for one second the parents are right. That Terry is somehow conscious and aware, just unable to move so much as a single muscle consciously. I don't know about anyone else but that to me is perhaps the worst, most horrible thing I could imagine. My personal version of hell is very close to that. Let me go on record as saying, that If ever anyone even suspected I was in that state, I would consider it an act of kindness to put a .45 to my temple and pull the trigger repeatedly. If your are true friend, use hollow points and be sure to destroy the brain stem as well.

Terry's parents remind me of a couple my sister the NICU nurse encountered a few years ago. This couple had an Anacephalic baby ( which in English means that the baby was born without a brain...she had a brainstem but no cerebrum or cerebellum, her skull was flat, without any bulge at all, making her condition perfectly obvious to anyone that looked. Nonetheless the parents insisted she be put on machines to help her breathe, and so was kept alive. Every day they tell the nursing staff that they think today is the day she might wake up, and that they think they've noticed she's getting better. They hold birthday parties and bring Christmas presents, "knowing" she appreciates them. That body, without a brain, has stayed in the hospital now going on 20 years. It will never wake up because it can't and never could. But the parents insist and the law is such that she can;t be unhooked without their consent. So the horror story continues.

Are the Republicans being hypocritical? you damn betcha. let me count the ways:

1) the Republicans while claiming to operate from moral concern for this poor woman have nonetheless created a strategy memo talking about how to use the issue to try to wedge Sen Bill Nelson (D-Fla) from his seat, which rhetoric aside, strikes me as the Real Reason they are doing this

2) Destroying the "sanctity of Marriage": not precisely sure what this phrase has ever meant, but the Republicans sure on big on defending it. Except apparently when they aren't like when they want to subject a spousal decision on care to a veto by the family of the person. This is particularly chilling when you consider that while you voluntarily pick your spouse, presumably because they share your values and beliefs. You have no say in who your family is, and can often have a vastly different world view

3) So much for states rights: The Republicans wave the banner of "states rights" (which looks suspiciously like the old Stars and Bars) to try to destroy every progressive federal policy on the environment, worker safety, diability law etc. Now suddenly they want to overrule a state supreme court on a matter of State law, and without precedent or justification give the case over to a federal Judge

4) These same assholes who suddenly vaunt the time honored tradition of Federal Habeas Corpus review of state court decisions are the same people who effectively annihilated the right for death sentence appeals from state court, and are routinely ignoring federal judges who demand that the Gitmo Detainees and Jose Padillia be given Habeas rights to be either charged or released

5) interesting isn;t it that these people who claim a firm commitment to fostering a "Culture of Life" are also greasing the skids of the Death penalty machinery, endorsing the use of torture, supporting a war with a bogus justification, etc etc

of course there's more, but Like I said I get incoherent when I think too hard about this....

WE have got to get our country back and soon.....or we may not recognize it when we do

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Well Ms. Rice, Allow me to Retort

So Condi yesterday, was pondering why America appears to be about as popular in the world as poison ivy at a nudist colony (okay I'll admit I miss Dan rather):

To meet this charge our nation must engage in a much stronger dialogue with the
world. Sadly, too few in the world today know about the goodness and compassion
and generosity of the American people. Too few know of our belief that every man
and woman and child has value and that every voice has value. Too few know of
our deep respect for the history and traditions of others and our respect for
the religions of all. Too few know of the protections that we provide for
freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. And too few know of the value we
place on international institutions and the rule of law. Too few know, too, that
American lives have been lost so that others, including Muslims, might live in
freedom and that others might have a future of their own making.

In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson: "well Allow me to Retort"

Sadly, too few in the world today know about the goodness and compassion and generosity of the American people

UN official slams US as 'stingy' over aid

The Bush administration yesterday pledged $15 million to Asian nations hit by a
tsunami that has killed more than 22,500 people, ... the United Nations'
humanitarian-aid chief called the donation "stingy."

US lags all industrialized nations in Tsunami relief per Capita

US foreign aid budget ranks dead last among developed nations as % of GDP

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid...The U.S.
foreign-aid budget as a percentage of gross national product (GNP) ranks last
among the world's wealthiest countries ..The tiny Netherlands (pop. 16.3
million) gave $3.2 billion in 2001--almost a third of what America

Bush Budget Slashes Aids Research Funding

Too few know of our belief that every man and woman and child has value and that every voice has value

Bush Budget Cuts Hurt the most needy

Elementary and secondary education programs, including the president's No Child
Left Behind initiative, would be cut by $11.5 billion ..

The WIC program,
which subsidizes the diets of low-income pregnant women and nursing mothers -- a
major preventative against low-weight babies -- would be cut by $658 million,
enough to reduce coverage in 2010 by 660,000 women.

Head Start funds
would be reduced $3.3 billion over five years, ..

Clean water and
clean air funding would decline by $6.4 billion over five

..Community development programs used by cities to build up
impoverished neighborhoods would lose $9.2 billion in five years, a 36 percent
cut in 2010.

Too few know of our deep respect for the history and traditions of others and our respect for the religions of all

Mississippi Allow Display of Ten Commandments and others

The Mississippi House has overwhelmingly passed a bill allowing the posting of
certain religious documents in public buildings. At least one state senator
thinks the measure will fare well in the Senate. The bill allows the posting of
the Ten Commandments, the national motto ("In God We Trust"), and the Beatitudes
on all public buildings

State Senator Alan Nunnelee says "I think there's a systematic effort made by
the liberal elite in this country to deny any biblical basis for the foundation
of our country, and it's just a fact of life that our nation was built on those

Top US general says US is a Christian Nation engaged in a war Against Satan

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, whose promotion and appointment was confirmed by the Senate in June, in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, said Islamic extremists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christians. ... And the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Discussing a U.S. Army battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, Boykin told one audience, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."

Boykin has also said

" Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote
for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as

"My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a
Christian nation are historically undeniable."

-- said Boykin in a
statement issued by the Pentagon in Oct.

Too few know of the protections that we provide for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

ACLU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Protesters Arrested at Bush Rally

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today
on behalf of five men who were arrested after they stripped down to thong
underwear and formed a human pyramid in anticipation of President Bush's
motorcade procession through Lancaster County.

"These young men were
arrested and removed from sight for no other reason than the fact that their
presence would have resulted in an embarrassing visual for the president," said
Paula Knudsen, an ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney who is co-counsel for the
protesters. "These unjustified arrests were motivated by politics, not law. The
actions of these men are clearly protected under the First Amendment."

Ashcroft's Infamous warning about too much free speech

In his testimony before the Senate on December 6, Attorney General John
Ashcroft displayed his total lack of tolerance for dissent: "To those who scare
peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your
tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our
resolve They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's

White House asserts the right to lock up people that don't inform on their neighbors

After hearing Green's hypothetical questions, the military agreed it could
imprison a Muslim teacher whose class includes a family with Taliban
connections. It also agreed that it could detain a man who does not report his
suspicions that his cousin may be an al Qaeda member, or a reporter who knows
where Osama bin Laden is located but does not divulge the information to protect
an anonymous source.


And too few know of the value we place on international institutions and the rule of law


With unilateralist pique, the Bush administration has turned its back on sound international law

The administration announced that the United States was withdrawing from the
optional protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

As a
result of the administration's action, the United States excused itself from
international court jurisdiction.

Attorney General Calls Geneva Convention "Quaint", Outmoded

Gonzales concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders
obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and
renders quaint some of its provisions."

Too few know, too, that American lives have been lost so that others, including Muslims, might live in freedom and that others might have a future of their own making.

1519 US troops KIA, 11,220 Wounded as a direct result of enemy fire and Over 50,000 injured as a result of actions taken in the war


At least 69,000 Iraqi and Afghani civilians killed by US Forces, Over 159,000 seriously wounded

Perhaps Ms. Rice too Few Know these things about America because they have seen too little of them since your boss took over?

If you want America to be regarded as it once was, you are going to have to let America Be what it once was. Or to quote

Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Evil Bubble

Mon Mar 14th, 2005 at 09:48:22 PSTAs Agent Smith would say"I had a Revelation" today.
It started this morning when I heard an NPR report about Bush's plans to hit the rally circuit to drum up support for his now gasping Soc Sec. plan. I thought about the ways the GOP controls access to these rallies and wondered "how do you build support for anything when you are only preaching to the converted?"
Then I read a Chicago Tribune Article detailing the unprecedented extent of deliberate media manipulation (paid pundits, fake newscasts, and Gannon featured prominently) that this administration has engaged in since day one (are the sleeping media giants awakening? )
And then it hit me: The Bubble is not an accident, The Bubble is not (only) to Protect Chimpy from the sharp corners of the real world where everyone doesn't adore him. The Bubble is both evil and brilliant. The Bubble is the nuclear bomb in Karl Rove's basket of media distortion and manipulation tools. In short, if we want to win back this country. The Bubble must pop.

During the 04 campaign the bubble was occasionally mentioned in passing when it generated a "Man Arrested for wearing a T-shirt" type story, but it received little, if any serious analysis. Most commentators chalked it up to W wanting to energize his base and left and essentially decided he was making a big mistake. .In the meantime however, the media dutifully covered these rallies as if they had actual news value. Every nightly newscast was sure to carry a few seconds of W saying something stern and forceful and then being drowned out by a near-orgasmic crowd response. The front page of the paper never failed to carry the pictures of W surrounded by a Sea of Adoring Faces. And of Course W won.

The bubble issue began to heat up after he got elected however, when it was clear that Bush's plan was to hit road to drum up popular support for his Social Security piratization. Media types noted with some surprise how tightly controlled the attendance was for his rallies, since these were no longer explicitly partisan events. Nonetheless, it was clear WH was going to extreme lengths to see that nobody got through the front door of his rallies that hasn't already consumed a sufficient quantity of Kool-Aid. Dan Froomkin has a recurring feature in his blog/column White House Briefing for WaPo online called BubbleWatch that details exactly how hard the event tickets are to get for someone not already of the GOP persuasion (Reportedly tickets were unavailable unless you had a least one child Herbert or Walker, and/or had a picture of dear leader tattooed in a place where it can been seen and meditated on during Martial, church approved, for the purposes of procreation only, physical relations)

As I noted above, at first blush this would seem at least to be a fantastically stupid strategy: You have a potentially dangerous and massive program, the public support for it is rapidly slipping away, so your response is to spend all your time touting its benefits to people that already agree with you ? Add to that the president is a notoriously bad speaker and absolutely incapable of improvising, and you have a real chance at PR disaster in a live environment. It would seem the LAST place you'd want the president.

But never forget the TurdBlossom Factor. Karl Rove is many things ( a prince of darkness spat out of the Netherhells, for being too slimy likely being one of them) but he is NOT stupid. To think he has ever taken an unconsidered and carefully planned breath, is a mistake. So what the hell is he up to with W's Magical Mystery Tour? In a word, controlling the message and making the TV News his bitch.

Its all about the pictures baby. Whenever Bush holds a rally, it is, nearly by definition, News. This means the news outlets (particularly those of the 24-hour variety) are dutifully obligated to cover the event. And in our substance-lite media environ that usually means 3-5 seconds of sound byte and a shot of a crowd going bugshit in adoration of his every syllable. The words don't matter and the substance is nearly irrelevant half an hour into the speech Bush could drop his pants and start singing "I'm a little Teapot, and the crowd would still cheer wildly, and the TV news could still only cover the ten seconds where he says "Social security is bad mmmmkay?" cause they have already packed their news van for the next stop.

But Rove does get that wonderful picture every day in nearly every newscast and all the local papers. And that picture, that visual is the whole point of the exercise. Americans Love a Winner (cue George C. Scott as Patton). When something is popular, in the common imagination it is also good. If all your neighbors like something and you don't, you've been socialized from school and TV to wonder what's wrong with you? Why do movies advertise themselves on tv as "the #1 movie in America?". The ad doesn't say anything about the movie, but then it doesn't have to. In all to many people's minds if its #1, why it must be good. The leading brand of this or that never fails to tell you so, why? Because in the back of your mind you think "well if all my fellow consumers like it......"

Its precisely that effect Karl wants to achieve with these rallies. He doesn't care if people come out of these meetings informed. He really could care less if any hearts and minds are changed by the President's rhetoric (" well I Was opposed to private accounts, but when George Bush explained the marginal cost of money vis-avis traditional financial instruments and the instability of the LIBOR funds rate, well I jumped right on the phone to call my congressman to support the bill). What Karl wants is that you see a picture of Our Leader, surrounded by devoted cheering fans every day. He wants you to subconsciously accept that W is a good and popular leader. He wants you to feel outside the mainstream, and unpopular if you oppose him.
So long as the news cameras dutifully record their piece of call and response from the speech; that exactly what Karl gets. And witting or not, the media are willing partners in this manipulation. They get the lovely pictures, they taped their footage for the evening news and move on.

The media needs to stand up and take responsibility for their misuse. We need to demand that whenever a rally shot is held, the reporter should also report the attendance policies of the rally. For that matter why are these rallies even being covered at this point? The president's message isn't going to change, he been reading from the same prepared script (lightly revised whenever the pollsters test new wording) for months now. If he's not going to say anything new then why does the NEWS feel the need to broadcast it?.

Assign one pool reporter and one camera in case he strays from the text and makes real news, and if he doesn't donate the film to PBS. Make it clear to him that as long as he holds fake rallies, he can expect to face only minimal coverage. The media is fond of whining how badly they are treated by this administration. However they also never seem to defend themselves against the attacks either. Its time for the media to Wake up, and stop being such a willing partner in their own prostitution

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

WH admits even THEY have no idea what W is talking about

Tue Mar 8th, 2005 at 13:24:44 PST

Apparently, when W speaks these days no one, including his own staff has any idea what he's talking about

So it was in a speech on Friday: Dan Froomkin sets the scene:

There are two couldn't-be-more-different ways of introducing private accounts into the Social Security system.

You can either take the money out of current Social Security payroll taxes -- the "carve-out" model. Or, you can create an additional program to supplement Social Security -- that's "add-on"

President Bush has been adamantly "carve-out" for as long as anyone can remember.

That was until the Press conference:

So what was the White House press corps to make of it on Friday when Bush suddenly started talking "add-on"? Well, to put it bluntly, they were so confused they didn't say much of anything.
Here you had the president -- apparently blurting out something that sounded an awful lot like news.
But only if anyone could figure out what it meant.

And the reporters tried mightily over the next few days to do just that, and the transcripts of their efforts read like vintage Abbot and Costello:

he President's Speech was hardly an exemplary model of clarity:(English IS his first language right?)

"This is a retirement account we're talking about. But it's your money, and the interest off that money goes to supplement the Social Security check that you're going to get from the federal government. See, personal accounts is an add-on to that which the government is going to pay you. It doesn't replace the Social Security system. It is a part of making -- getting a better rate of return, though, so -- to come closer to the promises made. That's important to know.

Mike Allen of the WAPO explains why this language in particular was so important:

MR. ALLEN: Well, the president on Friday described private and personal accounts as an add-on to Social Security, something extra. And that set off a lot of bells because Democrats said either he's being deceptive or he's completely changed his negotiating position. I checked on this. The White House says he has not changed anything. They said it's just how it came out and you won't hear that again.

Which appears to be the WH saying "W has utterly no idea what he is talking about, pay no attention to his speeches"

Still this was the president's signature issue of the 2nd term, so some damage control was called for : The boys at Faux News Sunday tried to provide a little cover by letting Good ol' Dan Bartlett clarify (explain away) the remarks. Unfortunately he did far more harm than good thoroughly confusing Chris Wallace:

"Mr. Bartlett, that's not right. The president's plan is not an add-on, is it?

"BARTLETT: Absolutely. Absolutely.

"WALLACE: It's an add-on?

"BARTLETT: Absolutely. See, this . . .

"WALLACE: Well, wait a minute. Wouldn't it take revenue out of Social Security?

"BARTLETT: Well, an add-on in the respect that there is disinformation being spread across the country that there will be no government benefit provided to future retirees. That is absolutely false. Every person who would select and voluntarily take a personal retirement account would be able to still receive benefits from the government.

"Added on to that benefit would be the returns from a personal retirement account. So in that essence, it is an add-on.

"WALLACE: But forgive me, most people up on Capitol Hill, when they talk about add-ons, are talking about you're going to have your regular, full, unchanged Social Security, and then we're going to add on the idea of personal accounts.

"The plan the president's talking about, you would be taking revenues out of Social Security and if you invested in the accounts, you would lose some of your guaranteed benefits under Social Security.

"BARTLETT: Well, you're not taking revenues out of Social Security. You're giving those revenues directly to the recipients, allowing it to grow in an account, which is a critical part of making sure that individuals are able to realize. . . .

"WALLACE: But they would be putting it in private accounts, not into the . . .

"BARTLETT: They would be putting it in personal accounts . . .

"WALLACE: Right.

OUCH. well THAT didn't go well. Time to bring in the media pros to show the policy advisors how its done. First up Scottie McC's Minnie C Trent Duffy (who wins the prize as most lucid):

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush was not embracing the alternate plan, which he said would amount to creating an entirely new program outside Social Security. Instead, Mr. Duffy said the president used the term 'add-on' to describe his own proposal."

Except that everybody else calls the president's plan a Carve-out Rather than an Add On, and to the people who actually have to make the laws, they are completely different ideas (both Bad by the way)

{Trent's next trick will be to assert that Black is white and vice versa, thus when the President said he was committed to the causes of Black Americans.....}

Awright the pesky reporters are STILL trying to maliciously report the EXACT words of the president and have the temerity to ask what exactly they mean. Time to bring in the big guns. Oh Scottie? You're up next:(from Todays gaggle :

CBS's John Roberts:

"Q Would private accounts as an add-on, as a supplement to Social Security, as opposed to an integral part of Social Security, satisfy the President's desire to create private accounts?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views clear. The President firmly believes that personal accounts are an important part of a comprehensive solution for strengthening Social Security. . . .

Ever Notice that whenever the president has been as clear as mud, Scottie always says "I think the President has made his views clear". Bzzzt Sorry! if he'd made his views clear, the reporter wouldn't be asking about it now would they? Simply stating the president has made his views clear doesn't make it any more so than the claim that "major combat operations" were over in Iraq

But Give Robert's props, he didn't give up:

"Q Is that still an absolute red line for him?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Is what an absolute red line?

"Q Personal accounts within the framework of Social Security?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard the President talk about how this is a time when we all have to talk about the problems facing Social Security . . . [112 extra boring words}

"Q So I take it, then, from this long explanation, simply yes or no, that he is leaving the door open, that this is not necessarily a red line?

"MR. McCLELLAN: He is saying he welcomes all ideas. He is not embracing those ideas. He has put forward what his ideas are, but he welcomes all ideas for solving this problem.

"Q So it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President's principles are clear, John. He believes firmly that personal accounts are part of a comprehensive solution.

"Q But it's not a red line.

"MR. McCLELLAN: John, that's not the way I would describe it.

Okay the Line is not red. I repeat there is no RED line, and the white zone is for loading an unloading only

Roberts gets downright impertinent then and STILL tries to actually get a straight answer from Scottie:

"Q How would you describe it? . . .

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what part you weren't hearing, because, I mean, his views are very clear. But --

"Q It was the yes or no part that I didn't hear.

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, the point that the President has made, John, is that we should work together. This is a serious problem, and we need a bipartisan solution.

"Q Red line, yes or no?

"MR. McCLELLAN: That's why the President is not getting into ruling things in or out. He made it very clear to you all several times that we're not going to get into commenting on each and every idea that is thrown out there by members of Congress --

"Q He threw out the idea!

well How DARE he! ruining a perfectly good non-answer by pointing out that its irrelevant to the facts at hand. Good thing we have a Pro in there who undeterred by such shenanigans. When in Doubt play the broken record over and over again:

"MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome ideas by members of Congress for solving this problem. That's how we get things done in this town. We've managed to get a lot done in the first term through the President's leadership and the willingness to tackle the big challenges that we face. And the President believes that the approach that we're taking now is the right way to proceed."

And there was no joy in Pressville that day as Mighty Roberts struck out.

Admittedly my memories only really go back to Reagan circa 1980 but has this ever happened before? Has the press ever been unable to get a simple yes or no answer on where the president stands on what he himself has call the signature issue of his presidency? I've worked for "mushroom managers" before, i just never dreamed we'd elect one.

the evanglical takeover of the DOJ

Can you Imagine the Department of Justice's famed Civil Rights Division filing a brief in federal court Support the Right of an employer (using federal funds no less) to discriminate against someone based on their religion? Thanks to a great piece of reporting from the LA times, you have to imagine no more

The Salvation Army was accused in a lawsuit of imposing a new religious litmus test on employees hired with millions of dollars in public funds. When employees complained that they were being required to embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs, the Justice Department's civil rights division took the side of the Salvation Army. calling the employee suit an affront to "the federal statutory and constitutional rights of religious employers to define their character and maintain their religious integrity." The department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

This "new and improved " civil rights logic is courtesy of a 3 ½ year old office created by Ashcroft and bush as payback for their evangelical supporters:

The Justice Department's religious-rights unit, established three years ago, has launched a quiet but ambitious effort aimed at rectifying what the Bush administration views as years of illegal discrimination against religious groups and their followers.

Because, as we all know if there is one group that needs special protection from invidious societal discrimination, its those poor, set upon Relgious types. I mean they only make up 80% of the population So its easy to see why the deck is always stacked against them. Especially those poor Christians whose number have dwindled to a mere 76.4% of the populace.

No Mr. Winston, the civil rights department has Always supported the rights of the majority to discriminate against the minority.

This is a huge encroachement by the religious right. For the first time ever, a branch of the DOJ is taking its marching orders from the Mullahs of the radical right, using the full weight and power of the federal government's lawyers as a club to bash any potential opponents to the "Religious" takeover of American society

Eric Treene, the religious-discrimination special counsel, is the former litigation director of a nonprofit group, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group has been active in suing schools and local governments on behalf of religious groups.
A former senior Justice official describes him as widely influential, bird-dogging cases he thinks the department should throw its weight behind and reaching out to religious groups for bias cases he believes the department should investigate.

A number of cases the department has taken on serve specific goals of conservative religious organizations, a key political constituency of the Bush administration.

Their caseload reads like a transcripts from a nightly "focus on the family" or 700 Club broadcast:

-In three separate lawsuits, the department has filed briefs supporting the Child Evangelism Fellowship. The Christian group has led a national movement to establish after-school Good News Clubs in public elementary schools around the country in which children learn Bible stories and pray, among other activities.

-In December, a Justice Department lawyer launched a probe of an elementary school in Plano, Texas, that had stopped a fourth-grader from handing out candy canes with a religious message at school-sponsored holiday parties

-The religious unit has conducted at least six bias investigations triggered by complaints from a group of Christian lawyers in Texas known as the Liberty Legal Institute.


And its not just about demolishing the Separation Clause in public schools. They also aren't above a little side action to try to take down the occasional heretic or unbeliever as well:

Based on another complaint, the department investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech University two years ago who would not write letters of recommendation for students unless they affirmed a belief in the theory of evolution.
The professor, Michael Dini, said he was seeking to ensure that his students understood "the central, unifying principle of biology." He agreed to modify his policy under pressure from the Justice Department, requiring that students be able to explain the theory of evolution rather than actually believe in it.

And now with a little bullying under their belt, and public outcry yet; they have trained their sights on a direct assault on the oldest and clearest part of the Separation Clause:

No direct government support for religious organizations.

the Salvation Army has become the perfect test case:

The Salvation Army case is the boldest initiative in the Justice Department's recent emphasis on religious rights. And the stakes go well beyond the old-line Christian charitable organization.
The department's position in the case -- that religious groups should be able to hire or fire people based on their religious views, even when administering publicly funded programs -- is a cornerstone of President Bush's faith-based initiative. The initiative is channeling hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to churches and other religious groups to deliver social services.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 preserves the right of religious organizations to discriminate in hiring, it does not address the question of whether that applies to groups that accept public funds. That issue has not been legally resolved.

This is not the case of the local pastor of a church not wanting to hire a satan-worshipper as its groundskeeper. This is about a large and publicly funded agency wanting legal cover to carry out an evangelical agenda. Despite its name, until recently, the Salvation Army, has had little to do with religion, acting mainly as a private social service agency, which administered millions in taxpayer dollars:

In New York, the Salvation Army apparently had long operated without such entanglements, despite a history steeped in religious tradition. The international organization has provided social services to New Yorkers for decades. Its current contracts total about $50 million from the city and state of New York to provide foster care, HIV counseling and other services.

Then 2003 the Ameriban apparently seized control of the Charity and the Inquisition began:

In 2003, according to a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen workers in its Social Services for Children division, the Salvation Army began requiring employees to divulge information about their faiths, including the churches they attended and their ministers.
They were also called on to embrace a new mission statement -- included in job postings and job descriptions -- that declared the top goal of the social welfare operation is "to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination." The previous mission statement was "to empower each person who enters our doors to live with dignity and hope," and contained no religious references.
Protections against discriminatory employment practices were excised from the employee handbook, and an effort was made to compile a list of homosexual employees, according to the suit.

Having actual consciences, as well as some grasp of the 1st Amendment, some Salvation Army employees stood up and complained

employees said the new policies would inevitably infuse religion into the services the welfare program had long provided -- notably in areas such as abortion counseling and HIV prevention -- that would conflict with their ethical duties as social workers to furnish proper care.
And because in many cases children and families are required by law to participate in the city-funded programs, they assert that would lead to precisely the sort of government-coerced religion that the Constitution prohibits.
The proposals touched off a wrenching debate among some of the organization's most devout employees. The longtime executive director of the social services program, a Lutheran minister, was ousted after voicing objections to the plans, according to the employee complaint.

And although this is about as clear a case of religious discrimination as is available, when the DOJ intervened, they stabbed the employees in the back:

The Justice Department weighed in last August, calling the employee suit an affront to "the federal statutory and constitutional rights of religious employers to define their character and maintain their religious integrity." The department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

The Bush administration's full frontal assault on nearly every cherished American Ideal creates so many obvious targets for outrage; (the War in Iraq, Torture, Destroying the Geneva Convention, Dismantling social Security) its easy to miss the more stealthy, attacks such as this one. But this attack may prove to do more damage to our society than all the rest.

We will leave Iraq, eventually. Someday the detainees will be released, and those responsible exposed and maybe even tried. And sooner or later a democratic Congress will be able to undo the worst outrages of the Long Night of Republican control.

But Legal precedents linger long after their authors are meat for the worms. Through the principle of stare decisis, a case settled 150 years ago can decide on filed 10 minutes ago. These cases cannot be allowed to go unchecked. A favorable ruling could fundamentally alter the basic understanding of civil liberties for years to come, and allow the Ameriban to use federal taxpayer dollars to continue its assault on Secular Society as a whole. A line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere. Not allowing the DOJ to pervert the proud history and tradition of its civil rights office, seems as good a place to start as any.

The Salt Pit: exposing a CIA torture chamber

The Washington Post's Dana Priest has a excellent investigative story today exposing a secret torture factory the CIA has been running in Afghanistan, and the CIA officer who got off scot free after murdering a detainee:

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison ...ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.

The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.

As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.

By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.

and very shortly thereafter, the former detainee was turned into an unperson, and the officer in charge was promoted:

the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.

"He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.

Things have gone a little better for his murderer:
The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted, two of the officials said, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the matter. The case is under investigation by the CIA inspector general.{{ Ed- for more than two years}

But the truly extraordinary thing about the story is the facilty itself. A completely secret torture center run by the CIA with deliberate contempt for US law and oversight:

The Salt Pit was the top-secret name for an abandoned brick factory, a warehouse just north of the Kabul business district that the CIA began using shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. The 10-acre facility included ..several smaller buildings, which were off-limits to all but the CIA and a handful of Afghan guards and cooks who ran the prison,

and lest there be any doubt of the CIA's intentions with the facility they too great pains to create legal fictions to shield their officers from the reach of US law for their actions inside:

The CIA wanted the Salt Pit to be a "host-nation facility," an Afghan prison with Afghan guards. Its designation as an Afghan facility was intended to give U.S. personnel some insulation from actions taken by Afghan guards inside{Ed- who were operating under the direct orders of the CIA officers}, a tactic used in secret CIA prisons in other countries....

In spring 2004, when the CIA first referred the Salt Pit case to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, the department cited the prison's status as a foreign facility, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, as one reason for declining to prosecute.

But make no mistake. This was a CIA facility top to bottom:

The CIA, however, paid the entire cost of maintaining the facility, including the electricity, food and salaries for the guards, who were all vetted by agency personnel. The CIA also decided who would be kept inside, including some "high-value targets," senior al Qaeda leaders in transit to other, more secure secret CIA prisons.

There you have it. A complete plan for a fully operational CIA torture chamber, completely shielded from the reach of US law, the oversight of the US congress, and of course, any accountability by the peon US voters who supposedly run the country. The fact that we know about the place at all is simply due to a HR oversight.

Unfortunately for the CIA, after all that careful planning to make their very own chamber of horrors, they had a serious HR problem. Since the Nazi's they smuggled out of Germany after WWII have all passed on, they have had a real lack of personnel with the "running a torture chamber" skills set. So they basically were stuck using the first warm body without a conscience they could find:

"A first-tour officer was put in charge because there were not enough senior-level volunteers," said one intelligence officer familiar with the case. "It's not a job just anyone would want.

Besides, the intelligence officer said, "the CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There's a lot of room to get in trouble."

Of course since the incident was exposed the CIA's IG and irate lawmakers have sprung into action, demanding an end to this outrage....or not so much:

The pace of the CIA investigations has tested the patience of some in Congress, as was evident two weeks ago when Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a member of the Senate intelligence panel, asked CIA Director Porter J. Goss when the inspector general's inquiry would be complete and available to the oversight committees.

"I haven't asked him what day he's going to finish all these cases," Goss replied.

"Or a month?" shot back Levin.

"As soon as they are through," Goss answered. ". . . I know there is still a bunch of other cases."

The CIA inspector general, meanwhile, recently completed a review of detention procedures in Afghanistan and Iraq and gave Goss 10 recommendations for improving administrative procedures for holding, moving and interrogating prisoners. The recommendations included more detailed reporting requirements from the field, increased safeguards against abuse and including more CIA officials in decisions affecting interrogation tactics.

Two, have been fully adopted officials said.

And George Bush's torture room? (hey if he can pin the blame on a foreign leader for the actions of his intelligence services, it seems only fair)

its out of business. But only at that location:

The brick factory has since been torn down, and the CIA has built a facility somewhere else.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bankruptcy Scam: Credit Companies making huge profits on defaulting customers

Even as the Republicans get ready to re-enact the shower scene from OZ on the American people at the behest of credit card companies, the LA Times comes through with a timely piece showing that basic justification of the Bill is a total lie:

In the eight years since they began pressing for the tough bankruptcy bill being debated in the Senate, America's big credit card companies have effectively inoculated themselves from many of the problems that sparked their call for the measure.

By charging customers different interest rates depending on how likely they are to repay their debts and by adding substantial fees for an array of items such as late payments and foreign currency transactionsThe major card companies have managed to keep their profits rising steadily even as personal bankruptcies have soared, industry figures show.

As a result, while they continue to press for legislation that would make it harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy, the companies have found ways to make money even on cardholders who eventually go broke.

The idea that companies are losing their shirts on bankruptcies is a lot of bull," said Robert B. McKinley, chief executive of CardWeb.com, a Frederick, Md., consulting group that tracks the credit card industry. "With these rates and fees, the card industry is a gravy train right now."

Credit Card companies have changed drastically in the last ten years and it hasn't been for the better. In 1996, a little- noticed US Supreme Court decision took away the power of most states to regulate credit card companies within their borders. Instantly, decades of consumer protection and fair lending regulation went out the window and credit card companies were free to set their own rules. They wasted no time coming up with a system designed to make them very rich off the backs of the very poor.

Under the companies' new systems, many cardholders -- especially low-income users -- have ended up on a financial treadmill, required to make ever-larger monthly payments to keep their credit card balances from rising and to avoid insolvency.

"Most of the credit cards that end up in bankruptcy proceedings have already made a profit for the companies that issued them," said Robert R. Weed, a Virginia bankruptcy lawyer and onetime aide to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"That's because people are paying so many fees that they've already paid more than was originally borrowed," he said.

This is the BIG LIE of the Bankruptcy Bill debate. Over and over again we've heard it advocates ask "Why should people get out of paying their debts" But the Truth is people DO pay their debts, sometimes many times over, and their balances never get any smaller. For example:

Josephine McCarthy, for instance, a 71-year-old secretary at the Salem Baptist Church, less than a mile from where the Senate bill is being debating. at about the time of her husband's death in 2003 that the couple had a $4,888 balance on a Providian Visa.

Over the two years from 2002 until early 2004, when she filed for bankruptcy, McCarthy charged an additional $218 on the first card and made more than $3,000 in payments, the court papers show. But instead of her balance going down, finance charges --at what the bankruptcy judge termed a "whopping" 29.99% rate, together with late fees, over-limit fees and phone payments fees -- pushed what she owed up to more than $5,350.

This is the Typical person who will be hurt by this bill, she IS paying her debts, but the credit card companies you accounting tricks and hidden fees to steal that money away and never reduce her balance. She would have done as well taking her money and lighting it on fire as paying it to the credit card company

This is the New Credit Card math $4,888 -$,3000 = $5,350!!!

And She's not the only one, nor are these practices confined to Shady operators like Providian:

In Cleveland, a municipal court judge tossed out a case that Discover Bank brought against one of its cardholders after examining the woman's credit card bill.

According to court papers, Ruth M. Owens, a 53-year-old disabled woman, paid the company $3,492 over six years on a $1,963 debt only to find that late fees and finance charges had more than doubled the size of her remaining balance to $5,564.

Judge Robert Triozzi ruled that Owens didn't have to pay, saying she had "clearly been the victim of [Discover's] unreasonable, unconscionable and unjust business practices.

and to accomodate these Sleazy unconscionable companies the Republicans are set to undermine of the basic economic tenets of American Society:

The proposed law, by preventing many debtors from seeking bankruptcy protection, would compel financially insolvent borrowers to continue trying to pay off the old debts almost indefinitely.

"Until now, the principle in this country has been that people's future human capital is their own," said David A. Moss, an economic historian at Harvard University. "If a person gets on a financial treadmill, they can declare bankruptcy and have what can't be paid discharged. But that would change with this bill."

This bill if it passes will be an unmitigated disaster for the priciples of american society and more concretly the economy. In my opinion, its most devastating impact will be on small business. To benefit a few very wealthy corporations we will nearly strangle the the entrepenurial spirit in this country I used to be a contractor for the SBA, and I can tell you many personal Ch. 7 are caused by business failures of small businesses, sometimes through no fault of their own (Wal-Mart and 9/11 hit the small business world like twin Grim Reapers in the last few years). Large corporations can use the Ch. 11 to escape paying THEIR bills while actually giving their executives raises ("rentention bonuses") and that will be unchanged by this bill. A mom-and pop sole proprietor store doesn't have this option. When their business fails, they are on the hook for its bad debts.

They have usually personally guaranteed the business loans,(which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars) often using their family home as collateral. Ch.7 has always been the way out for these people, allowing them to get out from under a failed business while keeping enough of their property and belongings to start Fresh.

This has always been a major incentive to trying to start you own business. You can take a shot, try to build a business; and if it doesn't work out, the business gets sold to the creditors and you move on. With laws that would make you and indentured servant for the rest of your life, who is going to be willing to risk that now?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Even Bush's Judges Can't stand him

Score one for the Good Guys The Great writ, Habeas Corpus, may be on life support but it ain't dead yet:
In a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration, a federal judge ruled the case of "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla is a matter for law enforcement -- not the military -- and ordered the government to charge him or let him go.

And this isn't some "liberal activist judge", that the Right-wing machine can now smear and destroy; This is one of W's Handpicked appointments sent up only last year and even he's had enough :
Floyd, appointed by Bush in 2003, gave the administration 45 days to take action. He wrote that to rule in favor of the government "would not only offend the rule of law and violate this country's constitutional tradition," it would be a "betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties." _________________

Why does this matter and who the hell is Jose Padilla?
Jose Padilla's story is probably the scariest and most ignored action taken by the Bush admin since the beginning of their "war on an abstract Noun(Terror)"

For those who may have come in Late: Jose Padilla is an American Citizen who was arrested by the FBI coming off a plane in Chicago back in 2002. at the Time the Government made some very scary statements to the press about what he was accused of plotting to do (detonate a dirty bomb in Chicago). However rather than charging him with a crime, they declared him an "enemy combatant".

As a result, Padilla has spent the last three years held incommunicado on a Us Navy Prison Barge, without being able to contact his family, without access to a lawyer, without charges ever being filed against him, , and without any idea when he might be allowed to leave, if ever (remember W called the current war a "generational struggle")

To Sum up, an American citizen was arrested On American soil and was, in effect "disappeared" solely on the say so of the federal government, who has not had to produce one shred of evidence to back its claims up.

If that don't give you a shudder nothing will.

And without even the faintest trace of irony, while W was lecturing leaders abroad about democracy, and proclaiming freedom was on the march, back at home, his lawyers were arguing:

David Salmons from the U.S. Solicitor General's Office [argued] that the president has the right to detain any enemy combatant while the United States is fighting al-Qaida. But he added that there's no risk the president may round up citizens and detain them


Well that's better, as long as there's no risk, ....except of course, that's exactly what you did do in this very case !!

And if he can be targeted so can you. In the words of the ACLU:
"Everybody says the war on terror could last a lifetime. If they can do it to him, they can do it to others."

And they aren't exaggerating, if the government's position were to prevail in this things could be very bad. You, me, or any other person the Government decides to gin up a little "secret evidence" on (cause as we all know, after the Iraq war, Us intelligence sources have proven themselves soooo reliable.) Can be picked up and whisked away to a secure location, to endure "aggressive interrogation" techniques for as long as the government wishes.
Today's ruling was a big first step:
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, called Floyd's order a significant blow to the administration. "It's a genuine limitation on the president's belief that he can do what he wants in the war on terror," said Ratner, whose group represents scores of detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Unfortunately it isn't over yet.

Unrepentant, and heedless of this slap-down from a fellow conservative. The Justice department has decided to appeal. This is a case that bears watching as closely as possible. The government is claiming an extremely dangerous power for itself, one that flies in the face of everything we supposedly stand for, one that makes a mockery of the Bill of Rights itself.
We cannot let them win this battle. Padilla may be many things, a punk, a gang-member maybe even a terrorist, but under our laws and justice system someone should have to prove that before they are allowed to lock him away for the rest of his life. In the words of his lawyer (hired by family, he's never met his client):

When my client can join the party, we can all celebrate," he said. "And when I say join the party, that means whether he goes home to his family or when he gets his day in court, then we can all celebrate."

Putin to Bush: you fired Rather didn't you?

Last week, Bush was supposed to be the Voice of the Free World, giving a stern lecture to V. Putin who is crushing all forms of independence in Russia and seems determined to return it to the bad old Soviet days.

When Putin looked at Bush however, he didn't see an example to follow, but a soul mate. There was an all too revealing private moment at the Bush-Putin Summit, that has been caught for posterity: Time magazine :

But when Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. "Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather," says a senior Administration official. "It was like something out of 1984."

now why oh why would Valdimir think that? *cough* Karl Rove *cough* hmmmm can't imagine...

But it does beg a very interesting question. Is Putin a "confused foreigner who doesn't understand our ways" or he a lot closer to the truth than we are comfortable admitting? Last week I posted Dan Froomkin's brilliant piece dissecting Bush's "America is wonderful and free" speech, when asked the equivalency question again by a Russian reporter. And in reading those links as well as fellow Kossack Tomtech's Ongoing series "this week in Fascism" has really made me stop and wonder.

Are we still a free people? If the question were, to steal a phrase from the Gipper, "are you Less Free today than you were 4 years ago?". The answer wouldn't even take a second's thought. My law school career began 1 month before 9/11, and since that time I've watched the steady erosion of our rights and freedoms. In nearly every class I had in Con Law, Crim Pro, or 1st amendment, the professor was forced to say at some point "well this has been the settled law for almost 50 years, however in light of recent developments..." and then they would tick off gaping new holes that had been opened in some of the most basic Civil rights":

Habeas Corpus? Ask the Detainees at Gitmo about that one.

Right to a Fair and Speedy Trial? Well except for Jose Padilla

Right to the assistance of Counsel? I'm sure Lynee Stewart would love to have a conversation about that with you

Right to be free from government Takings without due process?: Well Benevolence International would dispute that point

Well how about the 1935 ruling that ended the use of Confessions obtained by torture? Surely a 70 yr old standard of decency was safe? Nope

Okay...hmmm lets go to the basics: The Rule of Law? Separate and Co-equal branches of government? Not if you ask choke Attorney General Gonzales

I wont even bother to get into the FCC trampling free speech, The Justice department Shredding the idea of personal Privacy, and Wingnuts on the hill who want a DNA sample on your driver's license. I think the point is made. Are we still in a free country? Balancing everything I still think we are, things are bad right now, but they have been worse (especially if you were black or female) in this country and we have persevered. Will we be in 5 more years if we don't do something? That's a harder question to answer