Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pentagon Disinfo Exposed = Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting announced this week went to David Barstow of The New York Times for articles revealing Pentagon orchestration of retired military officers as media analysts, and how many top-level pundits (and the large media networks primping them as "independent authoritative voices") neglected to disclose personal financial interests in firms profiting from policies promoted on-air.

Barstow illuminated the US Military-Industrial-Media complex. The covert Pentagon program focused on 'message multipliers' -- surrogates who'd deliver administration themes & messages to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.' These Government efforts were reportedly illegal propaganda (the Defense Dept's Inspector General has now claimed no illegality; a GAO investigation is continuing). The program ushered the nation into war; within a few days of being disclosed in The New York Times, it was discontinued.

The sub-theme since Barstow's revelations has been a stubborn refusal of most big TV networks to acknowledge the story, or to apologize for misleading viewers. Glen Greenwald has written extensively about big media's silence and conflict-of-interest. Awarding David Barstow's work a Pulitzer Prize makes a stronger and more enduring public record of a citizenry systematically deceived.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cheney's Torturous Logic

Former US Vice President Dick Cheney is today claiming that his government's tortures led to "success" -- he demands "what we gained" be made clear.

Cheney is a dangerous man; I believe he's a criminal. He swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, but he flaunted the law.

Torture 500 people to the point they believe they're dying - you may learn a few things. All were tortured illegally -- Cheney completely discounts the 450+ innocent people tortured wrongly / erroneously.

Further, international safeguards & the ICRC (Intl. Committee of the Red Cross) exist to help humankind, Americans as well as foreigners. Cheney's argument puts the lives and well-being of detained U.S. citizens in grave jeopardy.

Cheney was partly responsible for the intelligence & security failures under his government's direction that led to the 9/11 massacres. Thousands were killed during his watch (while he looked for ways to fleece us with his energy policy). Now he snipes from the sidelines.

Cheney should be in prison.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Innocent Don't Matter

The Bush government's effort to prosecute foreign detainees with secret military tribunals makes little sense in terms of vital operational details being communicated. These people had been jailed for years already, and "harsh interrogation" (torture) had supposedly extracted the useful information they might have had.

The secrecy was rather to protect the government from criticism for conducting torture. The tribunal for prisoner Majid Khan raised the claim (link here; page 13) that the 6 & 8 year old children of prisoner Khalid S. Mohammed were kept without food or water & tormented with insects for information about their father. Recent disclosures allowing insect-related torments make this hearsay story more believable...

Torturing or harming those known to be innocent, and collective punishment, are bad policy and cannot be excused.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Comment?

"We who have a voice must speak for the voiceless"
- Óscar Romero, Roman Catholic Archbishop; later murdered by right-wing death squad in church (24 March 1980, El Salvador)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture Revisited

Some specifics of U.S. Government-sponsored torture have recently been released by the Obama administration. The fact that cruel & horrific practices took place has been known for years, only now many details are exposed officially.

President Obama's positive decision to release the memos should be applauded. Interrogation details and participant testimonies highlight a rot which infected the US government and its operations.

Notwithstanding Obama's parallel words of support for intelligence service professionals, there were no requirements for operatives to conduct harsh interrogations (tortures); paramilitary or contract workers were reportedly often used instead of trained military interrogators. International & domestic laws were broken. Government fostered an open contempt for such laws, and officials sworn to uphold the law failed in their duties. Transgressions have been much more extensive than those described in these CIA memos. For example, pinning non-compliant detainees into restraint chairs and force-feeding by nasogastric tubes has been condemned ("Use of restraint chairs to break a hunger strike by a competent prisoner is a violation of both medical ethics and of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions" -- see also this link from The Lancet signed by 263 medical doctors worldwide). Smearing fresh menstrual blood on the face of a shackled prisoner (see E39) is inexcusable.

Those assigned to torture others might explain such acts as duty to Fatherland, but in any event such operations are dishonorable. They tortured suspects, not convicted terrorists. Even after months and years, prisoner abuse continued with no formal criminal accusations. Did the U.S. government truly want information from evildoers, or did they seek to harm & impose fear? The interrogators made conscious decisions to torture, and the "following orders" defense is insufficient protection; even their own President cannot protect interrogators, political commanders and direct support staff from indictment & conviction elsewhere -- in many cases these seem blatant war crimes.

Perhaps the first to be indicted should be those who crafted the policies. But the story is yet partly told: what other impromptu horrors were inflicted in efforts to "break the will" and impose fear in each detained suspect? Can we believe this was merely a search for information? ...if so, do it in public. Torture & murder are often used to crush dissent, often ultimately to enrich some elite. We know that people died under sustained secret interrogation & detention. Is it true the dead tell no tales...? Let the stories be told in a court of law.

These excesses should be rooted-out, revealed & condemned. The proposal by US Senator Patrick J. Leahy for an independent Commission of Inquiry is thus very important and should be supported. The rule of law, transparency, and accountability are fundamental to good government -- otherwise we've bad government. Otherwise the next despot will do worse.

Disinformation & falsehood are insidious. US Dept. of Defense publish the words -- too good to be true -- of Guantanamo detainees: "I'm in good health and have good facilities of eating, drinking, living, and playing." "These people take good care of me... The guards and everybody else is fine. We are allowed to talk to our friends." "The food is good, the bedrooms are clean and the health care is very good. There is a library full of Islamic books, science books, and literature... Sport, reading, and praying, all of these options are not mandatory for everyone, it is up to the person." Like Waldsee postcards written to those remaining in the ghetto by those sent to "work in the East" but actually at Auschwitz: "We are fine, working, and hoping to see you soon."

President Obama's statement that we should look forward has somewhat of a silver lining. Hopefully he means that US overseas adventurism will decline. Hopefully he will address the causes of conflict: perceived injustice. Hopefully he will shut down Guantanamo. Hopefully he will close WHINSEC and sever all links to the old School of the Americas. Hopefully...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What's a Goddamn Communist?

What's a Commie? Answering such a question was previously easy. They were enemies of America; we patriotically tried to to roll 'em back or kill them (USSR, VietCong, etc.) But now we do business with the same people - anyhow those who survived.

Aside from the specifics of Red Chinese commies vs. Cuban commies, it seems reasonable to ask if the whole exercise wasn't perhaps a load of bunkum. Were we misled? We certainly got all worked up about anti-Communism, and those caught in crossfire truly suffered - but did it matter? A "fight for free enterprise" morphed into overseas adventures led by no-bid Halliburton & Blackwater, cozying up to despots, and now the public bailout of key financial firms with friends in high places. Seems we've been played as suckers.

Dumb Pigs?

I hate to see government waste. I also dislike populist bullies, and those who build reputation by deceiving people.

What of the folk who publish The Congressional Pig Book Summary?

I've not been directly involved or affected, but their annual lists get a lot of attention. As with former Sen. William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece Awards" they incite populist rage, but the background story & scientific reasoning often gets trampled unheard. Perhaps the unwritten criterion for being included with the piggy "most egregious" projects is to be ha ha ha funny. For example, their work criticizes "$1.8 million for swine odor and manure management research in Iowa." Hilarious, if you live in Manhattan or Washington DC or Beverly Hills... but where do those deli goods and shrink-wrapped meats come from? Stinky factory farms pollute their surroundings unless highly regulated (also expensive). Horrible smells negatively effect health and property values. Perhaps public spending to alleviate stench is not unreasonable.

Citizens Against Government Waste explain how a project gets included - by meeting just one of their criteria: "The 1,188 projects, totaling $2.8 billion, in this year’s Congressional Pig Book Summary symbolize the most egregious and blatant examples of pork. As in previous years, all of the items in the Congressional Pig Book Summary meet at least one of CAGW’s seven criteria, but most satisfy at least two:

* Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
* Not specifically authorized;
* Not competitively awarded;
* Not requested by the President;
* Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
* Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
* Serves only a local or special interest."

To rewrite, they require a project fulfill all the below criteria or it can get put in their stupid pig book:

* Requested by both chambers of Congress;
* Specifically authorized;
* Competitively awarded;
* Requested by the President;
* Can't greatly exceed Presidential budget request or previous year’s funding.

Is this reasonable?
Should wasteful spending in their own offices be examined? Why is CAGW situated in the heart of Washington D.C.? With cheap electronic communications, why not move to cheaper office space in say Ames, Iowa - complete with disagreeable pig shit smell...
CAGW's own overall budget is $5 million; should we speak of their "Five-million dollar Pig Book?"

After venting such responses, in fact I appreciate the energies and effort of the CAGW, and respect what they seem to be trying to do. But it is easy to blindside geeky researchers. Why not focus a bit more on the military - that's the real Pork Base / Camp Pork...


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Unacceptable US Govt. Torture

US President Barack Obama has thus far excused the illegal activities of the prior administration. He's doubtless busy with assorted challenges (his kids ain't yet got their promised dog). Let's hope pressure continues to indict those who broke key laws. We can start with those who setup, ran & authorized torture.

The torture procedures have now been known for a long time, from Abu Ghraib photos and elsewhere. A 2005 report by U.S. ABC News [Ross, Brian & Richard Esposito (2005) "CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described" (18 Nov 2005)] describes in detail what happened to some people detained by the US Government (and not formally arrested, charged or convicted of any crime):
"CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (14 Feb. 2007) describes mistreatment of 14 so-called 'high value detainees' in more detail:
"The initial period of interrogation, lasting from a few days up to several months was the harshest, where compliance was secured by the infliction of various forms of physical and psychological ill-treatment. This appeared to be followed by a reward based interrogation approach with gradually improving conditions of detention, albeit reinforced by the threat of returning to former methods. The methods of ill-treatment alleged to have been used include the following:
• Suffocation by water poured over a cloth placed over the nose and mouth.
• Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head, for periods from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or three months intermittently, during which period toilet access was sometimes denied resulting in allegations from some that they had to defecate and urinate over themselves.
• Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall.
• Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face.
• Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement.
• Prolonged nudity during detention, interrogation and ill-treatment; this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months.
• Sleep deprivation through days of interrogation, through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noise or music. One detainee was kept sitting on a chair for prolonged periods of time (two to three weeks while constantly deprived of sleep).
• Exposure to cold temperature, especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and by the use of cold water poured over the body or held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of the water.
• Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet.
• Threats of ill-treatment to the detainee and/or his family.
• Forced shaving of the head and beard.
• Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest."

All this was admittedly condoned by US Vice President Cheney. Was it right? Did it work? Arrest Cheney & Co. as torturers, and let the courts decide!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tomb of Giants

(No - this isn't a political essay on Afghanistan / Iraq) We've just returned from a driving trip in Sardinia, where we came across assorted ruins and remains of prior peoples. Much of what we saw was unexplained on site (especially so as our Italian language skills are poor); some sites had only a sign labeling a name, others nothing at all. The nuraghi are towers erected anywhere from 3500 BC to perhaps 1500 BC, largely by a Bronze Age culture. There were perhaps 30,000 of these huge towers; some 8000 remain. There are also "Tomb of Giants" - we visited one named S'Ena e Thomes near Dorgali. It is reportedly positioned significantly relative to the Spring star Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri / Rohini nakshatra). There is an extended dolmen behind. What was this thing, how was it used? Nobody seems to know. There is conjecture that the place was a gravesite for multiple individuals. Why the small opening at bottom - for animals to enter and feed? There is a sense of sacred. The site is now just a part of the wild Sardinian countryside, surrounded by scrub trees and windswept nature.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Steny Hoyer shares Facts

Here's an easy-to-read indictment of failure:
Quotes & facts of the (now past) U.S. administration
from the office of U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer
(.pdf file; from 9 Sept. 2008; great data!)

Duped !

Back in September 2008, under the laissez-faire "free market" regime of George W. Bush (Dick Cheney presiding), we were suddenly informed the USA & world economy were in a doomsday financial crisis. We needed market intervention. We had to provide huge amounts of public funding to certain private firms (to the very same people who had put their firm in trouble) and -- (drum roll) -- we needed to do it quickly! With little review or forward planning! Hurry!

The resulting Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) led to a feeding frenzy. Banks & major financial firms consumed many hundreds of billions of dollars in low-cost monies. Soon they were demanding more funds. Market discipline was circumvented; regulatory agencies were kept weak; the inept remained in place.       (Wikipedia 1 - 2 - 3 articles)

If told
"act fast or it's the end of the world"
  -- be very cautious...

We was duped.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Stop Speculation Now!

"What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. It is a "partnership" in which one partner robs the other. And such partnerships - with the private sector in control - have perverse incentives, worse even than the ones that got us into the mess."
-- Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1 Apr 2009, New York Times

The financiers and bankers have built a speculative bubble. It can't be unraveled by the bartering of politicians. Speculators are far better at their own game. We cannot win. Don't throw good money after bad. Don't re-fund the same semi-skilled scum who've caused the problem.