Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fear & Smear

Obama's support for the new Graham-Lieberman secrecy law

It was one thing when President Obama reversed himself last month by announcing that he would appeal the Second Circuit's ruling that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compelled disclosure of various photographs of detainee abuse sought by the ACLU.  Agree or disagree with Obama's decision, at least the basic legal framework of transparency was being respected, since Obama's actions amounted to nothing more than a request that the Supreme Court review whether the mandates of FOIA actually required disclosure in this case.  But now -- obviously anticipating that the Government is likely to lose in court again (.pdf) -- Obama wants Congress to change FOIA by retroactively narrowing its disclosure requirements, prevent a legal ruling by the courts, and vest himself with brand new secrecy powers under the law which, just as a factual matter, not even George Bush sought for himself. 

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 -- that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States."  As long as the Defense Secretary certifies -- with no review possible -- that disclosure would "endanger" American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure.  The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely.  The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

Just imagine if any other country did this.  Imagine if a foreign government were accused of systematically torturing and otherwise brutally abusing detainees in its custody for years, and there was ample photographic evidence proving the extent and brutality of the abuse.  Further imagine that the country's judiciary -- applying decades-old transparency laws -- ruled that the government was legally required to make that evidence public.  But in response, that country's President demanded that those transparency laws be retroactively changed for no reason other than to explicitly empower him to keep the photographic evidence suppressed, and a compliant Congress then immediately passed a new law empowering the President to suppress that evidence.  What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?  Read the language of the bill; it doesn't even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed "to make his administration the most open and transparent in history."  After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: "what makes the administration's support for the photographic records act so regrettable" is that "Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government."

What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it. 


No Exit

Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome

by William Rivers Pitt

photo    They called it Bush Derangement Syndrome for eight years: the condition of being berserk with rage, hatred and fear over the acts and actions - nay, even the very existence - of George W. Bush and his administration.

    After last November, it became known as Obama Derangement Syndrome; symptoms included an obsession with birth certificates, a sudden ersatz sense of expertise on the intricacies of modern socialism and a general tendency to agree with anyone who disagrees with President Obama no matter how demented that opinion may be.

    Last week, the malady mutated into a whole new thing - Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome - and boy, but it's a doozy. Ranting incoherence, brazen racism and suicidal ideation swept through the ranks of the far right after Judge Sotomayor was nominated to replace Justice Souter on the high court, symptoms that became worse by orders of magnitude as the week wore on. By the weekend, those suffering from Sotomayor Derangement Syndrome had not only struck the bottom of the barrel in their attempts to tear the Sotomayor nomination down, but had plowed right through the wood and burrowed deep into the slime and ooze beneath.

    Among the most egregious examples was none other than G. Gordon Liddy, a man nobody had really listened to since his felony crime spree in Washington, DC, made him the subject of banner headlines in the waning months of the Nixon administration. During his Thursday radio broadcast, Liddy began his assault on Sotomayor along the oft-repeated "she's-a-racist" tack popularized by Liddy's right-wing brethren last week. "I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza," fumed Liddy, "which means in illegal alien, 'the race.' And that should not surprise anyone because she's already on record with a number of racist comments."

    Not content to keep his comments at this particularly heady level of stupid, Liddy forged onwards and downwards. "Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when she's menstruating or something," said Liddy, "or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then." Unless Mr. Liddy was hatched out of some Monster Idiot condor egg somewhere, he has or had a mother at some point in his life. One hopes the good Mrs. Liddy, if she still lives, will take a moment to slap her sick-minded son across the mouth for denigrating her gender in such adolescent and obnoxious terms.


The GOP's Feigned Outrage

And yet, in a television interview last month, we find no less a representative of the late administration than former Vice President Dick Cheney endorsing the protesters' accusations with what is, for him, considerable enthusiasm. "I thought the tea parties were great," he told Fox News's Sean Hannity. "It's basically a very healthy development."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican Party's few remaining stars, has also cheered the public's willingness to "fight back against Wall Street and Washington insiders."

A Republican who wants to fight Wall Street! A Bush official who thinks protesting Bush policies is "great"! Contemplating these curiosities, we begin to realize how easy it has been for conservatives to swing back into full-throated opposition only months after their cataclysmic defeat. And also to understand why the obituaries for the GOP might be just a tad premature.

After all, there's something about conservatives' ferocious "No" that precisely fits the temper of the times. For all the past year's Democratic victories, the GOP still owns outrage, still has an enormous capacity to summon up offense, to elevate every perceived slight into an unprecedented imposition upon both the hard-working citizen and freedom itself.

What really dazzles the observer, though, is conservatives' fury over things for which they are themselves responsible.


Reagan Did It

by Paul Krugman

"This bill is the most important legislation for financial institutions in the last 50 years. It provides a long-term solution for troubled thrift institutions. ... All in all, I think we hit the jackpot." So declared Ronald Reagan in 1982, as he signed the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act.

He was, as it happened, wrong about solving the problems of the thrifts. On the contrary, the bill turned the modest-sized troubles of savings-and-loan institutions into an utter catastrophe. But he was right about the legislation's significance. And as for that jackpot — well, it finally came more than 25 years later, in the form of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

For the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years.

Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence.

On the latter point: traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. But indebtedness began rising under Reagan; it fell again in the Clinton years, but resumed its rise under the Bush administration, leaving us ill prepared for the emergency now upon us.

The increase in public debt was, however, dwarfed by the rise in private debt, made possible by financial deregulation. The change in America's financial rules was Reagan's biggest legacy. And it's the gift that keeps on taking.

The immediate effect of Garn-St. Germain, as I said, was to turn the thrifts from a problem into a catastrophe. The S.& L. crisis has been written out of the Reagan hagiography, but the fact is that deregulation in effect gave the industry — whose deposits were federally insured — a license to gamble with taxpayers' money, at best, or simply to loot it, at worst. By the time the government closed the books on the affair, taxpayers had lost $130 billion, back when that was a lot of money.

But there was also a longer-term effect. Reagan-era legislative changes essentially ended New Deal restrictions on mortgage lending — restrictions that, in particular, limited the ability of families to buy homes without putting a significant amount of money down.

These restrictions were put in place in the 1930s by political leaders who had just experienced a terrible financial crisis, and were trying to prevent another. But by 1980 the memory of the Depression had faded. Government, declared Reagan, is the problem, not the solution; the magic of the marketplace must be set free. And so the precautionary rules were scrapped.

Together with looser lending standards for other kinds of consumer credit, this led to a radical change in American behavior.


"You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring"

by Mark Piepkorn

Paul Hawken gave the commencement address for the University of Portland earlier this month, and it's making the rounds. Deservedly. Its message is as good for the building industry — for anybody living, for that matter — as it was for those graduating seniors. Here it is. Please read it.

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." No pressure there.

Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food — but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

BPA gets attention from industry spinmeisters (leaked minutes)

by revere

We've had occasion to write about the endocrine noise-maker bisphenol-A (BPA) quote a few times (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here for starters). The word about BPA has gotten to consumers and they have fled BPA-containing products like they are swine flu carriers. Meanwhile the scientific evidence is piling up and what the market hasn't done will likely bring BPA into the cross-hairs of food safety regulations, if not via the FDA then by state and local governments, some of which have already acted.

So it looks like the writing is on the wall for BPA unless the food packaging industry can reverse the trend. They can't fight it on science, so they are desperately casting about for the right set of lies. It's not easy, as we learn from these leaked minutes of a private meeting held Thursday about "potential communication/media strategies around BPA" at an exclusive Washington, DC social club (The Cosmos Club). This is a peek behind the curtain and it's not pretty. The document has been verified as authentic:

Meeting Minutes

North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc.

May 28, 2009, 10:00 a.m. - 3:10 p.m. EDT
RE: BPA Joint Trade Association Meeting on Communications Strategy
Meeting Goal: Develop potential communication/media strategies around BPA

Discussion Topics: Consideration of available web-based communication options, including targeted geographies, as well as mainstream media response

Attending Companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American Chemistry Council, Del Monte

Summary: Attendees discussed the need to be more proactive in communications to media, legislators, and the general public to protect industries that use BPA, prolong the life of BPA, put risks from chemicals in proper prospective, and transcend the media and the blogosphere. Attendees believe a balance of legislative and grassroots outreach (to young mothers ages 21-35 and students) is imperative to the stability of their industry; however, the association members continue to struggle to initiate research and develop a clear-cut plan to defend their industry. The committee will spend approximately $500,000 to develop a survey on consumer BPA perceptions and messaging and eventually content and outreach materials. Overall, the committee seemed disorganized, and its members frustrated. Lack of direction from the committee and these associations could continue to allow other associations and environmental groups to push BPA out.

Other Points: Attendees suggested using fear tactics (e.g. "Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?") as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging. Attendees noted, in the past, the different associations have had a reactive strategy with the media, with very limited proactive outreach in reaching out to journalists. The committee agrees they need to promote new, relevant content to get the BPA perspective into the media mix. The committee believes industry studies are tainted from the public perspective.


SPACE MONKEY PICTURES: 50-Year Anniversary

A squirrel monkey named Baker peers out from a 1950s NASA biocapsule as she's readied for her first space mission. Baker and a rhesus monkey named Able launched aboard a Jupiter AM-18 rocket on May 28, 1959—50 years ago this week.

The pair returned to Earth alive after a 15-minute flight, becoming the first primates to survive a trip into space. Miss Baker, as she came to be known, spent the latter part of her life at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She died of kidney failure in 1984 at the ripe old age of 27.

Ten years earlier a rhesus monkey named Albert II had become the first living monkey in space, but he died on impact when he returned to Earth.
The rhesus monkey Able is tucked into a NASA cradle in preparation for takeoff aboard a U.S. Army rocket on May 28, 1959.

Fifty years ago Able and her squirrel monkey companion, Baker, became the first monkeys to survive the trip into space. Sadly, Able died a few days later during surgery to remove an infected electrode.

Able was preserved after her death and is currently on display inside her cradle at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Three chimpanzees named Duane, Jim, and Chu sit strapped into spacecraft cradles at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in January 1961.

The chimps were among 75 trainees slated to ride into space before humans, to help researchers test the physiological and neurological stresses of space flight.

KBR faults media in coverage of electrocution issue

Former Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc. on Friday accused media outlets of using electrocution death statistics to fuel a "politically-driven campaign" against the company.

A statement released by KBR's interim president of government and infrastructure, William Bodie, objected to "false reports and innuendo" in a New York-based newspaper and other media outlets concerning electrical issues in Iraq, where the Houston-based firm holds more than $16 billion in government contracts for services at thousands of U.S.-controlled facilities. He said KBR remains committed to a "fact-based dialogue" on the electrocution issue.

Bodie, who called the deaths "truly tragic," denied responsibility in four electrocutions, including the Jan. 2, 2008, death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Shaler. The Green Beret died when a rooftop pump charged the water in his shower at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex near Baghdad.

Bodie contends that KBR also did not cause the 2004 electrocutions of Army Spc. Chase Whitham, 21, of Harrisburg, Ore., who died in a Mosul swimming pool; Army Spc. Marcos Nolasco, 34, of Chino, Calif., who died in a Bayji shower; or Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class David Cedergren, 25, of South St. Paul, Minn., who died while showering in Iskandariyah.

The four are among 18 people electrocuted in Iraq since 2003, according to military casualty records.

Maseth's parents, Cheryl Harris of Cranberry and Douglas Maseth of Allison Park, sued KBR in federal court, alleging that the firm's shoddy work killed their son. Meanwhile, the military's ongoing probe into Maseth's death, labeled "negligent homicide" by an investigator for the Army Criminal Investigative Division, is under legal review.

Harris disputed Bodie's claims, insisting that evidence and facts gathered in the military investigation of her son's death and the family's federal lawsuit point to KBR's responsibility.

"If Mr. Bodie wants a fact-based dialogue on this issue ... he should tell KBR's lawyers to stop trying to prevent him from testifying in this case," she said.


Israel begins major drill, preparing for regional war

Israel has launched its largest-ever military exercise to test its capabilities against potential missile attacks, bombings and riots.

Over the past few months, Israel has been busy making plans for fresh confrontation in the Middle East. The drill is widely believed to be in line with the regime's preparation for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities which they admit can ignite an all-out war in the region.

The five-day exercise which was launched on Sunday will simulate simultaneous rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and missile attacks from Iran and Syria.

"We will be exercising the doomsday scenario of simultaneous strikes against Israel on all fronts and by different means," Israel's defense ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror told AFP last week.

Exercise Turning Point 3 will also include simulating chemical and biological strikes on populated centers and a wave of attacks by Palestinians.

Israeli cabinet will also hold simulated meetings to weigh its response to such scenarios.

This is the third consecutive year Israel is conducting such an exercise.Tel Aviv says the war games are defensive in nature.

Lebanese Army however has heightened its security measures along the southern border with Israel to repel possible threats during the Israeli drill.

Jimi Hendrix's roadie says guitarist's manager murdered him

Jimi Hendrix's former roadie James '"Tappy" Wright has claimed that the late guitar legend was murdered by his manager, Michael Jeffrey.

In his new book Rock Roadie, Wright claims that Jeffrey told him he plied Hendrix with pills and alcohol in order to kill him and claim on the guitarist's life insurance.

Hendrix died in September 1970. His body was found in a room at London's Samarkand Hotel booked by Monika Dannemann, whom Hendrix had known for a matter of days.

Jeffrey allegedly made the confession to Wright in 1971, two years before he was killed in a plane crash.

Writing of the admission, Wright says: "I can still hear that conversation, see the man I'd known for so much of my life, his face pale, hand clutching at his glass in sudden rage."

Jeffrey is quoted by Wright as telling him: "I was in London the night of Jimi's death and together with some old friends.. we went 'round to Monika's hotel room, got a handful of pills and stuffed them into his mouth...then poured a few bottles of red wine deep into his windpipe."

The manager was allegedly worried that Hendrix was about to sack him. He had recently taken out a life insurance policy worth $2 million, with Jeffrey as beneficiary, reports Britain's Mail On Sunday.


Court document: Republican election judge bought votes with OxyContin

by Stephen C. Webster

Clay County, Kentucky has a reputation for corrupt government. After years of federal investigations and numerous authorities landing in jail, each progressive revelation becomes that much less shocking.

But this one still packs a punch.


According to local media:

A former Clay County election officer plans to plead guilty to a charge that he took part in a vote-buying scheme with prominent public officials.

The attorney for Paul E. Bishop filed a motion Thursday seeking a hearing for him to plead guilty to one count of racketeering.

That charge alleges that members of the conspiracy used the county Board of Elections as a vehicle to corrupt voting between 2002 and 2007 so they could hold on to power and enrich themselves and others.

Other officials suspected to be involved include a county clerk, the school superintendent, a circuit judge, the democratic election commissioner and another elections official. No word as yet whether Bishop has plans to testify against his co-defendants.

But here's the real juicy bit:

According to court documents, some worked at polling places, making sure people voted for candidates they were supposed to and then giving them stickers or tickets, which the voters then showed at other locations to get cash from others involved in the conspiracy.

The indictment said Bishop, a Republican election officer in the Manchester precinct in 2002 and 2004, hosted meetings at his house where candidates for office pooled money to use in buying votes.

He also bought votes at the polling place, giving voters a mark or ticket so they could get paid later, the indictment says.

Bishop and [elections official William] Stivers also used OxyContin to buy votes at the direction of [School Superintendent Douglas] Adams in 2002, former Manchester assistant police Chief Todd Roberts told investigators, according to another court document.

With all due respect, he may have just been trying to drum up some extra listeners for Rush Limbaugh.

Bradblog also has some excellent background on Clay County's history of corruption and why this case matters for advocates of transparent, accountable voting.


Paul Krassner Is A Very Bad Boy


 Tony R. Rodriguez

"To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute. He's a nut, a raving, unconfined nut."

Federal Bureau of Investigation


In his insanely rambunctious manner of journalism, Paul Krassner continues to craft his art in the similar custom of Hunter S. Thompson. But Krassner heroically goes deeper into the foul depths of shock-and-awe journalism than Thompson could have ever dreamed. In Krassner's latest and most disconcerting book, In Praise of Indecency, readers will not find him at the forefront of a political-social war against our nation's hypocrisy. Rather, people will find him banging directly on the front door of his opposing forces. And what more can readers expect from Paul Krassner, a man who's been roaring his counterculture views since the 1960s.


In Praise of Indecency opens with an interview between Susie Bright and Krassner. Bright, without much effort at all, gets Krassner to discuss his thoughts about drug use and his personal sexual exploits. From there until the book's closing, Krassner takes his readers on an energetic ride through thought-provoking essays and often-humorous interviews.


After reading In Praise of Indecency, readers may come to agree: No one should ever let Paul Krassner seek public office. Never invite this guy to speak at your college. Never offer to have him over for dinner or buy him a drink at a bar. And most importantly, never let him babysit your offspring.



But don't let the aforementioned opinions scare you away from Krassner's work.


The man's brilliant.


Like Hunter S. Thompson, Paul Krassner offers a certain unorthodox style of literary mayhem in his work. It's a greater call that serves a higher purpose for those who seek to rattle the cage of any alleged civil society. Considering Krassner's literary history stretching far back to the counterculture movement of the 1960s, one quickly finds that Krassner is a writer with more well-deserved success than many within the literary world. Krassner proudly edited Lenny Bruce's ferocious autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Krassner is also the founder and editor of The Realist, a self-proclaimed "free-thought" magazine catering to counterculture views. In addition, he writes for High Times magazine, the controversial publication in support of the legalization of marijuana. And in 2004, Krassner won the prestigious ACLU Upton Sinclair Award for his thorough commitment to freedom of speech and expression.


Not convinced yet? Well, here's a bit of what other like-minded people have said about Krassner: George Carlin commented that Krassner is "dangerous—and funny, and necessary." Tom Robbins referred to Krassner as the "lobster claw in the tuna casserole of modern-day America." And the New York Times stated that Krassner is "an expert at ferreting out hypocrisy and absurdism from the more solemn crannies of American culture."


Generally speaking, people shouldn't be indecent. But Krassner's In Praise of Indecency shows us how being indecent is not only a form of art, it can also be a form of revolution.


In Praise of Indecency  by Paul Krassner

Cleis Press, May 19th 2009, 110 pages, paper trade

ISBN 978-1-57344-350-0, $12.95 (USA)




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