December 29, 2005

The Language of Deceit

Agape Press (Reliable News from a Christian Source) has a story about a South Carolina education oversight panel that has "moved to modify four biology teaching guidelines in an effort to balance schools' teaching of evolution by introducing a broader range of scientific viewpoints."

The story is replete with the language of deceit about this issue of evolution, the proper Christian viewpoint evident in every subtle phrase and deceptive objection.

All we are asking for is a balanced viewpoint, all we seek is openness, all we want is people to be willing to discuss different perspectives -- it all sounds so fair and American and reasonable.

Listen to the words:

"broader range of scientific viewpoints;"

"criticism and analytical questioning ;"

"stimulate more discussion and debate;"

"to encourage the classroom teacher, through the curriculum, to be more rigorous and more relevant and to critically analyze information ;"

"full ranger of scientific views."

Sounds good, doesn't it? It sounds so, hmmm, balanced and fair.

I propose, yet again, that we make this offer to the agents of Christian totalitarian thought: we will open up scientific teaching in public schools about evolution to include the optional view on intelligent design if you, likewise, open all Christian schools and Biblical teachings to the scientific teaching of evolution.

December 26, 2005

Payola Journalism

The increasing revelations about payola journalism have brought a dark cloud over the entire world of reporters, writers, editors, columnists, and the newspapers and media outlets they work for. Now we have two more "columnists" admitting they have taken frequent payments from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff to write columns favorable to his clients and financial bedmates.

As reported by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, "Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow -- who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar -- after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist's clients." Bandow was apologetic and remorseful.

According to Kurtz, "Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him." He is unapologetic, however, saying "There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article."

The fact that Ferrara sees nothing unethical, wrong, misleading, or otherwise inappropriate for being a paid hack for a special interest party and then not revealing that fact as he continues to write a newspaper column that is not labeled "Advertisement" is one of the fundamental things gone wrong with present day journalism.

Take these two new instances of payola journalism, and combine them with the following:

government payoffs to radio personality Armstrong Willams (the probe is widening);

government sponsored stories supplied to the Iraqi media by the Lincoln Group, hired by the Pentagon;

Agricultural Department payments to freelance writer Dave Smith in return for favorable stories;

upwards of 50 journalists or writers paid by the Pentagon to write favorably about the Balkans War;

Department of Health and Human Services paid propaganda television "news" segments on CNN(unrevealed to the viewing public) about the new Medicare law;

at least 300 news shows used portions of seven prepackaged reports written by a former journalist, Mike Morris, hired by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and sent out to 770 affiliates, identified not as government PR but as news;

a veteran local news reporter in Florida, who covers the Jeb Bush government as part of his beat, was simultaneously taking tens of thousands of dollars through his own private company from various Jeb Bush government agencies for public relations work and film editing services;

What other instances of payola journalism don't we know about? How pervasive is this practice becoming? Is there any wonder that newspapers, journalists and news organizations poll so low among Americans?

One of the potential answers identified by Editor & Publisher is the fact that there seems to be less risk of payola journalism among real journalists, trained as journalists, practicing as journalists, or having studied journalism in college. Here's what E&P says:

The Washington Post Writers Group has a message for newspaper editors in this year of pundit payola: Maybe the syndicated columnists you buy should have journalistic backgrounds. In a note on, WPWG executives Alan Shearer and James Hill said their syndicate's columnists "are all journalists, and seven of them have won the Pulitzer Prize. Their journalistic integrity is your best protection of your journalistic integrity."Journalists "understand better where the boundaries are," added Shearer, when reached Thursday by E&P. "Editors should be very, very skeptical of columnists who didn't grow up in a journalistic culture. Take these columnists if you want, but read their stuff very carefully."

It is not a foolproof test, but I think it is a good start. Not all the miscreants are non-journalists, but most of them have, in fact, had no professional journalism experience. I would also guess that most of them are not members of the Newspaper Guild or the National Writers Union, another way we might be able to guage the integrity level of journalists and columnists.

Of course, in the end, anyone can call himself a journalist and anyone can call herself a newspaper columnist. With those labels comes an inherent supposition that the writer is not being paid by a private corporate entity or a governmental agency to write what they are told. The reading public has a right to know the difference. Newspapers and broadcast media have an obligation to distinguish between paid propaganda and bona fide reporting and commentary.

Postscript -- I did not feel the need to comment on the first part of Howard Kurtz's story at the beginning of this piece because the practice of President's strong-arming editors is not a new story. Democratic and Republican presidents have done it since the beginning of our democracy, some more flagrantly than others, and some more successfully than others. Bush is just another in a long line of those presidents who have done it clumsily, without finesse, and obviously panicked about self-image.

(N.B. I am writing from Marin County in California, on a visit to our eldest daughter for the holidays, also celebrating the birth of our newest addition, Kendall Ann, now 13 days old. I will continue to write, but perhaps not daily. Thanks, as always, for stopping by Orwell's Grave.)

December 24, 2005

Nanotechnology -- Corporate Wet Dream II

My last blog entry resulted in a comment from Mr. Alan B. Shalleck taking me to task for not having done my "homework." He implores me to consider all of the concerned and responsible heads of companies who are in the nanotech business. He says that the industry recognizes the "risks that you over play." He advises: "Let's not blow off steam and scare the world about nanotechnology without understanding how responsible the industry itself is being."

The definition of nanotechnology, as provided by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), is as follows:

Nanotechnology is the engineering of tiny machines—the projected ability to build things from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, highly advanced products. Shortly after this envisioned molecular machinery is created, it will result in a manufacturing revolution, probably causing severe disruption. It also has serious economic, social, environmental, and military implications.

Here is what CRN has to say about the dangers of nanotechnology:

Molecular nanotechnology (MNT) will be a significant breakthrough, comparable perhaps to the Industrial Revolution—but compressed into a few years. This has the potential to disrupt many aspects of society and politics. The power of the technology may cause two competing nations to enter a disruptive and unstable arms race. Weapons and surveillance devices could be made small, cheap, powerful, and very numerous. Cheap manufacturing and duplication of designs could lead to economic upheaval. Overuse of inexpensive products could cause widespread environmental damage. Attempts to control these and other risks may lead to abusive restrictions, or create demand for a black market that would be very risky and almost impossible to stop; small nanofactories will be very easy to smuggle, and fully dangerous. There are numerous severe risks—including several different kinds of risk—that cannot all be prevented with the same approach. Simple, one-track solutions cannot work. The right answer is unlikely to evolve without careful planning.

The very next sentence sums it up: The potential benefits of molecular manufacturing are immense, but so are the dangers.

Is the CRN overplaying the dangers? Let's take a look.

I am reassured, but only barely, by the fact that there is such an organization as the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and that it has begun the process of indentifying and worrying about all the risks inherent in this technological wave of the future. Here is what the organization calls an "incomplete" list of the dangers:

Economic disruption from an abundance of cheap products
Economic oppression from artificially inflated prices
Personal risk from criminal or terrorist use
Personal or social risk from abusive restrictions
Social disruption from new products/lifestyles
Unstable arms race
Collective environmental damage from unregulated products
Free-range self-replicators (gray goo) — downgraded as a risk factor
Black market in nanotech (increases other risks)
Competing nanotech programs (increases other risks)
Attempted relinquishment (increases other risks)

And Mr. Shalleck contends that I have overplayed the risks?

You can read here full detailed discussions of the dangers of nanotechnology in the words of the "responsible" part of this industry, the CRN.

By way of disclosure, it should be noted that Mr. Shalleck operates a website, called Nanoclarity, dedicated to the science of nanotechnology, explaining it, providing what he calls "EXTRAORDINARY NANOCOMPANY OPPORTUNITIES," and directly recommending companies to invest in. Mr. Shalleck offers subscriptions to a newsletter this way: Stay ahead. Be savvy. Minimize your nanoinvestment risk...understand nanotech from an expert every month. Here is a press release announcing a milestone of 1000 subscribers for his newsletter. Nowhere in the release are any dangers or risks mentioned.

While I was perusing the Nanoclarity website today, I searched in vain for any mention of the "immense dangers" that the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology enumerates at great length. All I really found was language about the wonderful opportunities of investing in nanotechnology, why interested parties should subscribe to his newsletter, and his promises that he and his family would not invest in companies that he recommends to his subscribers until 90 days after he recommends them.

I also tried all the links he has on his front page, and I tried to go to the subscribe page (so I could find out how much a subscription costs), but the links all failed. Eventually, I was not even able to link to itself. Perhaps it was only a momentary failure.

Mr. Shalleck is teaching an MBA course about nanotechnology and investment in it at Rutgers University. In promoting his course at Rutgers on the website of Foresight Nanotech Institute (whose subtitle is Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology) Shalleck says:

... look at my NanoClarity issue #4 in which I describe a series of business models for nanocompanies…and rate them as to their probability of reaching “sustainable profitability.” I will teach these in my “managing Technology” MBA course next fall at the Rutgers Business School.

Sustainable profitability, indeed.

As a lifelong scientist and teacher, I have no reason to doubt Mr. Shalleck's personal commitment to the beneficial exploitation of nanotechnology. I do worry, however, that his personal self-interest might cause him, unconsciously even, to pay only lip-service to the dangers, in favor of the benefits. The fact that he protests to me "how responsible the industry itself is being" while in all his public statements about nanotechnology does not once mention the "immense" dangers is reason for caution.

I find it revealing that Foresight Nanotech Institute feels the need to describe itself as "advancing beneficial nanotechnology." I assume it is because they want to distinguish themselves from all the others around the world who may not be advancing beneficial nanotechnology. I also find it interesting that, after perusing the Foresight website, I could not find any mention of risks or dangers. And I certainly was not reassured to find that among the speakers at the 2005 Foresight conference were representatives from Lockheed Martin (one of the nation's largest military contractors) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

In his comment on my blog, Mr. Shalleck seeks to reassure me that the "responsible" nanotech industry is having conversations with Congress, the FDA and other agencies. That Congress, the FDA, and other agencies, pretty much all bought and paid for by corporate money these days, are making decisions about nanotechnology is far from reassuring. I am, however, certain of one thing. For those who are investing in and developing nanotechnology, having the Congress, FDA and other federal agencies as a party (and thus, cover) to the process must certainly be reassuring to the nanotech industry.

Finally, I am interested in knowing what conversations the nanotechnology industry and nanotech scientists are having with the US Department of Defense and the American military-industrial establishment. I am interested in what the Pentagon is saying and doing about nanotech, and what worries they and our intelligence community might have about what the Russians, Indians, Chinese, and other countries with potential nanotech military interests are saying and doing.

I would like to know what percentage of multinational corporate enterprises, small and large, working on nanotechnology are not a part of Mr. Shalleck's "responsible" category. Who is not in the "beneficial" camp?

To be sure, the potential benefits of nanotechnology are revolutionary. You can
read here all the purported potential benefits. If used exclusively for good, they may bring the rewards that Mr. Shalleck heralds. Nevertheless, this discussion about nanotechnology cannot be left to the Congress, the FDA, the White House, scientists, the military, industry and investors. There must be full disclosure and openness. Because this technology can either destroy us all, or benefit us all (at the very least, change our entire futures), the American people and the American media must be a major part of this discussion.

In an era of worldwide domination by corporate power, by the rule of oligopolies, and by authoritarian and dictatorial governments, I am not reassured, at all, by Mr. Shalleck's pats on the head.

December 23, 2005

Nanotechnology -- Corporations' Wet Dream

Ever heard of nanotechnology? It's the science of shrinking chemical components to sub-microscopic levels for use in potentially thousands of consumer products to make them more efficient, profitable, saleable, and inventive. Peter Montague writes about it this way:

For at least 10 years the U.S. has been banking on nanotechnology to fuel a new industrial revolution, pump up flagging rates of economic growth and make boatloads of money for already-wealthy investors, with perhaps some benefits trickling down to ordinary earthlings.

In a piece from Rachel's Democracy and Health News (the Rachel, in question, is Rachel Carson), Montague outlines the scope of this technology and how corporations around the globe, but especially in the United States, are vying for "command and control" of this revolutionary new technology.

Nanotechnology has already found its way into products such as sun screen, baby lotion, wrinkle-free trousers, tennis rackets, and computer hard-drives. According to Montague:

Nanotech has in fact been expanding at breakneck speed. The U.S. is investing more money, securing more patents (more than 1000 per year),and publishing more scientific papers on nanotechnology than competitors in any other country. The National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015 (a short 10 years from now) nanotech will be a $1 trillion business employing perhaps 2 million workers. And that's just the beginning, they hope. Presumably the nanotech industry, not the National Science Foundation.)

The federal government is investing $1 billion per year (4% of that into safety studies) into development of nanotech, while industry is funneling $8 billion per year, and even the states are funding $400 million per year in the hopes that their state can be home to the new silicon valley.

To get some sense of the almost-religious fervor of the corporate, pro-nanotech "evangelists," read what they say about this technology. In a report sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, they use words like "essential to the future of humanity," holds the promise of "world peace, universal prosperity, and evolution to a higher level of compassion and accomplishment."

This is about as Orwellian as present-day corporate propaganda gets. Their interest in world peace and universal prosperity is lip-service in the cause of their bottom lines, and control of a new and potentially huge technological marketplace is what is in their cold hearts.

Of course, what has been lost in this not-so-benevolent or eleemosynary ambition to spark a new technology revolution for "world peace" and "universal prosperity" are the safety and health issues surrounding nanotech. Montague points out that even the President's own science advisor, Dr. John H. Marburger III warns that the toxicity studies now underway are "a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done." This Washington Post article covers the nanotechnology issue and Marburger's comment.

Montague outlines how we are repeating the errors of not sufficiently regulating the nuclear industry, the chemical industry and the petro-chemical industry. We still have no effective answers to the waste products created by these industries. As a result, our earth has become a garbage dump for their refuse and offal, and we have relinquished our power as citizens to curtail, regulate, and even shut down their continued depradation and vandalization of our land, water and air.

"When substances are broken into nano-sized particles, their properties change dramatically -- metals may become transparent, inert substances may suddenly become chemically reactive, and dielectrics may begin to conduct electricity." When all these new particles are discarded (a tennis racket does not last forever, hard-drives are already piling up by the millions), we know absolutely nothing about how these "waste" nano-particles will react with the environment, in landfills, and in our drinking water.

Montague tells the story of one such nano-particle, called bucky balls, named after Buckminster Fuller (because of their shape). Bucky balls are probably not something that would make him proud. Here's Montague:

Scientists have been hoping that bucky balls could be coated with medicines and injected into sick people to deliver specific remedies to specific parts of the body. Alternatively, EPA [U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency] has been hoping bucky balls could be released into the environment to detoxify some of the billions of tons of toxicwastes left over from the previous industrial revolution (which was based on nuclear and petrochemical evangelism). Last year, nano researchers showed that bucky balls in water could migrate into the brains of fish. In December, researchers at Vanderbilt University announced that bucky balls are soluble in water and will enter cells and probably bind with DNA -- the doubly-coiled molecule that transmits life from one generation to the next. Two engineers at Vanderbilt concluded that bucky balls "bind to the spirals in DNA molecules in an aqueous environment, causing the DNA to deform, potentially interfering with its biological functions and possibly causing long-term negative side effects in people and other living organisms."

In contrast, Montague looks at the utter failure of restraining the chemical industry. He points out that "the vast majority of chemicals in commercial use today have never been safety-tested and 1800 new compounds enter commercial channels each year almost entirely untested for effects on human health and the environment." Why? The corporations and their minions in Washington DC will not allow it. It's a simple proposition. Let me repeat it. They will not allow it. And they have the political and economic clout to prevent it from happening.

And Montague points out that the nuclear industry has avoided the same kind of control and regulation and has been able to dump enormous quantities of poison in our oceans, in the arctic, and in the deserts of America. He asks, rhetorically, "is there any reason to believe that the nanotech industry will be different?"

In a final negative assessment of the nanotech industry, Montague describes a pact between Environmental Defense (formerly known as The Environmental Defense Fund) and the American Chemistry Council (formerly the Chemical Manufacturers' Association) in which the enviros essentially give permission to the chemos to proceed apace, but agree that they will all look at the potentially hazardous side-effects as, or after, they occur. This agreement, in part, "calls for international efforts to standardize testing and risk assessment protocols for nanotechnology development,and the drafting of measures to protect human health and the environment while regulators, industry and the scientific community continue to research and develop the technology." So who wins round one? The industry gets, at least passive, approval from a major enviro group, they get the "cover" of regulation, and they can move ahead with all due speed toward their new nirvana.

The key part of this pact with the devil is the regulatory part. When things go wrong, and the public is angered by the hazards of nano-technology, the industry will say "The government approved this, so I'm not liable."

Corporations have done a splendid job, on all fronts, of stealing huge sums of taxpayer money, while, all along, attacking government for everything that goes wrong.

In the Bush corporate era, is there any chance of stemming the onslaught of nanotech?

I think not. It's full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, and let's make some money!

Unless people are knowledgeable (this is not a hot news topic), unless people vote (voting is not a common American practice), and unless we have candidates who are aware and who can educate the citizenry, the corporate world will win again.

December 22, 2005

Packaging Chemical Disrupts Young Brains

From (Tip of the hat to Fern)

Low doses of Bisphenol A (BPA), a packaging chemical, can damage the development of young brains, according to new scientific study. The research from a University of Cincinnati scientific team on the packaging chemical adds to the growing body of scientific evidence indicating that it should not be used for food contact materials.

BPA works by disrupting the important effects of estrogen in the developing brain, the University of Cincinnati team, headed by Scott Belcher, reported. BPA shows negative effects in brain tissue "at surprisingly low doses". they say in two articles in the December 2005 edition of the journal Endocrinology.

"In the face of more than 100 studies published in peer-reviewed journals showing the detrimental effects of BPA, the chemical industry and federal regulatory agencies have resisted banning BPA from plastics used as food and beverage containers, despite the fact that plastics free of BPA and other toxic chemicals are available," Belcher stated.

BPA is used in the production of epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics. The plastics are used in many food and drink packaging applications. Resins are commonly used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, milk container linings, bottle tops, water supply pipes and dental sealants.

"While plastics are typically thought of as being stable, scientists have known for many years that the chemical linkage between BPA molecules was unstable, and that BPA leaches into food or beverages in contact with the plastics," he stated.

Scientific research has often implicated BPA in disease or developmental problems. The chemical has long been known to act as an artificial estrogen, the primary hormone involved in female sexual development.

BPA has already been shown to increase breast cancer cell growth. In the January 2005 edition of the journal Cancer Research, another University of Cincinnati research team reported that it increased the growth of some prostate cancer cells as well. Warnings about other possible long-term health risks associated with fetal exposures to BPA have also been discussed in recent scientific literature.

Belcher and his colleagues worked with rats at a period in their development equivalent to the third trimester of human fetal development through to the first few years of childhood.
Although best known for its function as a female sex hormone, Dr. Belcher explained, estrogen also has very important roles in the developing brain of both males and females.
In the absence of estrogen, Dr. Belcher said, BPA alone was found to mimic the actions of estrogen in developing neurons. Very low doses of BPA completely inhibited the activity of estrogen. Because estrogen normally increases the growth and regulates viability of developing neurons, he said, these results support the idea that BPA may harm developing brain cells.
While high doses cause little effect, analysis of cellular and molecular markers of estrogen signaling revealed that near-maximal effects of BPA on rat brain neurons not only occurred "at surprisingly low" doses of 0.23 parts per trillion, they also happened in a matter of minutes, Belcher stated.

"From other studies it's clear that these low concentrations are in line with human fetal exposures, and at levels one might even see in the water supply," he stated.
This "low-dose" effect of BPA is troubling, since its maximum effects occur at the level typical of human exposure. This means that the harmful effects of BPA could easily be missed using standard approaches for determining the risks of chemical exposure, he stated.
"These are important considerations in view of the widespread presence of low concentrations of BPA in the environment," he stated.

Earlier research, which showed estrogens could control the survival of maturing neurons in the brain region involved in movement and coordination. Belcher and his co-workers found the effects of estrogen were the same in both males and females.

"Estrogen's actions on these neurons appear to be a double-edged sword," he stated. "During certain periods of development estrogen can kill specific subsets of neurons, but at a later developmental stage it actually appears to increase their viability."
Disruption of either of these actions of estrogen could be considered potentially harmful, he added.

"We have now shown that environmental estrogens like BPA appear to alter, in a very complicated fashion, the normal way estrogen communicates with immature nerve cells," Belcher stated. "The developmental effects that we studied are known to be important for brain development and also for normal function of the adult brain."

What remains unclear is how the inappropriate hormone signaling, or blocking the normal signaling at a critical time during development, will influence humans in later life.
"These new studies are also the first to show that estrogen's rapid signaling mechanisms are active in the developing and maturing brain in regions not thought to be involved with sexual differences or reproductive functions," Belcher stated.

As reported earlier in, US scientists from Tufts University School of Medicine in the US reported during the summer that low doses of BPAcould be a contributing factor to the development of breast cancer in women.

BPA was first shown to be oestrogenic in 1938, in a study using rats. In a 1993 study BPA was found to be oestrogenic in the human breast cancer cell, the scientists state. Another 1995 study found that the liquid in some cans of tinned vegetables have been found to contain both BPA and and the related chemical dimethyl bisphenol-A.

The highest levels of BPA were found in cans of peas. BPA was also found in the liquid from cans of artichokes, beans, mixed vegetables, corn and mushrooms. All liquids which contained BPA were found to be oestrogenic to a human breast cancer cell, the scientists reported.
In 1997 researchers Fred vom Saal and others at the University of Missouri-Columbia concluded that BPA was harmful to humans and that its use should be banned. They noted that BPA is also used in the manufacture bottles, from which it leaches at an increasing rate as the bottle ages.
BPA was first identified in the 1930s. In the 1950s, chemists linked BPA together to create polycarbonates and companies began using the chemical in plastics production. BPA is now one of the top 50 chemicals being produced in the US.

A study from a group of German researchers released in September provided the first direct evidence that human exposure to BPA in Europe is very low and is, at most, in a range similar to the levels reported in other parts of the world, according to a chemicial industry site.
The research was sponsored by UBA (Umweltbundesamt), which is the German Federal Environment Agency.

December 20, 2005

Bush Claims Contradicted

At least two leading Democrats have contradicted Bush's claims that leading Democrats were advised about the illegal NSA eavesdropping.

Think Progress has a piece about former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) who was Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He has said this about his meetings with administration officials:

There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to…begin unwarranted, illegal — and I think unconstitutional — eavesdropping on American citizens.

And the Huffington Post refers us to a letter written by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in which he clearly objects to the "direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology and survellance."

So with whom did the Administration consult on the Democratic side who did not object? Perhaps they had tea with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), both of whom they could count on looking the other way?

Give it some time. We will discover which Democrats were actually told and which ones did not object.

Venezuela Gives Oil Giant ExxonMobil Ultimatum

By Greg Morsbach BBC News, Caracas

Venezuela has become a key global oil producerVenezuela has given the world's biggest oil company, ExxonMobil, until the end of this year to enter a joint venture with the state.
Failure to do so will almost certainly result in Exxon losing its oil field concessions in the country.
Venezuela's socialist government has now signed new agreements with almost all foreign petroleum companies.

After months of pressure from left-wing leader Hugo Chavez most foreign oil firms working there have caved in. They have agreed to hand over a controlling stake of their oil interests to the Venezuelan state.

This means that Venezuela, which has the world's largest petroleum reserves, now calls the shots in what the foreign guests can and cannot do. In addition, the companies which have signed the new contracts - such as Chevron, BP, Shell and Total - will in future be presented with much higher tax bills by the government.

Foreign unease
But Venezuela says it is only fair that the foreigners are made to pay up as they have got away lightly in the past. Much of the oil revenue in Venezuela goes into social projects in shanty towns and poor rural areas. But the US oil giant, ExxonMobil, is digging in its heels and is so far refusing to agree to the terms of the new deal. Exxon risks losing Venezuelan operations if it fails to comply.

There is growing unease among foreign energy companies based Latin America that they may be forced to become junior partners by a string of left wing governments. In the case of Bolivia and the apparent shift to the left there following elections on Sunday, it is possible that the new government will decide to follow Venezuela's example and renegotiate oil and gas contracts with foreign investors.


And why not? It's way past time that countries around the world took more control of their own natural resources and used them for the good of their own people. The oil cartel needs an attitude adjustment of the severest kind. The black gold they have always felt is theirs by some divine right is not theirs, but rather the national resource of millions of people who deserve much more than they are receiving in return for the right of these companies to exploit it. And the industrialized world needs a prolonged shock of high oil prices to shake itself out of its lethargy regarding development of alternative energy sources. Perhaps more radical governments in oil rich countries kicking the oil cartel's butt might be what it takes for America and the rest of the developed world to come to its senses. As the reality of the world's oil peak approaches, watch for this to happen more and more. But, keep in mind, the one thing that can stop it is military action. And potential targets would include Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Spying On Ourselves

From guest writer, Bob Warren, the Old Pessimist

It has not been a good two months for The Dubya’s Administration: the havoc wrecked by Katrina-Rita and the unresolved catastrophic failure of FEMA and the SBA to provide necessary assistance with at least some sense of dispatch; the imbroglio over how, or even if to rebuild the city of New Orleans; Scooter Libby’s indictment and Karl Rove’s continuing problems with Mr. Fitzgerald; increasing American casualties in Iraq and the seeming inability of the Coalition forces to effectively counter the insurgents’ continuing attacks; and further disquieting revelations about the government’s secret ‘rendition-for-torture’ escapades, involving the delivery of suspected terrorists (disenfranchised so-called ‘enemy combatants’) to black hole torment sites across the world.

Now comes the revelation, amidst the heated debate on Capitol Hill as to whether or not to extend various provisions of the so-called Patriot Act, that the super-secret National Security Agency has been tasked by the President to use the most sophisticated electronic intercept apparatus in the world to eavesdrop on domestic conversations without a warrant from the super-duper secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which has direct, hands-on oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

This controversy, one which revolves within the orbit of the protections afforded to U.S. citizens by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures, is itself shrouded and masked by notions of national security as it applies to the ever-dreaded, much ballyhooed, persistent War on Terrorism that followed the tragedy of NineEleven.

But the facts, if not their application, are relatively straight-forward and simple to understand. First, as Americans we are shielded by the Bill of Rights from unwarranted (forgive the pun) searches and seizures. Before any law enforcement (or intelligence) agents can barge into your house or office or boat or hideaway cabin in the woods or root through the trunk of your car or tap your phone or read your e-mail, they first must obtain a warrant from a designated member of the judiciary allowing them to do so, one based on notions of ‘probable cause.’ Over the years this has become a highly refined concept, subject to numerous U.S. Supreme Court opinions; there is no question but that its application is highly nuanced with carefully delineated exceptions. Nonetheless, no one knowledgeable in the law will argue that, on the whole, its practice is not both effective and respected by law enforcement authorities.

Secondly, since the shenanigans of the Nixon White House there has existed firm protection from government spying on its citizens for any reason, absent specific judicial sanction. (Remember the plumber’s ill-fated burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in retaliation for Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post?) For the past 25 years or more, the National Security Agency has thought to have been scrupulous in keeping hands off any domestic Signet activities.

The charge, first published by the New York Times on 12/15/05 in a lead article by James Risen and Eric Lichtbau, contends that, since early 2002, at any given moment NSA is eavesdropping without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States pursuant to what the Agency calls ‘a special collection program’ ordered and authorized by the President. The total number of Americans monitored without warrant and without their knowledge is unknown, since various ‘targets’ are placed on and removed from the list at different times. There may have been thousands of individual targets.

In pursuit of his War on Terrorism, Mr. Bush is pressing his presidential prerogatives to the limit, arguably beyond the boundaries set by statutory law and the Constitution. He appears to be taking a leaf from Tricky Dick’s book. As former President Nixon famously remarked in an interview with David Frost on May 19, 1977, “When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.” There was an echo of those sentiments last week from none other than Senator Trent Lott who, remarking on the breaking news regarding NSA’s warrantless domestic surveillance procedures, observed: “I don’t agree with the libertarians. I want my security first. I’ll deal with the details after that.” [Source: Washington Post, 12/17/05, A01]

I know, I know, these are just a bunch of dangerous terrorists that we’re chasing here, people who want to bring down America, fanatics who have no truck with our notion of fair play, let alone with constitutional safeguards. Screw them. This is the right place to waive the rules.

Up to a point that’s true, of course, but so what? Where, when, and how do we draw the line, and most importantly, who makes that decision? The slow but persistent erosion of the rights and privileges that have shaped our society, that provide bedrock, fundamental protection for you and me, are under attack by an Administration that has become drunk on the influence of executive power and privilege. The operative theory? Link ‘terrorism’ with ‘national security’ and there is adequate justification for any measure, extralegal or not.

There is much presidential rhetoric Out There. As quoted by Christine Gauser in the New York Times on 12/16/05, President Bush made the following statement on ‘The News Hour with Jim Lehrer’ that evening: “We don’t talk about sources and methods. Don’t talk about ongoing intelligence operations. I know there is speculation. But it’s important for the American people to understand that we will do - or I use my powers to protect us, and I will do so under the law, and that’s important for our citizens to understand.” Given the source and given his history to date in the White House, I take scant comfort from such assurances, even if I can follow the tortured syntax.

The American public deserves to know what actions are being taken in furtherance of the War on Terrorism, since these measures are arguably as much a potential threat to our rights as to those of our sworn enemies. To think otherwise, to be unresponsive to this and similar issues, is to threaten ourselves. As repeatedly said here, to resort to such tactics inevitably leads Us to become Them. It’s not the intelligence that we seek to gain that I question — after all, it was a lack of credible intelligence that led us into this mess in the first place. Nor do I argue that the government must bare its intelligence secrets to public scrutiny. But its methodology in obtaining that intelligence, whether it’s torturing prisoners in Black Holes abroad or impermissibly eavesdropping on its own citizens at home, is a public issue, one that demands a thorough explanation from the Administration, preferably from a spokesperson who can communicate clearly, using intelligible English.

I close with three quotes from three leaders of the Third Reich. The first is from former Reichsmarshall Herman Göring; the second is from Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda; the third is from der Führer himself:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is to tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works in any country.” - Herman Göring, Reichsmarshall

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important fro the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” - Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda

“What luck for the rulers that men do not think.” - Adolf Hitler

[Source for each of the above:]

Am I comparing the Bush Administration to the Third Reich? Certainly not as an absolute. But if the comparison is limited to governmental secrecy, high-level manipulation of public opinion, questioning the right to dissent and to inquire, then the answer is a qualified “Yes.” National security, the War on Terrorism, extralegal methods of investigation (perhaps including sanctioned torture), repression of the Enemy Within, dissent as unpatriotic provocation — these echoes of another era are too compelling to dismiss. Individual rights sacrificed for the greater national good? Think back to Hitler’s Germany in, say, 1937, or Mussolini’s Italy in 1929-1931.

We can blame the Terrorists for many things, but we can’t blame them for ourselves — or can we?

December 19, 2005


Last night, after Bush's speech, Wolf Blitzer on his CNN show, The Situation Room (the set looks like something out of the bad sci-fi flick Aeon Flux), posed the question about getting out of Iraq, not as it has been posed by people like John Murtha, but as a question of whether "immediate withdrawal" is a good thing or not. As introduction to an interview with Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, Blitzer says this: "Coming up, Colin Powell's speaking out. We'll find out why he believes a call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq -- those calls would result in a tragic mistake. Stay with us."

In this one sentence, Blitzer essentially endorses Bush's strategy of "stay the course." Let's not even discuss the merits of setting a timeline for withdrawal. First, let's set up this straw man issue of immediate withdrawal and bring in Colin Powell to knock that down.

It is a phony issue. There are very few people advocating immediate withdrawal. Most responsible critics of Bush's Iraq war are proposing a phased withdrawal with a set timeline to do so. There is a very cogent argument being made by liberals and even some conservatives that by setting a timeline for withdrawal, the Iraqi government, police, military and people will realize the fact that they must take over sole responsibility for their governance and security, and given them the urgency to do so.

But Blitzer poses this question as if immediate withdrawal is what is being suggested. It is not.

What I believe may really be at issue here is whether the American military actually believes that the Iraqis can ever take over those responsibilities. Whether we do it now, or one year from now, or ten years from now, can it ever happen? Will instability rule Iraq for decades to come? Perhaps that is what they fear, and if we get out at any time, failure of our mission will result. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld legacy in Iraq will go down the tubes. And this is what worries them most.

And despite the Bush administration's own plan to reduce troop strength (which the Republicans never talk about because it essentially looks like what John Murtha has suggested), generals in the Pentagon wonder how it can be done. This exchange from last night between Blitzer and Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, is revealing:

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, when are we going to get the formal announcements of this 20,000 troop reduction from about 158,000 down to 138,000 now that the elections have come and gone?

STARR: Well, Wolf, General George Casey said last week that he is working on an assessment now, and expects to make the recommendation to the president about the 20,000 troops within the next several days.

All indications are by the end of the year, by the new year. The military will have made the recommendation to the president. Whether he announces it at that time still remains to be seen because of this very critical calculation. What will the insurgency look like? What will the Sunni Ba'athists do in the days after the election now? Will violence take an upturn?

How do you announce a reduction in U.S. troops if there are still more and more attacks coming?
[emphasis added]

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, stand by for a moment.

Great questions brought up by Starr, but never answered. They just hang out there, unrecognized and unacknowledged by Blitzer or any of his other guests.

And then we have this incisive report from CNN's Jacki Schechner:

Blitzer: The president's speech is already generating lots of buzz online. Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She's watching the situation there. What are you picking up already, Jackie?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is what's so cool about the blogs. You want to know how a speech like this resonates with the general public? All you got to do is go online to look for comments.And I'll tell you what I'm seeing early from the right is this was an excellent, excellent speech.

From The National Reviews blog, the Corner, K.J. Lopez pointing out that it was a strong solid address. Captain's Quarters blog, another big conservative blog, smart, presidential. Over at, they opened up their comments sections and let people weigh in. People were saying this is the speech we should have been hearing all along. It would have put President Bush in a better light.

Now on the left, a lot of them read the speech, why bother to watch it. I tell you, Think Progress got an early copy, posted it. Other big liberal blogs were linking to it. I don't even know that a lot of them even watched the speech. They were not impressed. Think Progress pointing out there was no mention of a timeline. That's what they're looking for.

As for reaction from politicians, a lot of them posting online as well. Senator Frist saying this was a strong presidential speech. And Senator Feingold again pointing out no timeline.

So Bush - Wolf, I'm sorry, immediate reaction online to President Bush's speech.

There is also a silly conversation between Democratic New York Representative "Charlie" Rangle and Republican New York Representative"Pete" King about the Presidential wiretapping, as predictable as you can imagine.

Surprisingly, the only good question Blitzer asked during the course of the evening, was sucked up into the ether and never addressed by anyone:

BLITZER: ....the argument is that the president could have done this by simply going to that -- what's called that "Phizer Court," the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act court. There's a judge there who sits in super-secret session over at the Justice Department. And also on a routine basis, rubber stamps these requests for wire taps, for surveillance. So what was the problem with simply doing that and then you have the cover of a court order?

It is an obvious question that no one, to my knowledge, has answered. If what the president wanted to do was within the legal limits of the Foreign Intelligence Survelliance Act, he would have received a judge's approval. In fact, I believe Bush and his lawyers were afraid that they would not have received them in many of these instances. And despite what Rep. King says is a long list of people who have stated that the President has an "inherent constitutional right" to engage in domestic spying, this is only one small step away from the claim of the divine right of kings.

Perhaps the most astounding comment made during the course of this hour-long drama news series, was when Pete King said, in responding to a question about domestic spying:

Well, first of all, Wolf, if he had done this back in 1998, 1999 and 2000, we probably wouldn't have had the attacks of September 11.

The implication, of course, is that had Bill Clinton aurthorized illegal domestic spying during his administration, we would not have been attacked. Not a peep from Blitzer or Rangel in response to this outrageously indefensible claim.

December 16, 2005

Democracy in Iraq

On the day after Iraqis went to the polls this year, for the third time, it is difficult to find news or comment about it this morning on the progressive or liberal weblogs. I observed the same thing previously.

AmericaBlog's top story is about pre-war intelligence.

Buzzflash has alot of stories, none of them about the Iraqi election.

Common Dreams has nothing.

Juan Cole writes about how the large Sunni turnout is actually bad for the Bush administration because it confirms the Sunni opposition to the continued American occupation. No kidding? That's somewhat akin to saying that it's bad for Democrats when all the Republicans show up and vote in Mississippi.

AlterNet has one piece by Larry Johnson entitled Democracy and Delusion in Iraq which was written before the actual vote and discredits it a priori. One of the stunning things that Johnson claims is that the result is a foregone conclusion because the Shiites represent 80% of the country. Well, duhhh.

Here's the lead in The New York Times:

In a day remarkable for its calm, millions of Iraqis from across the country cast ballots today to elect a parliament to a four-year term, with Sunni Arabs turning out in what appeared to be very heavy numbers and guerrillas mounting relatively few armed attacks.
Iraqi officials said initial indications were that as many as 11 million people cast ballots, which, if the estimate holds true, would put the overall turnout at more than 70 percent. With Iraqis still lining up to vote in front of ballot centers as the sun went down, Iraqi officials ordered the polls to stay open an extra hour.

Each time the Iraqis go to the polls to vote, I notice a disturbing quiet among progressive and liberal bloggers and commentators about the actual act of millions of Iraqis voting. Many of us (myself included) spend an enormous amount of time condemning the war, pointing out all its faults, listing the lies on which it is based, and indicting numerous government officials for waging the war.

Nevertheless, each time greater numbers of Iraqis go to the polls and vote, each time we witness "democracy in action" in Iraq, might we not rejoice a little in this positive development? It may be that it is fleeting, it may be that the country will ultimately be torn apart by civil war, it may be that the country peacefully splits into three parts (Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd), but whatever the outcome, these exercises in electoral politics are something we should embrace.

In each human being, anywhere on the face of this earth, and in spite of historical or cultural disconnect, in spite of religious or political dogma, there is a longing to be free, to enjoy deciding one's own fate. Casting a ballot is one of the most elemental ways humans can decide their own fates. In Iraq, this practice has, up until now, only been imaginary. Isn't there something about what millions of Iraqis are doing that critics of Bush might examine and appreciate more closely?

We can't undo what George Bush did. But we can work with what we have now. And while I agree with Nir Rosen's piece, which I published yesterday, that the US military CAN get out of Iraq, and needs to, I also want to support the idea that we, as radicals, as progressives, as liberals, as democrats, ought to support the notion of electoral politics in Iraq, as crazy and as corrupt as it might be at the top. The fact that 11 million Iraqis--stonemasons, housewives and mothers, truck drivers, police trainees, shop owners, teachers--70 % of eligible voters, turned out and voted needs to be celebrated.

Just look at the number of political parties that were on various slates in the Iraqi election yesterday. Even though our democracy has experienced little in the way of multi-party competition, just the fact that such an array of competing parties and interests exists in Iraq ought to be appreciated.

What I am saying is that, despite the wrong or illegal or immoral nature of Bush's unilateral invasion of sovereign Iraq, there are millions of Iraqi men and women who have hopes and dreams of democracy and peace. Here's the best example of it: when they dip their fingers in that purple ink, millions of Iraqi women are sending a message that they want a free, democratic Iraq not ruled by religious bigotry and patriarchy. We need to support those aspirations.

December 15, 2005

A Man and His Guns

If America Left Iraq

This is from The Atlantic Monthly. It is written by Nir Rosen, a reporter who has spent significant time in Iraq talking to Iraqis. Here are the questions he poses: His longer answers are worth reading.

1. Would the withdrawal of U.S. troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites? (NO)
2. But if American troops aren't in Baghdad, what's to stop the Sunnis from launching an assault and seizing control of the city? (NUMBERS and STRENGTH)
3. Wouldn't a U.S. withdrawal embolden the insurgency? (YES, but to no effect)
4. But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn't it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal? (YES, but to no effect)
5. What about the Kurds? Won't they secede if the United States leaves? (YES)
6. Would Turkey invade in response to a Kurdish secession? (NO)
7. Would Iran effectively take over Iraq? (NO)
8. What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims? (He says forget about)
9. What can the United States do to repair Iraq? (not much, he calls it a fissiparous country -- look it up)

At some point—whether sooner or later—U.S. troops will leave Iraq. I have spent much of the occupation reporting from Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Fallujah, and elsewhere in the country, and I can tell you that a growing majority of Iraqis would like it to be sooner. As the occupation wears on, more and more Iraqis chafe at its failure to provide stability or even electricity, and they have grown to hate the explosions, gunfire, and constant war, and also the daily annoyances: having to wait hours in traffic because the Americans have closed off half the city; having to sit in that traffic behind a U.S. military vehicle pointing its weapons at them; having to endure constant searches and arrests. Before the January 30 elections this year the Association of Muslim Scholars—Iraq's most important Sunni Arab body, and one closely tied to the indigenous majority of the insurgency—called for a commitment to a timely U.S. withdrawal as a condition for its participation in the vote. (In exchange the association promised to rein in the resistance.) It's not just Sunnis who have demanded a withdrawal: the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is immensely popular among the young and the poor, has made a similar demand. So has the mainstream leader of the Shiites' Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who made his first call for U.S. withdrawal as early as April 23, 2003.

If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why do the soldiers stay? The most common answer is that it would be irresponsible for the United States to depart before some measure of peace has been assured. The American presence, this argument goes, is the only thing keeping Iraq from an all-out civil war that could take millions of lives and would profoundly destabilize the region. But is that really the case? Let's consider the key questions surrounding the prospect of an imminent American withdrawal.

Would the withdrawal of U.S. troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites?

No. That civil war is already under way—in large part because of the American presence. The longer the United States stays, the more it fuels Sunni hostility toward Shiite "collaborators." Were America not in Iraq, Sunni leaders could negotiate and participate without fear that they themselves would be branded traitors and collaborators by their constituents. Sunni leaders have said this in official public statements; leaders of the resistance have told me the same thing in private. The Iraqi government, which is currently dominated by Shiites, would lose its quisling stigma. Iraq's security forces, also primarily Shiite, would no longer be working on behalf of foreign infidels against fellow Iraqis, but would be able to function independently and recruit Sunnis to a truly national force. The mere announcement of an intended U.S. withdrawal would allow Sunnis to come to the table and participate in defining the new Iraq.

But if American troops aren't in Baghdad, what's to stop the Sunnis from launching an assault and seizing control of the city?

Sunni forces could not mount such an assault. The preponderance of power now lies with the majority Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunnis know this. Sunni fighters wield only small arms and explosives, not Saddam's tanks and helicopters, and are very weak compared with the cohesive, better armed, and numerically superior Shiite and Kurdish militias. Most important, Iraqi nationalism—not intramural rivalry—is the chief motivator for both Shiites and Sunnis. Most insurgency groups view themselves as waging a muqawama—a resistance—rather than a jihad. This is evident in their names and in their propaganda. For instance, the units commanded by the Association of Muslim Scholars are named after the 1920 revolt against the British. Others have names such as Iraqi Islamic Army and Flame of Iraq. They display the Iraqi flag rather than a flag of jihad. Insurgent attacks are meant primarily to punish those who have collaborated with the Americans and to deter future collaboration.

Wouldn't a U.S. withdrawal embolden the insurgency?

No. If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left? When I asked Sunni Arab fighters and the clerics who support them why they were fighting, they all gave me the same one-word answer: intiqaam—revenge. Revenge for the destruction of their homes, for the shame they felt when Americans forced them to the ground and stepped on them, for the killing of their friends and relatives by U.S. soldiers either in combat or during raids.

But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn't it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal?

The foreign jihadi element—commanded by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—is numerically insignificant; the bulk of the resistance has no connection to al-Qaeda or its offshoots. (Zarqawi and his followers have benefited greatly from U.S. propaganda blaming him for all attacks in Iraq, because he is now seen by Arabs around the world as more powerful than he is; we have been his best recruiting tool.) It is true that the Sunni resistance welcomed the foreign fighters (and to some extent still do), because they were far more willing to die than indigenous Iraqis were. But what Zarqawi wants fundamentally conflicts with what Iraqi Sunnis want: Zarqawi seeks re-establishment of the Muslim caliphate and a Manichean confrontation with infidels around the world, to last until Judgment Day; the mainstream Iraqi resistance just wants the Americans out. If U.S. forces were to leave, the foreigners in Zarqawi's movement would find little support—and perhaps significant animosity—among Iraqi Sunnis, who want wealth and power, not jihad until death. They have already lost much of their support: many Iraqis have begun turning on them. In the heavily Shia Sadr City foreign jihadis had burning tires placed around their necks. The foreigners have not managed to establish themselves decisively in any large cities. Even at the height of their power in Fallujah they could control only one neighborhood, the Julan, and they were hated by the city's resistance council. Today foreign fighters hide in small villages and are used opportunistically by the nationalist resistance.

When the Americans depart and Sunnis join the Iraqi government, some of the foreign jihadis in Iraq may try to continue the struggle—but they will have committed enemies in both Baghdad and the Shiite south, and the entire Sunni triangle will be against them. They will have nowhere to hide. Nor can they merely take their battle to the West. The jihadis need a failed state like Iraq in which to operate. When they leave Iraq, they will be hounded by Arab and Western security agencies.

What about the Kurds? Won't they secede if the United States leaves?

Yes, but that's going to happen anyway. All Iraqi Kurds want an independent Kurdistan. They do not feel Iraqi. They've effectively had more than a decade of autonomy, thanks to the UN-imposed no-fly zone; they want nothing to do with the chaos that is Iraq. Kurdish independence is inevitable—and positive. (Few peoples on earth deserve a state more than the Kurds.) For the moment the Kurdish government in the north is officially participating in the federalist plan—but the Kurds are preparing for secession. They have their own troops, the peshmerga, thought to contain 50,000 to 100,000 fighters. They essentially control the oil city of Kirkuk. They also happen to be the most America-loving people I have ever met; their leaders openly seek to become, like Israel, a proxy for American interests. If what the United States wants is long-term bases in the region, the Kurds are its partners.

Would Turkey invade in response to a Kurdish secession?

For the moment Turkey is more concerned with EU membership than with Iraq's Kurds—who in any event have expressed no ambitions to expand into Turkey. Iraq's Kurds speak a dialect different from Turkey's, and, in fact, have a history of animosity toward Turkish Kurds. Besides, Turkey, as a member of NATO, would be reluctant to attack in defiance of the United States. Turkey would be satisfied with guarantees that it would have continued access to Kurdish oil and trade and that Iraqi Kurds would not incite rebellion in Turkey.

Would Iran effectively take over Iraq?

No. Iraqis are fiercely nationalist—even the country's Shiites resent Iranian meddling. (It is true that some Iraqi Shiites view Iran as an ally, because many of their leaders found safe haven there when exiled by Saddam—but thousands of other Iraqi Shiites experienced years of misery as prisoners of war in Iran.) Even in southeastern towns near the border I encountered only hostility toward Iran.

What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state. Although Iraq may have been officially secular during the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam encouraged Islamism during the 1990s, and the difficulties of the past decades have strengthened the resurgence of Islam. In the absence of any other social institutions, the mosques and the clergy assumed the dominant role in Iraq following the invasion. Even Baathist resistance leaders told me they have returned to Islam to atone for their sins under Saddam. Most Shiites, too, follow one cleric or another. Ayatollah al-Sistani—supposedly a moderate—wants Islam to be the source of law. The invasion of Iraq has led to a theocracy, which can only grow more hostile to America as long as U.S. soldiers are present. Does Iraqi history offer any lessons?

The British occupation of Iraq, in the first half of the twentieth century, may be instructive. The British faced several uprisings and coups. The Iraqi government, then as now, was unable to suppress the rebels on its own and relied on the occupying military. In 1958, when the government the British helped install finally fell, those who had collaborated with them could find no popular support; some, including the former prime minister Nuri Said, were murdered and mutilated. Said had once been a respected figure, but he became tainted by his collaboration with the British. That year, when revolutionary officers overthrew the government, Said disguised himself as a woman and tried to escape. He was discovered, shot in the head, and buried. The next day a mob dug up his corpse and dragged it through the street—an act that would be repeated so often in Iraq that it earned its own word: sahil. With the British-sponsored government gone, both Sunni and Shiite Arabs embraced the Iraqi identity. The Kurds still resent the British perfidy that made them part of Iraq.

What can the United States do to repair Iraq?

There is no panacea. Iraq is a destroyed and fissiparous country. Iranians and Saudis I've spoken to worry that it might be impossible to keep Iraq from disintegrating. But they agree that the best hope of avoiding this scenario is if the United States leaves; perhaps then Iraqi nationalism will keep at least the Arabs united. The sooner America withdraws and allows Iraqis to assume control of their own country, the better the chances that Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari won't face sahil. It may be decades before Iraq recovers from the current maelstrom. By then its borders may be different, its vaunted secularism a distant relic. But a continued U.S. occupation can only get in the way.

December 14, 2005

History As Propaganda

President Bush gave another speech (this time in the historic American Revolutionary city of Phildelphia) in his highly acclaimed new TV series explaining, defending, and cajoling his way to a new strategic position on achieving VICTORY in Iraq, and, thereby, raising his poll numbers.

In this Philadelphia speech, he took up, yet again, a favorable comparison both he and Rumsfeld have used before (Bush in May 2005 and Rumsfeld in 2003) of the situation in Iraq with our own American Revolution.

It is a comparison borne of the need to inspire support at home for his actions. What better symbol to rally the homeland behind than to whip up patriotic fervor by tying his entire enterprise in Iraq to our own American Revolution and its patriotic and emotional foundation.

Here are a few problems with Bush's historical comparison:

-- Iraq was not a colonial nation ruled by an absent King, but rather a sovereign country whose leadership was toppled by foreign invasion -- and, if anything, we are more like France in this equation, an outsider supporting one fraction in this conflict over another (although I doubt Bush would want to compare us to France, and, of course, France did not overthrow the King and install a bunch of outsiders in power);

-- there was not a long history of internal opposition to Saddam, no growing civil and militant reaction (no Boston Tea Parties), nothing comparable to our decades long and ever-growing dissatisfaction with the King;

-- there are no homegrown leaders in Iraq even remotely comparable to our founding fathers who actually fought for independence -- there simply are no Iraqi leaders comparable to Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin, and Tom Paine;

-- the violent brand of sectarian religious and tribal hatred in Iraq did not exist in early America;

-- and after liberation from the King, during the course of what Bush calls "many difficult challenges," while Americans hashed out the division of power in America, we had clearly defined political units made up of states which had governors, laws, regulations, statutes -- there is nothing comparable in Iraq, other than loosely organized provinces with no real "state's" rights;

-- the armed revolts of early America (like the Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion) were not terrorist acts a la Iraq, characterized by religious sectarian hatreds, but rather revolts by farmers and small mercantalists against ever increasing taxes imposed by the King.

-- and while there was degree of Judeo-Christian content present in the drafting of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers made it clear that the new nation would not be ruled and governed by religious law in any shape or form, a marked contrast with the Iraqi Constitution which has as its basic interpretational underpinning, the Koran and its religious judicial basis, Sharia.

Bush, ever unapologetic, uses the American Revolution analogy incorrectly and inaccurately. But because there are a sufficient number of Americans who haven't a clue about either American history or Iraqi history, it has a certain salutory effect on his poll numbers.

And that's the point of this whole TV series he has launched.

December 13, 2005

Dissent is Patriotic

The notion that one can be opposed to the war and still support the troops is a difficult but important question. In the face of a constant barrage of spin and propaganda from the Right about how opponents of the war are giving comfort to the enemy and hurting our troops, those of us who do oppose the war need only to take John Murtha's and Bernie Sander's examples as proof that you can do both.

My father, whom I have mentioned before was a career Army officer, who fought in WWII, was opposed to the Vietnam war thinking it an unnecessary fight which was doomed. He saw the early stages of Vietnam develop while he served as military attache in Tokyo in the early 1960s. But while he opposed the war, he was a determined defender of the men and women who fought it. He hated the disrespect to our troops shown by the New Left, by the student movements, by the Trotskyites and other crazies, and even by mainstream Democrats who should have known better. The idea that his fundamental opposition to the war harmed our troops or gave comfort to the enemy would have been a joke to him, and he would have rejected that argument outright as a slander against the best of American traditions of dissent.

I remember one time on the subway in New York City after my Dad retired, perhaps in 1969, he and I were riding down to Wall Street (he had become a broker) to join some of his friends from work for lunch (I was home from college), and he saw a young man wearing a fatigue jacket with a 3rd Army patch and some medals hanging on the front. It was his first contact with a Vietnam Vet against the War. But at first, he suspected that this young guy did not deserve to be wearing this outfit. So he challenged him, asking him "do you have a right to be wearing that?" The answer was yes. In fact, he had served in "Nam." And from there, for about 5 minutes I listened as these two men, a twenty-something, longhaired, fatigue-wearing, anti-war Vietnam Vet chatted with my short-haired dad in his three-piece Brooks Brother suit about the army, the war, and what was wrong with it. These two guys could not have imagined that their opposition to the war was anything but a patriotic act. They didn't identify with Jane Fonda or the SDS, but they both knew war, and they both knew this war was wrong.

John Murtha, a much decorated Marine Corps vet, is a firm friend of veterans while he also opposes the war. Here in Vermont, while Bernie Sanders, our self-described socialist Congressman who will soon be in the US Senate (driving Frist and the others crazy) is firmly opposed to the Iraq war, he also gets huge votes among veterans in Vermont because he fights for them tooth and nail.

A recent friend, who authors a very thoughtful, well-written occasional newsletter on political subjects, and who himself is a veteran who opposes the Iraq war, has proposed the following as ways to support and thank our troops and their families.

How do we thank the troops who have fought and died or been wounded and traumatized or simply burned out by the grueling fight with the insurgents in Iraq? Here, deeds speak far louder than does rhetoric. We should drastically increase the VA’s budget to accommodate its new caseload (not decreasing veterans’ aid as is now proposed). We should enhance the quality of military living here in the U.S., most of which, especially for married service men and women, is substandard by any measurement. Perhaps we should provide a fund to underwrite tuition assistance from grammar school through college for the children of dead and incapacitated soldiers who have died or are suffering from service-related injuries. Perhaps we need to reenact the GI Bill for returning service personnel.

I don't hear these kinds of proposal coming from the chickenhawks who spout words like "victory" so casually from their mouths and then never explain to our troops just what, in reality, that might mean for them.

So, if you oppose the Iraq war, the next time anyone says you are hurting our troops, just tell them about John Murtha and Bernie Sanders. And ask them how much they have lobbied their Congressional representatives to increase funding for veterans.

December 11, 2005

Domestic Military Intelligence On The Rise

This is directly from the Federation of American Scientists.

The military role in domestic intelligence collection appears to be rapidly shifting in subtle and profound ways, as new missions are assigned to little-known military organizations and most congressional overseers are silently acquiescent or actively supportive.One of the public manifestations of the changing landscape is a newDefense Department Instruction that "establishes procedures, and assigns responsibilities ... for the conduct and administration of DoD counterintelligence (CI) collection reporting activities."See "DoD Counterintelligence Collection Reporting," DoD Instruction5240.17, October 26, 2005:

The Instruction was issued by Stephen A. Cambone, the Under Secretaryof Defense for Intelligence. His authorities and responsibilities are themselves defined in the updated DoD Directive 5143.01, dated November 23, 2005:

The expansion of domestic military surveillance was reported in the Washington Post on November 27, and was elaborated with new details by William M. Arkin in his Washington Post blog. See "DomesticMilitary Intelligence Is Back," November 29:

December 10, 2005

Posting Comments on Blogs

I understand that there are people who don't wish to identify themselves when they post comments on blogs. And so, the moniker "anonymous" can be used by them to leave their thoughts without identifying themselves. I accept this reality, even though I don't like it.

But it is completely unacceptable when someone creates a blog name that is my personal name and then uses it to leave comments on my blog. Whoever it is that is leaving comments using my name I would appreciate it if you would stop.

I have a simple message for this person: No matter how "rational" you may think your remarks are, I will not permit the comments to remain on my blog. What you are doing is puerile and cowardly.

December 09, 2005

Open Letter to Jerry Falwell

Jerry Fallwell, along with a gang of other "Christian" chicken littles has been peddling a lie about how Christmas is under attack by the heathen liberals and the godless hordes. Here's an open letter to Rev. Jerry Falwell from Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

December 2005

Dear Jerry:

Here’s some news: There is no “war on Christmas!”
I’ve seen you on various television news shows claiming that there is but, in fact, there simply isn’t. Even as I write this, millions of Americans are erecting Christmas trees and nativity scenes at their homes, and thousands of churches are planning special Christmas services.
And, if I might say so, most of them are planning their lives without getting permission or encouragement from you.
I am deeply disappointed that you have chosen a time that Christians observe as a season of peace and good will and turned it into a time of religious divisiveness and community conflict. Your “Friend or Foe” campaign may be great for fund-raising and publicity, but it has sown discord unnecessarily.
Contrary to your wild allegations, Jerry, neither Americans United, nor any other civil liberties organization that I know of, is waging any kind of war on Christmas. The First Amendment of our Constitution ensures every American’s right to observe religious holidays or to refrain from doing so. We can wish each other a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” and it’s really none of your business which term we choose. We can call our decorated tree a “Christmas tree” or a “holiday tree,” and that’s our right. (We can observe the holidays of other traditions as well.)
I think we all know what’s really going on with your campaign. You want an America where there is no separation of church and state and where your rather narrow interpretation of Christianity is forced on everyone. If you can convince Americans that their cherished Christmas traditions are under fire, you think maybe they will join your nefarious crusade to tear down the protective church-state wall that guarantees our freedoms.
Well, it won’t work, Jerry. Americans are, by and large, a tolerant lot, and they are quite unlikely to join forces with someone like you who is so far out on the political and religious fringes. Many people remember the outrageous comments you made after the 9/11 terrorist assaults, suggesting that America had it coming because of our (in your opinion) sinful ways. They also remember your dire warning that Tinky Winky, a kids’ TV character, was brainwashing our children into homosexuality! You can’t rehabilitate an image like that by trying to depict yourself as Father Christmas.
I am particularly outraged that you are attacking our public schools as part of your misguided project. Our public schools serve children from 2,000 different faith traditions and some who follow no spiritual path at all. They generally do a tremendous job of helping each of these students without imposing any particular religious viewpoint. They steer a careful course, broadly allowing student religious expression while trying to avoid school endorsement of specific faiths. That means there are sometimes disagreements about what songs should be sung in the winter concert or what decorations should go in the hall. We can work through those decisions by applying common sense, the Constitution and plain old civility.
Thanks to the crusade by you and your allies, however, some of these schools are being targeted for venomous attacks. After the Alliance Defense Fund unfairly maligned a public school in New York for its holiday observance policies, education officials there received hateful mail of all sorts. One e-mail said "You are either bigoted Jews who hate Christians or mindless secularists."
Since I debated you about the Christmas issue on Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor,” I have received 66 nasty e-mails, including two death threats. Observed one of my correspondents, “Hope you die soon. Merry Christmas.”
Jerry, this is the kind of interfaith and community hostility that you are stirring up, and I implore you to stop it now. You are polluting the public square with animosity and anger. And at Christmas, of all times!! Have you no decency?
You’ve dubbed your latest round of antics a “Friend or Foe” campaign. Well, Jerry, I am a friend of the Constitution and a foe of intolerance. You should be too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

[If you have some last minute tax deductions you need, I urge you to give some money to Americans United, one of my favorite patriotic groups.]

A Socialist Atheist Female for President (in Chile)

Directly from the New York Times, a story worth reading (actually an op-ed piece).

Señora Presidente?
Santiago, Chile

CHILE is one of the more conservative countries on a continent that is not especially renowned as tolerant, forward thinking or democratically minded. Divorce was legalized here just last year, and abortion continues to be a taboo subject even for the most progressive of politicians. Our social codes and racial prejudices are deeply engrained. We are an overwhelmingly Catholic country with a history that has been marked - and continues to be marked - by the power of its military.
Given this context, it is nothing short of extraordinary - even revolutionary - that the clear front-runner in the presidential vote being held on Sunday is Michelle Bachelet, a divorced mother of three who is an atheist and a member of the Socialist Party.
Polls show Ms. Bachelet, a former defense minister, far ahead of her rivals, Sebastián Piñera, one of Chile's wealthiest businessmen; Joaquín Lavín, the ultraconservative former mayor of Santiago; and Tomás Hirsch of the Communist Party. Although a runoff is likely, the prevailing opinion here is that Ms. Bachelet will be the ultimate winner.
If she is, she will be the first woman in the Americas to be elected president not because she was a wife of a famous politician, but because of her own record. That this is a probability is even more astonishing when one considers that nothing like it has occurred in countries like the United States or France, where the democratic tradition is far more stable and feminism's impact presumably far greater. Curiously, American television is now running a series that revolves around the "novel" idea of a female president. What is fiction in the United States may well become reality in Chile.
The twist is that the Chilean candidate is a far more interesting character than the female president portrayed on American TV: as defense minister, Ms. Bachelet oversaw the successors and subordinates of the men who killed her father and tortured her and her mother during the darkest moments of the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
How has this happened? Chile, more than ever, is proving itself to be the polar opposite of Lampedusa's Sicily: in order for things to change, they have to stay the same - or rather, they have to look as if they are staying the same.
That is the best way I can describe the spirit with which the country seems to be anticipating the elections: people are aware that no matter what the outcome an unprecedented cultural, political and social revolution is taking place. And at the same time, they seem surprisingly unfazed by it all, observing these sweeping changes with ease, aplomb, even delight.
Perhaps this is because Chileans have by now grown accustomed to wild fluctuations in the country's political fortunes. This past year, the Chilean people saw rightist leaders - until recently General Pinochet's staunchest allies - renouncing all ties to him. General Pinochet is now under house arrest, held not only on human rights charges but also for his alleged role in a financial scandal involving millions of stolen dollars.
In countless other ways, the Pandora's box of Chilean politics has been flung wide open: nowadays it isn't at all strange to see an ultraconservative Catholic candidate signing his name on a transvestite's legs as a publicity stunt, nor is it odd to hear Ms. Bachelet talk about how hard it is to find Mr. Right.
For decades, even centuries, Chilean politics have largely been of the old-boy's-network variety, in which an all-male group of power brokers have run things on their own terms, within a select inner circle, forging alliances with one another and making deals with the press behind closed doors, far removed from the citizenry they represent.
Change in Chile has come at a breakneck pace in recent years, as justice is finally being delivered to dozens of dictatorship-era cronies, and the pillars of the church and the political elite have been shaken to their foundations by a wave of pedophilia scandals involving both.
The changes are abrupt and the contradictions are evident. Thanks to the country's growing economy, Chileans have access to more creature comforts than ever before, and yet prosperity somehow hasn't dulled their sensibilities: the populace that benefits from free-market economics also turned out in droves to pay tribute to Gladys Marín, the president of the Communist Party, when her coffin was carried through the streets of Santiago in March. People may be gulping down Starbucks and coveting iPods, but they are also devouring highly irreverent political magazines like The Clinic (for which I write) and flocking to politically oriented movies like "Machuca," which is about the 1973 coup led by General Pinochet.
Some analysts think that the free-market economy is responsible for this unprecedented change in Chile's political and social landscape. But other countries that follow that economic model (Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States), seem to be slouching in the opposite direction toward a retrograde, hard-line conservatism. Economics, then, clearly do not tell the entire story.
Other analysts attribute the change to the current president, Ricardo Lagos, who has concentrated on reconciling Chile with its tortured past. Even so the general consensus is that nobody - not Mr. Lagos, not the Chilean intelligentsia, and certainly not the power elite - was prepared for the seismic social and political shift represented by Ms. Bachelet's thriving candidacy. I don't think anyone would have predicted 10 years ago that we would ever arrive at this moment, but it seems that Chile is eager to usher it in. For us, political and economic stability - despite being so recent and so precious - is not enough.
Just as in 1970, when they went to the polls and elected a Socialist president, and again in 1988, when they rejected their dictator, Chileans have proved themselves to be far more daring with their vote than their lifestyles.
Perhaps this is because when they vote - in secret, where nobody can judge or criticize them - they reveal their truest colors, their passion for change, for improvisation and for leadership in a world that seems hell-bent on moving in the opposite direction.

Rafael Gumucio is a columnist for El Diario in New York and for newspapers in Chile. This article was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.

The Loyal Opposition?

Does it matter that 84 Republican seats in the House of Representatives are unopposed by the Democrats? At a time when the incumbent Republicans are wreaking havoc with the American family's financial future, further widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots, cutting benefits for the most needy in America, threatening our basic freedoms with an unpatriotic act, giving huge tax breaks to corporations and the rich, underfunding education, and standing by as more Americans lose their pensions and health care, is it acceptable that the Democratic Party can't find anyone to oppose these 84 incumbents? What is it? They are doing such a great job? And let's not even mention what the Republicans have done with American foreign policy.

84 seats unopposed! How is that possible? That's about 40% of the total incumbent Republican seats in the House of Representatives. I simply don't get it.

December 08, 2005

Hillary Clinton Rushing to the Right

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she is co-sponsoring, with Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, legislation that would make it a crime to burn an American flag, despite the fact that she opposes a constitutional ban. Apparently, Clinton has compared burning a flag with burning a cross which, in some instances, is considered a violation of Federal civil rights laws.

I would like to know, however, how far this kind of thinking can go. It seems to me that if you are going to criminalize (or ban) burning of an American flag in protest, you ought to go ahead and criminalize the burning of a copy of the Declaration of Independence, or a copy of the US Constitution, or a photo of the President, or the burning of him in effigy. Where does the line get drawn? What becomes acceptable protest? How far do we take criminalizing protest itself?

My father fought in WWII as a company commander with the 71st Division which liberated more concentration camps than any other. Before he died, when he heard about a possible anti-flag burning amendment to the Constitution he was appalled and told me: "The men I fought with who died in my company did so, in part, to defend an American's right to burn a flag in protest".

She is trying to reach out in an appeal to the right with this naked political ploy. If she actually believes in what she is doing, it would make it even more egregious.

Thanks to Stupid Country

December 07, 2005

Extraordinary Rendition As Benign Airplane Trip To Justice

Condoleeza Rice , in her statement yesterday (December 6, 2005) on extraordinary rendition, would have us believe that rendition is some kind of benign airplane trip we are sending people on to countries where they can receive the justice due them.

In her statement she said flatly, "the United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances."

She further said:

-- The United States has respected -- and will continue to respect -- the sovereignty of other countries.
-- The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.
-- The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured.
-- The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.

In her statement, Rice maintained that extraordinary rendition is carried out in cases where the local government does not have the capacity to prosecute a terror subject. So why have some "terror subjects" been kidnapped in some European countries, as well as in countries we call our allies, like Pakistan and Thailand? Rice argues that we must do this because the war on terror is unlike any war we have ever fought. While we did not call them terrorists, the US military in Vietnam often "rendered" captured Viet Cong to South Vietnamese officials for interrogation and "justice."

There is one reason, and one reason only, that the Bush administration kidnaps suspected terrorists in sovereign countries and flies them surreptitiously to other countries. Because the Bush administration's definition of what exactly torture is amounts to an ill-defined, murky prevarication, it knows that when it renders (sounds like some kind of cattle slaughterhouse) a suspected terrorist to a foreign country, it can waffle on whether these men will be tortured or not. The intelligence apparatus of Egypt, for instance, can go down the list and check off the American definitions and say "nope, we don't do any of that." Of course, left unmentioned is the special list that Egypt has developed of its own methods of torture -- and these days, torture has become a finely tuned, many headed hydra of horrible techniques.

Because the list of torture techniques is so long these days, unless it is included in the list of defined methods of torture banned by the US government, it gets overlooked. Waterboarding is a case in point. The Bush administration currently allows sleep deprivation, stress positions, and waterboarding. I have seen two conflicting definitions of waterboarding one in which the subject is tied to a board and plunged into water, and the other in which a cloth is put over a subject's face and water is poured onto the cloth so the subject feels like he is drowning. In either case, if this is not torture, what is?

Even if US officials on the scene ask for reassurances that the country to which someone has been rendered will not use torture (as defined by the US, of course), it is clear that the definitions of torture from country to country vary widely. I am sure there are methods of torture in some countries that we haven't even imagined yet. It is simply impossible for Condoleeza Rice to make flat assurances about torture.

The philosophical basis underlying Condoleeza Rice's statements on December 6, 2005 have deep roots. Here's a report about her approach from November 11, 2002:

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday said President Bush 'has given broad authority to a variety of people to do what they have to do to protect this country… It's a new kind of war," she told Fox News. "We're fighting on a lot of different fronts.' Rice's comments came after Amnesty International questioned Bush on the Nov.3 attack using a Hellfire missile, which killed senior al Qaeda thug Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, a key plotter in the deadly October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Al-Harthi and five others were killed by a missile fired by an unmanned Predator drone operated by the CIA. Amnesty International asked the United States to issue a statement that it does not support 'extra-judicial executions.'" (Aly Sujo, "We're Ready to Unleash More Hellfire," the New York Post, November 11, 2002)

It's a small step from extra-judicial execution to torture and it's a small step from "broad authority to do what they have to do" to "extraordinary rendition" for the purpose of torture.
It's a "new kind of war" explains and forgives everything.

The Bush administration, from the very beginning, has made it clear that all bets are off.

"As early as Sept. 16, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney, in his first interview after the 9/11 attacks, said, ‘It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective'… In February 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "The reality is, the set of facts that exist today with al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned." (Amanda Ripley, Redefining Torture, Time Magazine)

The silence on this issue of most of our Congress is a national shame.