March 27, 2007

Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research

The White House is at their information control game again, out to quiet any reports, studies, or information that might paint them in a negative light, attacking one of their favorite whipping boys – the scientific community. The White House under President Bush has had a long and unprecedented history of attacking science when it happens to refute or object to their actions and the actions of their friends, donors, and business partners, so this is no new chapter from their playbook, but it bears mentioning as yet another excellent example. The target this time? Naturally – global climate change.

Bush administration officials throughout the government have engaged in White House-directed efforts to stifle, delay or dampen the release of climate change research that casts the White House or its policies in a bad light, says a new report that purports to be the most comprehensive assessment to date of the subject.

Researchers for the non-profit watchdog Government Accountability Project reviewed thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from government whistle-blowers and conducted dozens of interviews with public affairs staff, scientists, reporters and others.

The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists’ efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.

The report is slated to be released tomorrow at a hearing before the House Science Committee, which is investigating the issue.

“The evidence suggests that incidents of interference are often top-down reactions to science that has negative policy or public relations implications for the administration,” the group says in its report.

Looks about right, and completely typical of Administration behavior. Never before has a governmental body gone to such great lengths to manipulate, spin, and control what information is released to the public by similarly public agencies. It’s a rather impressive track record.

[ Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research ]
Source: ABC News Blotter

The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

The editor of this piece at ConsortiumNews has a fine intro to this one man’s open statement to the American people about what their government was really interested in doing after uncovering the facts about Abu Ghraib, and the fact that they were more interested in hushing up the entire scandal to the degree that war criminals wound up getting wrist-slap sentences in prison and the heroes of the story wound up losing their shirts.

Former Army Sgt. Sam Provance was one of the heroes of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the only uniformed military intelligence officer at the Iraqi prison to testify about the abuses during the internal Army investigation. When he recognized that the Pentagon was scapegoating low-level personnel, he also gave an interview to ABC News.

For refusing to play along with the cover-up, Provance was punished and pushed out of the U.S. military. The Pentagon went forward with its plan to pin the blame for the sadistic treatment of Iraqi detainees on a handful of poorly trained MPs, not on the higher-ups who brought the lessons of “alternative interrogation techniques” from the Guatanamo Bay prison to Abu Ghraib.

The Congress, which was then controlled by the Republicans, promised a fuller investigation. Provance submitted a sworn statement. But Congress never followed through, leaving Provance hanging out to dry.

Provance has written his experiences down, and they’re compelling to read. He was, as I have been in several organizations, a “computer guy,” the guy who has to see everything and knows more than he probably should, and the type of person in a horrible position when it comes to whistle-blowing; they know the truth and they have an ethical obligation to break the information to the appropriate authorities, but if they do they’re also the most vulnerable. Provence explains how he tried to tell his commanding officers what was going on and was summarily threatened, demoted, and punished for even daring to bring it up:

In Germany, I had the surreal experience of being interrogated by one of the Army-General-Grand-Inquisitors, Major General George Fay, who showed himself singularly uninterested in what went on at Abu Ghraib.

I had to insist that he listen to my eyewitness account, whereupon he threatened punitive actions against me for not coming forward sooner and even tried to hold me personally responsible for the scandal itself.

The Army then demoted me, suspended my Top Secret clearance, and threatened me with ten years in a military prison if I asked for a court martial. I was even given a gag order, the only one I know to have been issued to those whom Gen. Fay interviewed.

But the fact that most Americans know nothing of what I saw at Abu Ghraib, and that my career became collateral damage, so to speak, has nothing to do with the gag order, which turned out to be the straw that broke this sergeant’s back.

It’s remarkable – and soldiers generally have little to no real whistleblower protections, no way to shield themselves from the wrath of commanders who know the injustices occurring on their watch and who have little interest in seeing them rectified. Provence’s story extends to former General Janis Karpinski, who was also scapegoated to a degree over the abuses at the prison. His entire account, including the reactions of the politicians involved who said one thing to him and something completely different to the cameras, is an astounding retelling of one of the darkest periods of the Iraq War.

[ The American Ghosts of Abu Ghraib ]
Source: ConsortiumNews

Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists

When government lackeys and conservative think tanks reach blindly for rationale for keeping massive, imprersonal databases full of names and personally identifiable information in order to “protect the homeland,” even though there are no accountability measures and no way for innocent individuals to correct, challenge, or alter the information that’s in the database – especially when they’ve been mistakenly caught up in it – this is a good story to point out.

According to the Washington Post, businesses from mortgage lenders to rental car agencies are the Treasury Department’s publicly searchable and available to companies looking to ensure they don’t provide goods and services to terrorists or individuals linked to terrorist groups. This would be a good thing all around if there didn’t seem to be more innocent customers being flagged and denied service than there have been terrorists caught and reported. Everyday people looking to rent a car or get a loan for a car or a home. The list was originally designed to prevent drug dealers and foreign nationals that were considered unsavory individuals to be denied services as punishment for their involvement in terrorism or illegal activities. The problem stems from the fact that it seems to be nothing more than a fishing expedition that’s been catching more dolphins than fish, so to speak.

The Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list of “specially designated nationals” has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.

“The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security,” said Shirin Sinnar, the report’s author. “The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don’t trample on individual rights.”

The lawyers’ committee has documented at least a dozen cases in which U.S. customers have had transactions denied or delayed because their names were a partial match with a name on the list, which runs more than 250 pages and includes 3,300 groups and individuals. No more than a handful of people on the list, available online, are U.S. citizens.

Yet anyone who does business with a person or group on the list risks penalties of up to $10 million and 10 to 30 years in prison, a powerful incentive for businesses to comply. The law’s scope is so broad and guidance so limited that some businesses would rather deny a transaction than risk criminal penalties, the report finds.

“The law is ridiculous,” said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md., who advises car dealers to use the list to avoid penalties. “It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who’s on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law.”

Wow. Remind me to tell my favorite sandwich shop that they’d better stop serving that family with the diplomat tags on their car next door. They might be facing significant fines and penalties.

[ Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists ]
Source: The Washington Post

Toyota Not Among Carmakers Invited to White House

True to form, the Administration has shown profound ignorance to the real state of the American economy, while they simultaneously see fit to stand at a podium for photo-ops with the heads of the so-called “big three” auto companies; Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler. While it’s completely understandable that the White House would want to meet with the representatives of the American auto industry, it’s apparent that they either know less than they think they do, or they care more for the pocket-linings of the big three’s executives then for the actual workings of the American auto industry.

Toyota, as a prime example, is poised to surpass GM as the largest selling auto company this year, and simultaneously creating thousands of US jobs while the other three companies are closing plants, cutting jobs, and cutting off benefits and health care to its workers. Similarly, Toyota is already leading the industry in fuel-saving and environmentally friendly technology and making other friends in Washington, but for some odd reason the Administration doesn’t seem to think that Toyota is influential enough to invite to its private soiree. It would seem to me that such an influential company deserves a seat at the President’s table. Apparently the White House, divorced from reality as usual, doesn’t seem to think so.

[ Toyota Not Among Carmakers Invited to White House ]
Source: Reuters (courtesy Yahoo! News)

March 21, 2007

For the Christian Right, Gay-Hating Is Just the Start

I’ve always said (and been known to say it here) that hatred is hatred, intolerance is intolerance, injustice is injustice, and hiding behind the thin veil of “free speech” and “expressing an opinion” that these bigots “have a right to have” is a thinly made shield at best, not even designed to try and conceal the ignorance and hatred that people have for anyone who dares oppose or embody a different world view. In this case, and in many other cases in recent memory, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people have suffered the brunt of this ignorant hatred, suffering beatings, discrimination, and in some cases death, simply for being who they know they are, even if their identity conflicts with someone else’s personal and narrowly described perspective of morality – not even their own morality, but a morality they feel the need to punish others with, impose on those around them.

Most progressives, most of the reality-based community, knows full well that as soon as we start painting any particular group as outcasts, abnormal, or second-class citizens, as soon as we start allowing groups like the evangelicals or the far right start defining what’s “normal” and what isn’t, what’s “acceptable” and what isn’t, then we’re in trouble. Because as soon as they get that opportunity, they and their racist, sexist, bigoted friends will come out of the woodwork to see what else they can impose on America. It’s a chilling reminder of the famous poem, First they came….

First they institutionalize discrimination and hatred against homosexuals and bisexuals. Then they’ll likely attack social issues like reproductive rights and choice. Doubtlessly the next targets will be the ones they’ve still refused to give up, like interracial marriage and relationships. They’ll likely target Latino and Hispanic people, on a strong psuedo-patriotic nativist streak. They’ll then go after African-Americans and other Black people in America, then likely after those who aren’t their own brand of Christian, like Jews, Muslims, and others. All of those could very well happen in any order, and just thinking about them brings to mind a number of examples where evangelicals and hate groups, when they’re united in this common cause of bigotry, have had to be fought off in recent memory.

I spent two years reporting and writing “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” At the numerous gatherings I attended around the country, one of the driving forces and most effective mobilizing agents was the issue of sexuality. This mass movement, led by figures such as James Dobson, claims that tolerance of “alternative lifestyles” is eroding the American family. They describe “same-sex attraction” as a disease that can be cured. And they condemn all sexual love that is not heterosexual as an abomination in the eyes of God.

[…] Gays and lesbians, like other enemies of Christ, are not fully human. They are “unnatural.” And preachers in the movement argue that if America does not act soon to eradicate homosexual behavior, God will punish the nation.

These attacks mask a sinister agenda that has nothing to do with sexuality. It has to do with power. The radical Christian right — the most dangerous mass movement in American history — has built a binary worldview of command and submission wherein male leaders, who cannot be questioned and claim to speak for God, are in control and all others must follow. Any lifestyle outside the traditional model of male and female is a threat to this hierarchical male power structure. Women who do not depend on men for their identity and their sexuality, who live outside a male power relationship, challenge this pervasive cult of masculinity, as do men who find tenderness and love with other men as equals.

As usual, it’s important to understand that this “Christianity” is nothing at all like Christianity. There’s nothing less Christian than being a despot in the name of God, nothing less Christian than being a hatemonger in the name of God and judging and striking out at our brothers and sisters in His name. But these people have long lost their way, and attract people by playing on their fears and their ignorance, rather than enlightening and informing them, a role the Church used to delightfully take, at least in some regards. It’s a shame, and it’s sad, but it’s all the more evidence and reasoning why the fight for equality and rights for all people must continue unfettered, no matter how difficult the road may be and how misguided the opponents are.

[ For the Christian Right, Gay-Hating Is Just the Start ]
Source: TruthDig

March 14, 2007

Damn Right, We’re Angry

This is a point close to my own heart: angry progressives and liberals. Yes, we’re angry, and there’s no reason for us not to be. Watching our rights and civil liberties erode, watching discrimination based on race, gender, and sexuality become legitimized due to hate and ignorance, watching science get gutted by businesses and an administration bent on information control, watching every person’s actions and decisions slowly becoming supervised by the state, we have a lot to be angry about, and there’s no reason to be apologetic. That’s part of the reason I started Not So Humble; so there was a place to be angry, a place to not have to hold back the vitrol and the venom, and a place where we didn’t have to succumb to the arguments of the “right” that we should just “settle down” and drift towards the center (read: drift towards the right) while they go on television at night on Fox News and talk radio and blast not just us, but pervert the values and ethics that America stands for with as much or more anger and vitrol than any progressive has ever let loose with. Ann Coulter can go on national television and insult gays and lesbians everywhere in one breath, women’s rights activists in another, and black people in a third, and in a fourth advocate murdering people she doesn’t agree with, and somehow she’s okay, but an uppity liberal needs to calm down, apparently. No way in hell.

We can’t deny it any longer. There’s no point in hiding it, no point in trying to explain it away. Yes, it’s true: We progressives are angry. And we no longer care if the centrist, moderate guardians of the establishment scold us for it.

Our anger is not just some vague feeling whose source we can’t put our finger on. It isn’t based on absurd conspiracy theories and it isn’t illogical.

We’re angry because of what has happened to our country, because of how we’ve been treated, and because of the innumerable crimes the conservatives have committed. We’re angry at the president, we’re angry at the Congress, we’re angry at the news media. And we have every right to be.

Agreed. The entire article is full of points, very valid reasons, why anyone should be angry, not just progressives. As they say, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

[ Damn Right, We’re Angry ]
Source: TomPaine.com

March 9, 2007

Democrats Look to Shift a Tax Back to the Rich

Everyone’s talking about the AMT, or the Alternative Minimum Tax. Slowly but surely its been creeping into the middle class, costing them thousands of dollars on their taxes, because a well meaning measure to stop the ultra-rich from taking so many deductions that they could get away with paying nothing in taxes for social services that they use more than anyone else wasn’t pegged against inflation or cost of living. Then again, it wasn’t meant to be a permenent measure, just a fix until the proper changes in tax code could be written. Well, now, what was rich back when the AMT was created is middle class now, especially in suburbs of major cities like New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Seattle – two working parents and a family may have to struggle to get by on $70-$100,000 a year if they’re lucky enough to make that, and they’re getting hit with a tax that wasn’t meant to hit them.

Congressional republicans ignored the problem for years, letting it rack up to critical mass, and then issuing more tax breaks to the ultra-rich who support their campaigns and agendas by and large, and now the Democrats, newly in control of Congress, have decided to do something about the problem that’s been bubbling for some time now. It’s really simple actually: roll back President Bush’s tax breaks for the richest 1% of Americans, and give the middle class a break on the AMT. But congressional republicans are up in arms about anything that messes with the tax cuts for their wealthier base. We’ll see how it plays out, but something tells me that most voters will opt to support the Democrats on this one, but whether or not the money machine of the ultra wealthy-who would be happy to put out the money they got in tax breaks into campaigning for republicans in the future instead of actually paying their taxes-will smear those same well-meaning Democrats remains to be seen. Still, something needs to be done about the AMT, and allowing Bush’s tax cuts to be permanent while simultaneously cutting the AMT isn’t a great option either. One of the things that got the Democrats into the driver’s seat is a need across the nation for economic equity between the everyday person and the CEO in the corner office – and while American’s aren’t saying people who do more and lead companies and organizations shouldn’t make more for their responsibilities, they are saying that we’re tired of CEOs who make over 400 times the wage of their average employee, but paying more than that person in taxes.

[ Democrats Look to Shift a Tax Back to the Rich ]
Source: The Boston Globe (Boston.com)

Global Warming Hearing an Exercise in Futility

I know I’m coming strong with global warming and climate change stories lately, but it’s been something that’s very strong in my mind these days – it seems to be another evolution-style argument, where you have the scientists and people with, well, sense on one side of the argument, and politicians and friends of business on the other, followed by a gaggle of people who want nothing more than to agree with their favorite cause or stand with the politicians on their side of the line. It’s saddening, but it seems to be true. Anyway, this is another piece that I can’t help but let the author lead in himself. The venerable Wired Blog 27B Stroke 6 wrote an excellent piece on a recent hearing on global climate change, just to give you an idea on where the knowledge lies and where people stand on the two sides of the line:

The premise of the hearing was to debate whether humans cause global warming. Twenty years ago, it may have seemed kooky to accept such a thing. Now it’s seems crazy not to…except, perhaps, on Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s June deadline for a climate change bill could be in hot water.

At the hearing, several scientists issued dire warnings about the health of the planet.

“[Greenhouse gasses] are now higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years,” said James Hurrell, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Climate is changing in ways that cannot be accounted for by natural variability.” Hurrell called for the adoption of reduction proposals and said man-made emissions have upset the balance of the atmosphere.

Pretty clear. Here’s another witness:

“Pervasive global warming is underway,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences professor at Princeton. “Most of the recent climate change is attributable to human activity.” Unless humans reduce emissions, Oppenheimer said, global warming could “remake the face of the earth” and move Texas’ Gulf Coast shoreline to Houston. Oppenheimer said humans have “a fifty-fifty chance” of avoiding a catastrophic sea rise of up to 20 feet if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds 450 parts per million. Currently, we’re around 380 ppm.

And here, alas, is some enlightened cross-examination from committee members:

“500 years ago what kind of meteorologists were on the planet and where were the weather stations?” wondered Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oklahoma), in an attempt to cast doubt on historical measurements of temperature. When informed that scientists use tree ring and ice core samples to track historical climate events with a good degree of accuracy, Sullivan admitted: “I don’t know much about science.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. But wait, there’s more!

Perhaps the most pedagogical scene in the hearing came when Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) tried to explain to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), an old friend of the oil and gas industry who chalks global warming up to the sun, how greenhouse gasses from human activity — despite being only five percent of the total — can upset the balance of the earth’s atmosphere.

“On a seesaw, there’s a thousand pounds on one side and a thousand pounds on the other side. It’s an equilibrium.” Add 20 pounds to one side, Markey said, and the seesaw tilts.

For a moment, Congress felt like grade school.

I wish I could share all of the stories in between, but you have to see them for yourself, including one legislator who essentially throws up his hands and says “God is in control.” Which, apparently, is why the Bible says that he gave man dominion over the land, or free will for that matter. Nope, no responsibility at all-just give it all to the Big Guy. It’s scary how many of these folks actually have power.

[ Global Warming Hearing an Exercise in Futility ]
Source: 27B Stroke 6 (Wired Blogs)

When Politics Infects Justice

An interesting opinion piece by Pete McCloskey graced the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle today, bringing up how amusing it is that Representative John Conyers from Michigan is now the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, when he was once on the infamous list of Nixon enemies. Once a champion of the truth, always a champion of the truth, I suppose. Now, he’s outing another President’s lies and deceit, exposing the culture of agreement with the Admnistration that has permeated the Justice Department enough to allow the Attorney General to fire federal attorneys that don’t agree with the President’s policies. Fill the ranks with those who support you seems to be the mantra of the Bush administration, legal or not, ethical or not.

It seems ironic that U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who was listed on Nixon’s Enemies List, will be the one wielding the gavel in another search for the truth at a time when so many of us have begun to wonder whether our government is capable of providing us with the truth.

One of the younger members of the Judiciary Committee at the time was Conyers, a man Nixon had put on his notorious “Enemies List” for whatever punishment federal agencies such as the IRS might devise.

As a result of the Judiciary Committee’s inquiries and the work of several dedicated U.S. attorneys, not only was Nixon forced from office, but his attorney general, John Mitchell, was indicted and sent to jail for his part in the Watergate coverup.

Now, 32 years later, another Republican attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, faces questioning by both the Senate and House Judiciary committees, on grounds that he has used his high office for political purposes to remove eight U.S. attorneys, several of whom had been involved in investigations of Republican congressmen, such as Randy “Duke” Cunningham of San Diego, Robert Ney of Ohio and John Doolittle of Rocklin (Placer County).

And who chairs the Judiciary Committee today? None other than Nixon’s old enemy, John Conyers.

Among the reasons many Americans have lost faith in their government, the perceived use of the U.S. attorney general’s office for political purposes looms large. In the past, independent prosecutors, such as San Francisco’s John Keker, who prosecuted Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal, and former Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is the chief prosecutor in the Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial, have preserved respect for the judicial process despite the machinations of political appointees in Washington. Under the Bush administration, however, the White House has been able to convince its attorney general to provide questionable legal opinions on the use of torture, warrantless wire-tapping and other practices that cause ordinary citizens to wonder whether government lawyers, like politicians, can be prevailed upon to change their views for political gain.

The investigations now being conducted by both the House and Senate Judiciary committees can go a long way toward restoring the faith of the people that our nation’s courts, laws and prosecutors remain untainted by political influence.

Well said. Now, with any luck, that Congress has taken up the mantle of executive oversight again, we’ll see more challenges to the legality and ethics of the Bush Administration and that of his cover-up cronies in various offices down the chain of command.

[ When Politics Infects Justice ]
Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

EU Leaders Agree to Cut Greenhouse Gases

In other climate related news today, at a summit in Brussels, EU leaders have crafted a plan to lower greenhouse gases created by EU member states significantly in order to do their part to stave off global climate change. It’s good to see that the old world is on the ball with this, and I can only hope that the United States would follow suit shortly, but I don’t believe we will – the President is sure to veto anything that would improve the global environment or work to cease the effects of manmade global climate change, (remember those comments in his debate with Kerry? “I’m a good steward of the land?” We’re seeing more and more often that that was all manner of spin.) but we can at least work towards it at home, and while abroad the more the United States is isolated in this regard the sooner positive environmental change will take place at home, and American multinationals will be forced to meet the demands of foreign governments, which will ease the blow at home.

EU leaders agreed Friday on a bold set of measures to fight global warming, pledging that a fifth of the bloc’s energy will come from green power sources such as wind turbines and solar panels by 2020 and 10 percent of European cars will run on biofuels.
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At French insistence, the deal — which does not yet include an enforcement mechanism — noted the role atomic energy could play in replacing coal- or oil-fired power plants blamed for pumping out greenhouse gases. The inclusion caused unease for non-nuclear states such as Austria and Ireland and triggered complaints from environmental groups.

European leaders said the agreement, the first to go beyond the 35-nation Kyoto Protocol in its targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, marked a turning point in the fight against global warming.

Conservative Americans love to bash Europe for pathetic reasons cloaked in big-headed nativism, but they continue to do right by the environment, and while I wish that America could be leading the way towards a better planet for our children, I’m glad to see that at least someone has opted to lead.

[ EU Leaders Agree to Cut Greenhouse Gases ]
Source: The Associated Press (courtesy Yahoo! News)