Thursday, September 3, 2009

Idiot in Idaho


GOP gubernatorial candidate talks of "hunting" Obama

by Yobie Benjamin

Rex Rammell, Republican Candidate for Idaho GovernorAmerica elected an African-American president and an Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate "joked" about issuing $11.50 tags to hunt down the president.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell's repeated "jokes" about hunting President Barack Obama has received national play in the mainstream media and on the Web that included praises in right wing and racist blogs.

Rammell a Rexburg, Idaho resident, made the sick comment Tuesday at a Republican barbecue in Twin Falls during talk about Idaho selling its first $11.50 hunting tags for wolves this fall. Someone shouted "Obama tags," and Rammell said, "The Obama tags? We'd buy some of those."

Not content with one sick jab at the president, Rammell repeated yesterday in a news release and on Twitter: "Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C." He has refused to apologize but said he doesn't advocate assassinating Obama.

Auto-Tune the News #8: dragons. geese. Michael Vick. (ft. T-Pain)

Don't let Murdoch smash this jewel. The BBC must act to save itself

Jonathan FreedlandCredit where it's due: the free-market right is nothing if not brave. Fainter-hearted souls would have spotted the imminent first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman brothers that started the global financial crisis and decided that now was not the moment to trumpet the case for unfettered private enterprise, free of meddling regulation. But the evangelists for turbo-charged capitalism are made of sterner stuff. With the American conservative assault on Britain's "Nazi" and "Orwellian" National Health Service still fresh in the memory, a leading US free marketeer has trained his sights on another British institution: the BBC.

He is James Murdoch whose weekend MacTaggart lecture was a 39-minute plea for comprehensive deregulation, warning of the dangers of state interference in the "natural diversity" of the media industry. Of the recent history of deregulation, with its catastrophic consequences for the world's economy, there was not a mention.

Nor did he detain his audience at the Edinburgh television festival, sponsored by the Guardian, with a declaration of his own interest in the subject. He spoke as if he were a mere policy wonk, rather than the heir to a broadcasting empire that would make billions if he had his way and the BBC were cut down to size. This was like a fox arguing that the henhouse doors be thrown wide open – not for his own sake, you understand, but for the good of society.

So Murdoch showed some brass neck. But he made some sharp points, too. He is probably right that Ofcom is bloated, poking its nose too often into areas where it's not needed. Right, too, to note that the old distinction between the press (where no rules on impartiality apply) and the broadcasters (obliged to be neutral) makes less sense when the two are rapidly converging, forming "an all-media market" where, say, the Guardian and the BBC both run websites that include text, audio and video. These days, we're a bit like a broadcaster and they're a bit like a newspaper, and the rules probably ought to reflect that. (Though if that means dropping the impartiality obligation on the TV networks there are two words to give us pause: Fox News.)

Earth is the place to be

Sibel Edmonds' Deposition Disclosures: Congressional Bribery, Blackmail and Espionage

Breaking down the formerly-gagged FBI whistleblower's sworn testimony...

It has now been over a week since the video tape and transcript from the remarkable 8/8/09 deposition of former FBI translator-turned-whistleblower Sibel Edmonds was publicly released. Previously, the Bush Administration invoked the so-called "state secrets privilege" in order to gag Edmonds, in attempting to keep such information from becoming public.

The under-oath, detailed allegations include bribery, blackmail, espionage and infiltration of the U.S. government of, and by current and former members of the U.S. Congress, high-ranking State and Defense Department officials and agents of the government of Turkey. The broad criminal conspiracy is said to have resulted in, among other things, the sale of nuclear weapons technology to black market interests including Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Libya and others.

Even as many of these allegations had been previously corroborated to varying extents, by a number of official government reports, documents and independent media outlets (largely overseas), not a single major mainstream media outlet in the U.S. has picked up on Edmonds' startling claims since her deposition has been made fully available.

Granted, last week was a busy news week, with the death of Ted Kennedy, the release of the CIA Inspector General's report on torture, and the announcement that Michael Jackson's death was ruled a homicide. And, it's true, a 4-hour deposition and/or 241-page transcript [PDF] is a lot of material to review, particularly given the wide scope of the charges being made here. Still, given the serious national security issues at stake, said to have the been among the most important matters of the past 8 years, one would think someone in the corporate MSM might have taken the time to go through the material, and report on it. Particularly as Edmonds' claims have previously been found "credible" "serious" and "warrant[ing] a thorough and careful review," by the DoJ Inspector General, and confirmed as such, on several occasions, by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and many many others.

So for the benefit of the U.S. media, and other readers, who may find it helpful for this large body of newly-available information to be culled down into more digestible pieces, I will attempt to break down the deposition, a bit, into some of its subject matter-based component parts. I will try to go through the major disclosures from the deposition, one-by-one, in a series of pieces which might help others to further report and/or investigate these breathtaking disclosures from a former FBI official who, following 9/11, listened to and translated wiretap recordings made from 1996 through 2002, in the FBI's counterintelligence and counterterrorism departments, under top-secret clearance.

In this first break-down article, we'll look at the answers given by Edmonds during her deposition in regard to bribery and blackmail of current and former members of the U.S. Congress, including Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Bob Livingston (R-LA), Dan Burton (R-IN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Tom Lantos (D-CA, deceased) and an unnamed, currently-serving, married Democratic Congresswoman said to have been video-taped in a Lesbian affair by Turkish agents for blackmail purposes.

The life lessons of Burning Man

Is there anything you *can't* learn from the insane desert art festival?

As I've been lured back to the sweltering, dusty sexed-up madness that is Burning Man again this year -- my sixth time -- by a gaggle of delicious friends, I am hereby reminded of a few hundred truths, half-truths, outright lies and astonishing epiphanies offered up by the world-famous, Christian-feared, beautifully debauched, sensory overloaded, impossible-to-describe art-survivalist-camping-rave megaspectacle now underway in the remote Nevada desert.

If you've ever wondered at the appeal, the urge, the drive to attend such a thing, if you've heard wisps of the mythology and the mystery and the epic weirdness or even seen a few pictures and wondered, you know, WTF, maybe these tidbits can help.

Then again, maybe not. With something like Burning Man, there really is only one way to know for sure.

You are not who you thought you were

Countless are the tales and numerous are the personal friends who were once to be found hovering near the far end of the overly anxious, tightly wound, frenetic Type-A personality scale, who attended BM for the first time and wandered out on the playa at sundown and just so happened to stumble upon, say, Serpent Mother, or the giant goddesses, or one of David Best's breathtaking temples or any of a thousand other unearthly spectacles and suddenly felt their skull crack open and their eyes spin around in their sockets and their brain fold back in on itself.

Right there and forevermore, their worldview shifted. Their id swallowed its own tongue. Possibility opened its legs wide and went, ahhh. In short, they lightened the hell up. It's rather astonishing how often this happens, and not just to the uptight and the pushy. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the event: It almost matters not from which angle you approach it -- Burning Man is an equal opportunity soul exploder.

You Didn’t Plagiarize, Your Unconscious Did

Is cryptomnesia—copying the work of others without being aware of it—to blame for journalism's ultimate sin? Um, maybe not.

But could some alleged plagiarists—like Maureen Dowd, Chris Anderson, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and even Viswanathan, who all either deny the charge, or blame their copying on unconscious mistakes—be guilty of psychological sloppiness rather than fraud? Could the real offense be disregard for the mind's subliminal kleptomania? And if it is real, is unconscious copying (or "cryptomnesia" to those who study the phenomenon) preventable? Or, seeing as Nietzsche ripped off a passage of Thus Spoke Zarathustra from something he'd read as a child, and former Beatle George Harrison was found guilty, in court, of unconsciously copying the music for his hit song, "My Sweet Lord"—is cryptomnesia both unavoidable, and the perfect excuse?

"Clearly all of us, referring to journalists, probably appropriate phrases or ideas, on occasion, without realizing it," said Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism at New York's Stony Brook University, and former Newsday editor. But intent and degree count, he said, and journalists should be held to a particularly high standard when it comes to plagiarism. Schneider, who helped set up the News Literacy Center at Stony Brook, teaches his students about the brain's susceptibility to certain psychological pitfalls, such as: seeing a political commercial between TV newscasts, and then a week later attributing the information in the commercial to the newscast itself. He believes that journalists are susceptible to similar influences.

According to Richard L. Marsh, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Georgia and a leading cryptomnesia researcher, Schneider is on the right track. "When people engage in creative activity, they are so involved in generating or coming up with something new or novel that they fail to protect against what they previously experienced," said Marsh. Over the last 20 years, Marsh has designed numerous models for studying cryptomnesia in the lab. An early study involved asking subjects to work with an unseen "partner" (actually a computer) to find unique words in a square array of letters, similar to the game Boggle. A short while after completing this task, the researchers asked each participant to recall the words they had personally found, and to generate new words neither the participant nor the participant's partner had previously been able to find.

The subjects plagiarized their partners roughly 32 percent of the time when trying to recall their own words, and up to 28 percent of the time when attempting to find previously unidentified words in the puzzle. Not only was plagiarism rampant, many subjects who plagiarized also checked a box indicating they were "positive" their answers had not previously been given by their partners.

Free Torture Trading Cards!

By Michael Mechanic

It was only a matter of time. Remember those Operation Enduring Freedom trading cards that Topps put out in 2001? And who could forget those Iraq's Most Wanted trading cards released by the Pentagon back in the halcyon days of 2003. There's a card for everything nowadays. During the Clinton years, I even wrote a little piece for Mother Jones on colorful infectious disease trading cards the CDC was handing out to children—ebola, plague, meningitis and all of that fun stuff. (Sorry, it's not online.) So it comes as little surprise that the Center for Constitutional Rights has come up with its own Torture Team collectibles.

You can order up hard copies of the Torture Team cards—10 for free; all 20 for $5—but if you're just browsing, CCR has created a neat Flash widget to display them online. Check out George W. and Condi, along with Cheney and his evil sidekick David "the Shadow" Addington, arguably the most ruthless driver of Bush-era torture policies and, according to a media quote on the card, "the most powerful man you've never heard of." Don't forget White House legal pariahs like John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Or the brass—former Pentagon top dogs like Don Rumsfeld, Guantanamo CO Geoffrey Miller (who helped involve doctors in torture) and the Iraq-bungling Douglas Feith. You can click to flip the cards and reveal each player's basic stats, along with fun tidbits and quotes in their own words. (Feith: "Removal of clothing doesn't mean naked.")

Offbeat Traveler: Ithaa Undersea restaurant at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Ithaa Undersea restaurant sits 16 feet below sea level at the <a href="">Conrad Maldives Rangali Island</a>, a hotel resort in Hilton's luxury brand that occupies two islands. Maldives is a country of almost 1,200 islands about 300 miles from the southernmost points of India and Sri Lanka.
Ithaa Undersea restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in the Maldives
Ithaa Undersea restaurant sits 16 feet below sea level at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, a hotel resort in Hilton's luxury brand that occupies two islands. Maldives is a country of almost 1,200 islands about 300 miles from the southernmost points of India and Sri Lanka.

"Penn and Teller: Bullsh!t" take On The Vatican over gay issues

11th Commandment: Beware of editors bearing story ideas.

I admit to not being a regular viewer of Showtime's Penn & Teller: Bullsh!t, so when the boss asked for a volunteer to write up the season finale, I raised my hand like someone who hadn't been in the military (I was, and so should know better). I thought Penn & Teller did magic tricks, not attack what is arguably the most powerful person on earth who doesn't have access to nuclear weapons.

As the opening credits show, the irascible duo don't just go after conservatives, but take on sacred cows of the liberals as well: taxes, stress, video games and organic foods have all been targets of their commentary. I won't call what they do comedy exactly, because they're really too angry to be funny. Think Lewis Black without the facial expressions.

"If your morality is governed by anything personal, ethical, rational, or humanitarian, then The Vatican is bullsh!t!"

That's the basic principle the show starts with, and then goes on to rationally build the case that the Vatican and the Pope are responsible for much of the suffering in the world, as well as gross abuses of power — especially when it comes to gay people. And that the church actively covers up their sins. To quote Penn's rather pointed translation of policy:

"That's Vatican for 'Shut your fu**king mouth, or go to hell!'"

Which things do they lay at the feet of the church throughout history? The Crusades, the Inquisition, condoning slavery, denying the Holocaust, as well as the oppression or outright persecution of Muslims, Jews, gays, women, Africans, children, the poor, and nonbelievers. No punches are pulled, and little hyperbole is used.

A brief history of the oppressed. 

A lot of time is given to subjects such as birth control, sexual abuse by the clergy, and wealth hoarding. But the two things that stood out for us though were the current pope's opposition to condom distribution in Africa to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, and his decision to oppose decriminalization of homosexuality at the United Nations last year.

Condoms are from the Dark Side. Sex should only make babies.

That issue came up when the French introduced a U.N. resolution making homosexuality legal worldwide since we're still illegal in 81 countries, and punishable by death in seven of those. Even many who dislike the Pope were surprised when the Vatican — which espouses treating gays with "respect and dignity" — opposed the resolution because it might somehow lead to gay marriage.

Better we let countries lock up gays for being gay than risk some countries letting them get married!

42% Say People Randomly Selected from Phone Book Better Than Current Congress

Forty-two percent (42%) of U.S. voters say a group of people randomly selected from the phone book would do a better job than the current Congress. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that an identical number (42%) disagree, but 16% are not sure.

Last fall, just 33% thought the random group could do as good a job.

Today, Republicans by a two-to-one margin believe that the phone book sample would be better than the current Democratic-controlled Congress. Democrats, by a similar margin, have the opposite view. A slight plurality of those not affiliated with either major party say the randomly selected group would do a better job.

Deleting the Bush Personality Cult from history

by Glenn Greenwald

National Review's Jay Nordlinger -- and others at that magazine -- are upset that a school is showing a year-old video in which various celebrities spout feel-good platitudes about public service, and -- for a fleeting second -- Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher vow to "be of service to the President."  This sentiment -- a desire to serve the President -- is something conservatives would never adopt, apparently:

When I read about that celebrity video where they say, "I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama," I thought that the people do not deserve to be American citizens, because they have no idea what America or a liberal republic is. . . . Also, it strikes me that "I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama" is the product of a thoroughly secular mind, which is another marker of contemporary America. . . . Did conservatives ever say "I pledge to be of service to Ronald Reagan"? I never heard it -- and the notion is preposterous.

I'm always amazed -- even though I know I shouldn't be -- at people's capacity simply to block out events, literally refuse to acknowledge them, when they are inconsistent with their desire to believe things.  Do Nordlinger and the other National Review political experts really not know about this episode, obviously much more consequential than some admittedly creepy though entirely trivial moment in a celebrity "pledge" video:

According to the [Justice Department] OIG report released today, Angela Williamson, a deputy to Monica Goodling at the [Bush] DOJ, was intimately involved in her bosses' scurrilous hiring practices, attending interviews and often conducting interviews herself.  Here's a sampling of the same questions that Goodling:

After Goodling resigned, Williamson typed from memory the list of questions Goodling asked as a guide for future interviews. Among other questions, the list included the following:

Tell us about your political philosophy. There are different groups of conservatives, by way of example: Social Conservative, Fiscal Conservative, Law & Order Republican.

[W]hat is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?

Aside from the President, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire.

Prior to Goodling herself testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about her screening of prospective DOJ hires to make certain they were sufficiently devoted to serving George Bush, she shared with a Justice Department official this vow:  "All I ever wanted to do was serve this president."  And she didn't have a "secular mind."  Even as Attorney General, Alberto Gonazles actually thought his "client" was the President.  The entire DOJ was structured to ensure that its employees, including prosecutors required to act with apolitical independence, were what they called "loyal Bushies."  Pledging "to be of service to George W. Bush" was the prime mandate of the Justice Department, which is why it was headed for his second term by Bush's most loyal servant.

Beyond the DOJ, huge swaths of the right-wing movement were devoted to an unprecedented veneration of George Bush.  A whole industry on the Right was created to convert him into a warrior-deity, including truly creepy reverence books by National Review writers (see here for various illustrations).  Some on the Right actually speculated that God intervened in our elections because he had hand-picked Bush to be our leader.  Even Bill Kristol admitted that the GOP had turned into little more than a Bush-centered personality cult, telling the New York Times:  "Bush was the movement and the cause."  More than any single, discrete issue, what motivated me to begin writing about political issues was the warped climate of hero worship constructed -- by the Right and the media -- around George Bush as a "War President."

Ahmadinejad's Imam: Islam Allows Raping, Torturing Prisoners

by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

( A highly influential Shi'a religious leader, with whom Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly consults, apparently told followers last month that coercion by means of rape, torture and drugs is acceptable against all opponents of the Islamic regime.
The gathered crowd heard from Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad.

Warning: The imam's question-and-answer session, partially reproduced here, contains disturbing descriptions of the sanctioned brutality.

In the wake of a series of publications worldwide regarding the rape and torture of dissident prisoners in Iran's jails, supporters of Ahmadinejad gathered with him in Jamkaran, a popular pilgrimage site for Shi'ite Muslims on the outskirts of Qom, on August 11, 2009. According to Iranian pro-democracy sources, the gathered crowd heard from Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad himself regarding the issue.

According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC), an independent Israeli intelligence analysis organization, Mesbah-Yazdi is considered Ahmadinejad's personal spiritual guide. A radical totalitarian even in Iranian terms, he holds messianic views, supports increasing Islamization, calls for violent suppression of domestic political opponents, and, according to the ITIC, "declared that obeying a president supported by the Supreme Leader was tantamount to obeying God."

At the Jamkaran gathering, Mesbah-Yazdi and Ahmadinejad answered questions about the rape and torture charges. The following text is from a transcript alleged by Iranian dissidents to be a series of questions and answers exchanged between the ayatollah and some of his supporters.

Asked if a confession obtained "by applying psychological, emotional and physical pressure" was "valid and considered credible according to Islam," Mesbah-Yazdi replied: "Getting a confession from any person who is against the Velayat-e Faqih ("Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists", or the regime of Iran's mullahs) is permissible under any condition." The ayatollah gave the identical answer when asked about confessions obtained through drugging the prisoner with opiates or addictive substances.

"Can an interrogator rape the prisoner in order to obtain a confession?" was the follow-up question posed to the Islamic cleric.

Mesbah-Yazdi answered: "The necessary precaution is for the interrogator to perform a ritual washing first and say prayers while raping the prisoner. If the prisoner is female, it is permissible to rape through the vagina or anus. It is better not to have a witness present. If it is a male prisoner, then it's acceptable for someone else to watch while the rape is committed."

Registered Republican