Saturday, March 17, 2007

Demonstrations on the 4th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of
Iraq are worldwide. This one was in Heroes Square,
Budapest. AP photo.
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Valerie Plame Wilson at Friday's hearing.
AP photo.
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Exposing the Masters of Deceit

They lied us into the war that began four years ago today. They said Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and were collecting materials to build nuclear bombs. We now know that they knew there was little evidence that those weapons existed, and the one bit of supposed evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear material was false. They not only insisted it was true--they went to treasonous lengths to keep their lie from being discredited.

In an effort to destroy the credibility of the messenger--Joseph Wilson, who the CIA sent to track down the nuclear rumor--at the interfering insistence of VP Cheney--the White House exposed the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA officer, and falsely accused her of sending her husband to Niger. (As if, by the way, that alone is enough to make the fiction of Iraq's nuclear attempts true.)

On Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman began his hearings into security breaches with a statement in which General Hayden, current head of the CIA, affirmed that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert agent when her name was published, having been distributed to the press no fewer than 20 times by multiple members of the Bush administration. In her testimony, Plame said under oath that she had been on covert status, that she had in fact travelled outside the U.S. as a covert agent within five years (a technicality in the law protecting the identity of covert operatives), and that her outing had destroyed her 20 year career investigating weapons of mass destruction programs that might threaten the U.S.

Despite President Bush's statements that he would investigate the leak of her name, and fire anyone involved, there was further testimony from the Director of the White House Office of Security that there was no investigation whatever. And Karl Rove, one of the leakers, is still an official force in the White House.

Plame under oath denied that she had "sent" her husband on this mission (she didn't have that authority) and even that she had suggested him. Plame said that she knew that her identity might be discovered and exposed by a foreign government. She never imagined it would be exposed by high officials of her own government.

Still, the supporters of Bush, the right wing TV and radio babbleheads, continue to insist that Plame was not covert, and that this is mere politics. Which leads to the question: if killing more than 3,000 American soldiers and maiming thousands more, as well as killing and maiming countless thousands in Iraq as well as destroying that society, all based on lies, and the outing of a U.S. covert agent for political purposes, and the continung defense of these acts by means of more lies--if all this is not treason, what is?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oregon/California. BK photo.
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It Can Happen Here (Latest Chapter)

The Bushite scandals come so fast they are hard to keep track of, and start becoming indistinguishable, but the latest is worth isolating for its meanings and implications.

What is it? A number of federal attorneys--at least 7, probably more--were fired by the Bush Justice Department, officially by the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. After some local news stories and blogger investigations, congressional hearings revealed that many of them appear to have been fired for not being sufficiently zealous on behalf of Republicans, in several cases after improper questions and pressure on their current investigations--suggestions that they ought to be prosecuting Democrats (for "voter fraud") and not prosecuting Republicans (for corruption.)

At first, Gonzales denied to Congress there were any political considerations--these were personnel matters, based on performance. When evidence of good performance reviews etc. appeared, Republicans changed their tune to: the President has the right to fire these officials, and all Presidents do it on a political basis. But, in fact (they said) it wasn't political, at least the White House wasn't involved, specifically Karl Rove.

Now it's come out that this was a political decision from the beginning, going back to early 2005, and that Gonzales was involved even before he was Attorney General, when he was on the White House staff, and that Rove was involved--in fact (according to emails revealed Thursday), he was a chief instigator.

What's the underlying problem with this? Presidents often change federal prosecutors at the beginning of their terms, as Bush did--they are in that sense political appointments. But firing prosecutors selectively based on how they are prosecuting Republicans or not prosecuting Democrats strikes at the heart of the justice system, already admittedly weakened by the political appointee tradition. What the Bush White House is doing in this instance, as in others, appears to be unprecedented. It's also unusual to replace one Republican appointee with another because Karl Rove wants a pal in his place--especially when the office is in Little Rock, where yet another round of investigations into the Clintons could begin, just as Hillary runs for President.

What else is behind this? Howard Fineman for MSNBC points to the practices and intents of Rove and the other Bushites as far back as Texas:

Judges are elected in Texas. Karl Rove made his fortune not by running George W. Bush for office, but by training, building and running slates of conservative Republican judges.

The Austin Gang – Bush, Rove, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers – saw the legal world as something to control, if for no other reason than if they did not, the Trial Lawyers – the backbone of the modern Texas Democratic Party – would.

Gonzales made his bones literally keeping Bush out of court when, as governor, Bush was called to jury duty. Had Bush been subject to questioning by attorneys over his suitability to serve, he would have had to reveal that he had been arrested for drunk driving. Not a good thing to do before a presidential campaign. Gonzales managed to get the Boss out of the jury pool.

But it's even more specific, according to a New York Times editorial:

In its fumbling attempts to explain the purge of United States attorneys, the Bush administration has argued that the fired prosecutors were not aggressive enough about addressing voter fraud. It is a phony argument; there is no evidence that any of them ignored real instances of voter fraud. But more than that, it is a window on what may be a major reason for some of the firings.

In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on “fraud,” the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system.

The integrity of the election system, the integrity of the justice system--just two attacks on the integrity of the Constitution that characterize this Bush administration. I don't know if it is possible, but impeachment is more warranted now than ever.

On this assertion, here's this update from Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly :

Of all the scandals that have increasingly bedeviled George W. Bush’s presidency, none has more direct ties to the president than the flap over the firing of federal prosecutors. Any remaining doubt about that was cleared away last week, when the White House press secretary acknowledged that the president had a conversation with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October about complaints regarding some of the U.S. attorneys who were fired weeks later in what critics are calling a politically motivated, inappropriate purge.

(Here are specifics from the Times editorial:

Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups. They have intimidated Native American voter registration campaigners in South Dakota with baseless charges of fraud. They have pushed through harsh voter ID bills in states like Georgia and Missouri, both blocked by the courts, that were designed to make it hard for people who lack drivers’ licenses — who are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities — to vote. Florida passed a law placing such onerous conditions on voter registration drives, which register many members of minorities and poor people, that the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its registration work in the state....

The United States attorney purge appears to have been prompted by an array of improper political motives. Carol Lam, the San Diego attorney, seems to have been fired to stop her from continuing an investigation that put Republican officials and campaign contributors at risk. These charges, like the accusation that Mr. McKay and other United States attorneys were insufficiently aggressive about voter fraud, are a way of saying, without actually saying, that they would not use their offices to help Republicans win elections. It does not justify their firing; it makes their firing a graver offense. )


Master of Space! Hero of Science! Captain of the Video Rangers! The 1950s Saturday Morning Sci-Fi review continues at The Boomer Hall of Fame.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Waiting for water in Darfur. EU photo.
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Darfur and the World

While hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered, and millions driven from their homes in Darfur, the world has found plenty of ways to look away. Now slowly, slowly they turn. According to an AP story:

A U.N. human rights team investigating crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region zeroed in on the international community Monday for the first time, accusing the world's governments of an "inadequate and ineffective" response to widespread atrocities. In one of the hardest-hitting and most explicit reports in a series submitted to the world body, the team called for U.N. Security Council intervention, sanctions and criminal prosecution.

The Guardian adds: Headed by the Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams, the UN assessors found the Sudanese government was responsible for waging a ruthless campaign resulting in war crimes and human rights abuses. "The principal pattern is one of a violent counter-insurgency campaign waged by the government of the Sudan in concert with Janjaweed/militia, and targeting mostly civilians. Rebel forces are also guilty of serious abuses of human rights and violations of humanitarian law," Ms Williams's team found.

It calls on member states to raise a protection force in the Sudan. Among its other recommendations are that the UN Security Council "freeze funds, assets and economic resources" of those who commit the violations.

How bad is it? According to Time: If it's possible to degenerate from genocide, Darfur will probably do so in 2007. The four-year war that has caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis has spread and atomized. What was once a war zone the size of France has become an area the size of Western Europe. The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur are overwhelmed. The threat of pullout hangs over the aid program in southern Sudan and Chad after persistent attacks on its workers. Last year the journal Science estimated the number killed since 2003 at more than 200,000. If news of another humanitarian crisis in Africa sounds grimly familiar, that's partly because the international response has also conformed to type: divided and ineffectual. China, which has large oil concessions in Sudan, continues to sell the government weapons and block sanctions at the U.N. Darfur is a test of man's humanity to man. So far, we're wanting.

It's not that nobody cares. There are efforts to raise money and awareness, such as Amnesty International's Global Music Activism Project, for which Yoko Ono has donated publishing royalties to the entire John Lennon catalog, to raise money for relief efforts in Darfur. But what little relief efforts are possible there now may be halted completely unless the violence is brought under some control.

While all of this--right down to the benefit concerts--seems sadly familiar, there is one new component: as mentioned in An Inconvenient Truth and supported in more detail by a new article in the Atlantic magazine (via Climate Progress ): one of the major causes of turmoil--the fight over dwindling resources in a prolonged drought--has as a major contributing cause: the Climate Crisis. “This was not caused by people cutting trees or overgrazing,” says Columbia University’s Alessandra Giannini, who led one of the analyses. The roots of the drying of Darfur, she and her colleagues had found, lay in changes to the global climate.

The article points out two conclusions from this: that the Climate Crisis contribution adds to the moral responsibility we have to address the Darfur genocide, because If the region’s collapse was in some part caused by the emissions from our factories, power plants, and automobiles, we bear some responsibility for the dying. And that, as the Climate Crisis continues and gets worse, this is likely to be only our first Darfur, and the first climate war of the century that may be characterized by them.

If this war now engulfs an area the size of western Europe, it comes close to what we call the First World War. It is in many way the whole world's first war of this century.
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The Long Dubai

So after screwing the U.S. taxpayers from here to eternity for their billions in no-bid contracts to serve tainted food to U.S. soldiers, and various other hyperinflated and substandard services in Iraq, Halliburton is getting out of town. Way out. Moving headquarters to Dubai. Yes, that same sandy paradise where corporate capitalism on steroids meets the terrorist network, and where the companies are that the Bushites wanted to put in charge of U.S. ports.

Halliburton, the company that gave its former prez and now ours, Dick Cheney, a $35 million severance package, though its doubtful the severance was all that, shall we say, severe. They are leaving the building. In fact, the whole country.

Gee, what do you think they have in mind? Your first guess may be as good as Hillary Clinton's:

"I think that raises a lot of serious issues we have to look at," said the former First Lady. "Does this mean they are going to quit paying taxes in America? They are going to take all the advantage of our country but not pay their fair share of taxes?"

She continued, "They get a lot of government contracts - is this going to affect the investigations that are going on? Because we have a lot of evidence of misuse of government contracts and how they have cheated the American soldier and cheated the American taxpayer. They have taken the money and not provided the services, so does this mean that we won't be able to pursue these investigations?"

I expect that within a year or two of the move (into the Cheney Complex in Cheney City), they'll quietly change their name and go after U.S. contracts again, although thanks to them there may not be any money left by then. But Senator Frank Lautenberg has even darker thoughts than this: he suspects the move is a way to circumvent U.S. law so that Halliburton can continue to pursue contracts with--get this--Iran. Yeah, the one with the "n" at the end.
It seems a Halliburton subsidiary already in Dubai has been doing business with Iran for years.

There is a possible upside: if Halliburton does get some big contracts for Iran's nuclear program, that's virtually a guarantee that it will be set back for years. If the Iranians think they're the Axis of Evil, they are about to meet the real thing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

cups in place #6. BK photo.
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The Great Global Warming Swindle Swindle

The climate crisis deniers are abuzz about a TV show broadcast in England and available on the Internet, called The Great Global Warming Swindle, which has instantly turned out to be itself a swindle.

As the British newspaper the Independent reports: But now the programme - and the channel - is facing a serious challenge to its own credibility after one of the most distinguished scientists that it featured said his views had been "grossly distorted" by the film, and made it clear that he believed human pollution did warm the climate.

Professor Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he had been "completely misrepresented" by the programme, and "totally misled" on its content. He added that he is considering making a formal complaint.

Professor Wunsch said: "I am angry because they completely misrepresented me. My views were distorted by the context in which they placed them. I was misled as to what it was going to be about. I was told about six months ago that this was to be a programme about how complicated it is to understand what is going on. If they had told me even the title of the programme, I would have absolutely refused to be on it. I am the one who has been swindled."

The "programme" is further tainted by the fact that charges of distortion similar to this were made in the past against its producer, and the network that commissioned and aired it, called Channel 4, has been forced to apologize for distortions in other recent programs on environmental matters.

People who are making major amounts of money for climate crisis denying (principally from Exxon-Mobil, which continues to break its own records for the largest profits and as the largest company in the history of the planet), or who use it to get attention or political power--these are pretty simple if obviously corrupt motives. They do great harm when they persuade ordinary people that there is enough doubt among scientists to make action unnecessary or unwise, when the science shows that every year we delay, we make the problem so much worse until very soon, it could be literally out of control.

And I guess I can understand people who use ideology to hide from what is not merely inconvenient truth, but very painful facts. Facts that require pervasive change.

But even more sadly, they are intent on ignoring evidence, which at this point is so scientifically overwhelming on the basic points that some scientists say that only things like gravity demonstrate a stronger scientific consensus. One of our local bloggers who seems to think the climate crisis is a slightly silly political conspiracy has admitted that he hasn't even seen An Inconvenient Truth. That's apparently how he knows it's wrong. Not only is it a political conspiracy of some kind, it also involves thousands of climate scientists over half a century. Climate crisis skeptics are one things, but those who refuse to engage the evidence join the climate crisis deniers.

While climate scientists endorse the basic evidence and conclusions in An Inconvenient Truth, the so-called science in The Great Global Warming Swindle has already been debunked on line, and all the major arguments also have been carefully corrected on various other sites. But some people will not be swayed by evidence, even in the unlikely event that they read it, or read the accounts of climate crisis effects already underway.

Of course, an unusually warm day in March, as today was here, is not evidence, nor is snowfall in Washington, DC the other day. But there is plenty of real evidence of real climate disruptions over time, in places like Alaska where entire villages have had to relocate. But U.S. Fish & Game officials aren't supposed to talk about that, nor are they supposed to discuss the plight of polar bears or any of the other evidence the current Administration wants to keep quiet.

I understand the general suspicion of science as well as of politicians, and I believe in being skeptical. But this is denial, which is not often affected by evidence. Obviously, saying that the scientific consensus for civilization's causing a climate crisis is as strong as the consensus for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is not going to be convincing to people who don't believe Darwin either.

But besides religious fundamentalists, the people who by now will not accept the accumulation of evidence that surely should be enough to motivate urgent action, may be beyond my abilities to reach. Which is one reason that on this site I don't normally engage the latest denying. As this latest attempt in England shows, only distorting the evidence provides counter-argument on the basics. In the end, perhaps only the constructive way that the actual problems are approached will persuade them. If their opposition is powerful enough, it could be fatal to our already questionable common future, and that's a heavy responsibility. But our responsibility may be to go forward without them.