Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Black Sites

Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Dick Cheney in effect took command of the national security operations of the federal government. Quickly and instinctively, he began to act in response to two longstanding beliefs: that the great dangers facing the United States justified almost any response, whether or not legal; and that the presidency needed vastly to enhance its authority, which had been unjustifiably and dangerously weakened in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate years. George Bush was an eager enabler, but not often an active architect, of the government's response to terror. His instinct was to be tough and aggressive in response to challenges, and Cheney's belligerence fit comfortably with the president's own inclinations.
In fairness, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax scare that followed, who could not have imagined the worst and contemplated extraordinary efforts to prevent it? But as Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, makes clear in "The Dark Side," a powerful, brilliantly researched and deeply unsettling book, what almost immediately came to be called the "war on terror" led quickly and inexorably to some of the most harrowing tactics ever contemplated by the United States government. The war in Iraq is the most obvious and familiar result of the heedless "toughness" of the new administration. But Mayer recounts a different, if at least equally chilling, story: the emergence of the widespread use of torture as a central tool in the battle against terrorism; and the fierce, stubborn defense of torture against powerful opposition from within the administration and beyond. It is the story of how a small group of determined men and women thwarted international and American law; fought off powerful challenges from colleagues within the Justice Department, the State Department, the National Security Council and the C.I.A.; ignored or circumvented Supreme Court rulings and Congressional resolutions; and blithely dismissed a growing clamor of outrage and contempt from much of the world — all in the service of preserving their ability to use extreme forms of torture in the search for usable intelligence.



Convincing the climate-change skeptics

By John P. Holdren

THE FEW climate-change "skeptics" with any sort of scientific credentials continue to receive attention in the media out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the merit of their arguments. And this muddying of the waters of public discourse is being magnified by the parroting of these arguments by a larger population of amateur skeptics with no scientific credentials at all.

Long-time observers of public debates about environmental threats know that skeptics about such matters tend to move, over time, through three stages. First, they tell you you're wrong and they can prove it. (In this case, "Climate isn't changing in unusual ways or, if it is, human activities are not the cause.")

Then they tell you you're right but it doesn't matter. ("OK, it's changing and humans are playing a role, but it won't do much harm.") Finally, they tell you it matters but it's too late to do anything about it. ("Yes, climate disruption is going to do some real damage, but it's too late, too difficult, or too costly to avoid that, so we'll just have to hunker down and suffer.")

All three positions are represented among the climate-change skeptics who infest talk shows, Internet blogs, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, and cocktail-party conversations. The few with credentials in climate-change science have nearly all shifted in the past few years from the first category to the second, however, and jumps from the second to the third are becoming more frequent.

All three factions are wrong, but the first is the worst. Their arguments, such as they are, suffer from two huge deficiencies.

First, they have not come up with any plausible alternative culprit for the disruption of global climate that is being observed, for example, a culprit other than the greenhouse-gas buildups in the atmosphere that have been measured and tied beyond doubt to human activities. (The argument that variations in the sun's output might be responsible fails a number of elementary scientific tests.)

Second, having not succeeded in finding an alternative, they haven't even tried to do what would be logically necessary if they had one, which is to explain how it can be that everything modern science tells us about the interactions of greenhouse gases with energy flow in the atmosphere is wrong.

Multiple Oil Company Executives Gave Huge Contributions To Electing McCain Just Days After Offshore Drilling Reversal

Talking Points Memo

By Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld
Ten senior Hess Corporation executives and/or members of the Hess family each gave $28,500 to the joint RNC-McCain fundraising committee, just days after McCain reversed himself to favor offshore drilling, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Nine of these contributions, seven from Hess executives and two from members of the Hess family, came on the same day, June 24th, the records show. The total collected in the wake of McCain's reversal for the fund, called McCain Victory 2008, from Hess execs and family is $285,000.

We were alerted to the contributions by Campaign Money Watch, a non-partisan group that tracks campaign contributions. The contributions were given a quick mention deep in a report the group issued late last week, but with no names or other details provided. The Hess contributions are clearly newsworthy on their own.

The Washington Post reported last week that campaign contributions from oil industry execs rose in a big way in the last half of June, after McCain drew a huge amount of attention by reversing his opposition on June 16th to the federal ban on offshore drilling.

These Hess contributions, however, hadn't been reported until now, and they will give more ammo to those arguing that McCain is being rewarded by campaign contributions in exchange for pro-industry positions. Here's a table detailing the contributions:

J. Barclay Collins Hess Corp. Attorney $28,500 19-Jun
John B. Hess Hess Corp. Executive $28,500 24-Jun
Susan K. Hess Homemaker Homemaker $28,500 24-Jun
Norma W. Hess Retired Retired $28,500 24-Jun
John J. O'Connor Hess Corp. Executive $28,500 24-Jun
Lawrence Ornstein Hess Corp. Senior VP $28,500 24-Jun
John Reilly Hess Corp. Executive $28,500 24-Jun
Alice Rocchio Hess Corp. Office Manager $28,500 24-Jun
John Scelfo Hess Corp. Senior VP of Finance $28,500 24-Jun
F. Borden Walker Hess Corp. Businessman $28,500 24-Jun

slight difference


FBI was told to blame Anthrax scare on Al Qaeda by White House officials


WASHINGTON - In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by Al Qaeda, but investigators ruled that out, the Daily News has learned.

After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, Mueller was "beaten up" during President Bush's morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide.

"They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East," the retired senior FBI official told The News.

On October 15, 2001, President Bush said, "There may be some possible link" to Bin Laden, adding, "I wouldn't put it past him." Vice President Cheney also said Bin Laden's henchmen were trained "how to deploy and use these kinds of substances, so you start to piece it all together."

But by then the FBI already knew anthrax spilling out of letters addressed to media outlets and to a U.S. senator was a military strain of the bioweapon. "Very quickly [Fort Detrick, Md., experts] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with," the ex-FBI official said. "They couldn't go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next."

Ed McMahon's Money Problems: Should We Really Care About Millionaires in Financial Distress?

Michael Russnowby Michael Russnow

For the past couple of months we have been subjected ad nausea to the financial woes of Tonight Show announcer and TV pitchman Ed McMahon, and with all the legitimate concerns of ordinary citizens, who've lost their jobs and/or homes, I have to ask who really gives a damn?

Frankly, I have little sympathy for folks like McMahon, who have been gifted with extraordinary success and, in his case, incredible luck, having been propelled from relative obscurity as a studio announcer to national prominence thanks to the generosity of his colleague Johnny Carson. It was Carson, who'd been offered the Tonight Show, who insisted that his Who Do You Trust announcer move along with him to his long run gig at NBC late-night.

Since that fateful day in 1962, McMahon has become a well-known pitchman and TV Host of Star Search, making millions and millions of dollars in the process. How many of us have shared his good luck and fortune? Obviously very few, but somehow the bulk of us manage to make do, living our lives without the capacity or necessity of going on shows like Larry King Live et al to engender sympathy.

Is his bad luck a legitimate news story? Yes. But the real question is why he has not been lambasted for stupid behavior. Instead, we are told that he was such a generous man, who liked to tip big and had alimony to ex-wives and had to pay for his daughter's legal problems, etc. We are also expected to feel bad that he can't get the price he wanted to sell his multi-million dollar mansion.

Prisoner Of "W"


Don't Believe Everything You Think : Six Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking 

Two Books about Our Bungled Brains
A Review by Doug Brown

Our brains like to think they are flawless, unbiased masters of precision, but the reality is sadly not so. We form conclusions and beliefs with little or no reason and then seek evidence which supports the conclusions we've already reached. Our brains perceive the world in ways that make ourselves look better than others. Most people think they are above average in intelligence (and we think we're all better drivers than everyone else, too) which logically cannot be true. Thomas Kida and Cordelia Fine take on the brain with different approaches. Don't Believe Everything You Think is more about flaws in our ability to reason and recall, whereas A Mind of Its Own leans more toward emotional biases. Thus, the two books complement each other nicely.

Don't Believe Everything You Think is aimed at helping people to be more skeptical. Kida points out that skeptical doesn't mean cynical; it simply means analyzing the evidence before making up one's mind. It sounds simple, but as Kida (and Fine) detail, it runs counter to how our brains want to function. Here are Kida's six basic mistakes our brains make (this isn't giving anything away -- they are on the cover of the book):

  • We prefer stories to statistics
  • We seek to confirm, not to question our ideas
  • We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events
  • We sometimes misperceive the world around us
  • We tend to oversimplify our thinking
  • We have faulty memories

Kida cites many studies to support these notions, and provides many examples of how our brains want to take the easy road. Despite the potential for this being a dry pedagogical book, Don't Believe Everything You Think is well-organized and written in an easy, lucid style.

Liberals Blinded by Science

Smirking Chimp
The Republicans would have folks believe that there was a time when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Professor Emmett L. Brown (Christopher Lloyd) used their time travel machine to visit the future, see that global warming was happening, and then traveled back to the Bush era and convinced the Democratic Party of 2008 that the drowning of polar bears was being caused by a catastrophic, permanent, world-wide heat wave and, since they were both scientists, that constituted scientific proof it was happening. Thanks to the efforts of the conservative talk radio shows, no good patriotic troop supporting American has been gullible enough to mistake the melting ice cap bologna for believable facts.

How long did it take O. J. Simpson's legal team to get the jury to dismiss the DNA evidence as nonsensical mumbo-jumbo?

The Republicans will, under enhanced interrogation conditions, admit that there are certain notable exceptions to the truism that all "scientists" are, to varying degrees, clones of Doc Brown, as for instance when they need polling, motivational research, psychology, and advanced cybernetics, for insured, guaranteed election results. Then, suddenly, scientists become reliable sources of needed information and counseling.

When a respected British medical magazine, the Lancet, conducts a survey that finds out that the number of Iraqis who have died in the attempt to liberate them, is much higher than most American sources site; then it's time to again summon up the image of scientists as portrayed by Moe, Larry, and Curly (Nyuck nyuck)?

Do oil companies use guys with divining rods to find a good area to try some exploratory drilling or do they use some devices dreamed up by the descendants of Doctor Frankenstein? ("Oil drilling in Yosemite today will lower your gasoline prices by tonight!")

If a very wealthy Republican had to face the ordeal of convincing a jury that he had not committed a crime, would he sanction a large expenditure by the battery of attorneys handling his defense, if they wanted to hire an expert in jury selection or would he denounce such a maneuver as a waste of his precious funds on "voodoo science"?

Breaking records


To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them

by thinkprogress

Speaking at the Campus Progress journalism conference earlier this month, Seymour Hersh — a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for The New Yorker — revealed that Bush administration officials held a meeting recently in the Vice President's office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran.

In Hersh's most recent article, he reports that this meeting occurred in the wake of the overblown incident in the Strait of Hormuz, when a U.S. carrier almost shot at a few small Iranian speedboats. The "meeting took place in the Vice-President's office. 'The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,'" according to one of Hersh's sources.

During the journalism conference event, I asked Hersh specifically about this meeting and if he could elaborate on what occurred. Hersh explained that, during the meeting in Cheney's office, an idea was considered to dress up Navy Seals as Iranians, put them on fake Iranian speedboats, and shoot at them. This idea, intended to provoke an Iran war, was ultimately rejected:

HERSH: There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don't we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.

Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can't have Americans killing Americans. That's the kind of — that's the level of stuff we're talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.

Watch it:

Hersh argued that one of the things the Bush administration learned during the encounter in the Strait of Hormuz was that, "if you get the right incident, the American public will support" it.

Why public toilets should pay you.

Crap and Trade

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

What? You've been giving away your urine for free?

All these years, you've been sitting there like an idiot—or standing, or squatting, or whatever it is you do—pissing away a perfectly good liquid asset. Turns out, you could have sold it.

Many of us haven't just been giving our waste away; we've been paying to unload it. Hundreds of cities have automated public toilets, known as APTs. In New York or Los Angeles, you drop in a quarter, and the door opens. But your quarter hardly pays the bills. New York's new APTs reportedly cost more than $100,000 apiece; Los Angeles' cost $300,000; Seattle installed five at a cost of $6.6 million. At 25 cents a flush, 20 to 130 times a day, a toilet brings in only $2,000 to $11,000 per year.

So how does the math work out? The Los Angeles Times explains:

In Los Angeles, the facilities are part of a 20-year contract between the city and a joint venture of two companies: CBS Outdoor and JCDecaux. The latter, a French firm, has installed thousands of the sleek units worldwide, mostly in exchange for the right to sell the ads that adorn them. It's a common model that is used by the majority of American cities looking to install the loos. L.A. is guaranteed $150 million in revenue over the course of the contract. … The companies foot the bill for installing all the structures, including the toilets, and for the maintenance on each.

So the company pays the city, and in exchange, the city provides eyeballs. The eyeballs are yours. Do you get a cut? A free flush, at least? Nope. You pay.

The obvious argument for making you pay is that you're getting a service, too: a clean, private place to relieve yourself. If you can't find a john, you'll have to go in the street. But why is this your problem? Why isn't it the city's problem?

Cuba and Latin America: A New Strategy

NAF Header

Cuba, Latin America and U.S. Grand Strategy

The U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative talks a lot about the need for a new policy towards Cuba. And we should. Fifty years of failure is
a shameful, bi-partisan indictment of how policy is made in Washington.

As we will continue to show, more people,
like Senator Arlen Specter, recognize that a change in Cuba policy is on the way. But change for change's sake is foolish, and could easily backfire on the United States.

Fortunately, the emerging consensus on changing our relationship with Cuba coincides with another consensus
in Washington, that America needs a major overhaul of all our relations with Latin America. And these two trends are occurring concurrently with the rising influence of Hispanic voters.

But both movements lack strategic coherence.

In my latest post on
The Havana Note, I outline a new strategic framework for approaching Latin America, strengthening the rationale for changing Cuba policy in a decisive fashion:
  • The single greatest challenge facing the U.S. in the coming decades is to shape an international order that can meet rising global demand for energy, resources, urban land, and transportation--limited significantly by climate change and ecosystem depletion.
  • Latin America is already focused on these problems, but the United States still clings to a 20th Century model of our national interest in the Western Hemisphere, dominated by oil, anti-communism, and neo-liberal trade policies.
  • The 5th OAS Summit, in April 2009, will present the next President with the opportunity to turn the page with the region, end the Cuban embargo, and redefine U.S. regional interests around sustainability and economic inclusion.

I hope you find it provocative. For more, read the full post here.

Shocking dope expose