Suffer little children

Glenn Greenwald’s blog Unclaimed Territory has become a must-read for me. He writes passionately, knowledgeably, and well about legal matters, and particularly the protection of civil rights.

His recent post is another excellent analysis of the way that people who should know better are complicit in the eroding of civil liberties and the rights protected in the constitution. Rather than merely being at the edge of the slippery slope, these people have slid completely down it and are now wallowing in the muck at the bottom.

Here are some key points of Greenwald’s essay to whet your appetite to read the whole thing:

There is a widespread, tacit assumption that no matter how apathetic and inattentive Americans become, there is still some line which they will not allow the Government to cross when it comes to exceeding or abusing the limits of government power. That assumption has taken a huge beating over the last four years, and is now in serious doubt.

Americans have sat by more or less passively by while this Administration detained American citizens and threw them into a military prison without charges being brought, without a trial, and without even allowing them access to a lawyer. Many are basically indifferent to revelations that the Bush Administration is eavesdropping on American citizens in secret and with no oversight of any kind. And worst of all, a sizable portion of the population is acquiescing to the fact that we have a President who was just discovered breaking the law, and rather than expressing shame or remorse once he was caught, has vowed to continue doing it based on the theory that he has the right to violate the law and that it’s for our own good.

It is sometimes hard to put one’s finger on exactly what motivates such passive acceptance of these obvious government abuses, but Jonah Goldberg puked up a paragraph last night in the Corner which really captures everything that is rancid and decaying in our country and which casts an ugly though illuminating light on all of this.

In his little item, Jonah was talking about – and, of course, defending – the strip searching of the 10-year-old girl in the case where Judge Alito ruled that the search warrant issued to the Police authorized searching of the girl. Jonah then went further – much further – and defended all strip-searching of all children, even without a warrant, whenever the Police thinks the kids’ parents are “drug dealers”:

STRIP SEARCHES [Jonah Goldberg]
I understand the need for following the procedural niceties, but as a plain moral common sense issue, if you are a drug dealer and keep drugs on the premises with your child, you get zero-point-zero sympathy from me if your kids are searched, warrant or no. It may be wrong for the cops to do it. But you are not a victim for choosing a life where you can rationally expect to expose your kids to far greater risks than a search by a polite cop. The kid’s a victim — of bad parents.

….
Thanks to the ceaseless fear-mongering of this Administration, we are becoming – excuse the grotesque imagery – a Nation of Jonah Goldbergs, scared and lazy creatures who sit around believing that the Government is justified – even obligated – to act literally without constraint against the Bad People, the ones who are deemed to be Bad not pursuant to any “procedural niceties” but simply by the unchecked decree of the Government. These Jonah Goldbergs love to talk tough. But they are repulsively coddled and effete, whining about every perceived petty injustice which affects them but breezily endorsing the most limitless abuses of others, as long as the “others” seem sufficiently demonized and far enough away.

It is truly nauseating to watch the basic principles of our country, which have preserved both liberty and stability with unprecedented brilliance over the last 200 years, be inexorably whittled away and treated like petty nuisances by the depraved Jonah Goldbergs among us. It is a mindset based on a truly toxic brew of glib self-absorption, sickly laziness and profound ignorance, and it is being easily manipulated by an Administration which is demanding – and acquiring – more and more power in exchange for coddling and protecting the little Jonah Goldbergs of the world.

I think that what differentiates people who value and fight to protect constitutional protections from those who are willing to have them compromised is whether you are willing and able to imagine yourself in the situation of the people at the receiving end of this treatment and how you would feel if it happened to you and your family and friends, even if you are a person who has never done anything that could be even remotely described as of questionable legality. As Greenwald says:

What makes Jonah’s post conclusively reflective of not only his ideological corruption but also his severe character flaw is that Jonah would never be quite as breezy or casual about lawless strip searches if it was him or his daughter being subjected to them.

But Jonah is convinced that abuses of this sort will never happen to him and he therefore doesn’t care that they happen to others. To the contrary, he eagerly wants other people – the alleged, suspected “drug dealers” and “terrorists” and other Bad People – to be subjected to those abuses because he thinks it will protect him from bad things. That’s why I described his thinking as a mindset based on fear and petty selfishness. He is willing to give up and even denigrate the most basic liberties of our country because he thinks he doesn’t need them and would be better off without them.

Notice that Goldberg’s acceptance of what must have been a traumatic experience for the child is because of an allegation against the father. In this, Goldberg’s position is similar to that of John Yoo, now a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and before that a former deputy assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel of the Department of Justice where he wrote a memo on September 25, 2001 justifying Presidential power to do practically anything he wants, which has since been interpreted to include the torturing of captives around the world. His views seem to have got even worse after going into academia.

Listen to this exchange in an debate with Douglass Cassel at the University of Notre Dame (audio available):

Cassel: If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty


Cassel: Also no law by Congress – that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo…


Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

So there you are. People like Goldberg and Yoo are not only happy to acquiesce in the torture of adults who are suspects, they are even willing to have a suspect’s children be brutalized, as long as the President thinks it is a good idea. Yes, we are truly a nation that values families.

In a speech yesterday to The American Constitution Society and The Liberty Coalition (full transcript here), former Vice President Al Gore made the following point:

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is “yes” then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch’s claims of these previously unrecognized powers: “If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.”

Whatever happened to that quaint notion that this is “a government of laws, not men?”

POST SCRIPT: Other examples of moral courage

Last week I wrote about Hugh Thompson, Jr. For more about his rescue of Vietnamese civilians from slaughter, and others in the US military like him who spoke out at what they saw as wrong actions, and how badly they were treated because of their courageous acts, see here. Clancy Sigal writes:

They include Army specialist Joseph Darby, of the 372d Military Police Company, who reported on his fellow soldiers who were torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. His family has received threats to their personal safety in their Maryland hometown. And Captain Ian Fishback, the 82d Airborne West Pointer, who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tried vainly for seventeen months to persuade superiors that detainee torture was a systematic, and not a ‘few bad apples’, problem inside the U.S. military. In frustration, he wrote to Senator McCain, which led directly to McCain’s anti-torture amendment. I wouldn’t want to bet on the longevity of Captain Fishback’s military career.

Thompson’s death also reminded me of Captain Lawrence Rockwood, of the 10th Mountain Division. Ten years ago, Rockwood was deployed to Haiti where, against orders, he personally investigated detainee abuse at the National Penitentiary in the heart of Port au Prince. He was court-martialed for criticizing the U.S. military’s refusal to intervene, and kicked out of the Army. While still on duty, he kept a photograph on his desk of a man he greatly admired. It was of Captain Hugh Thompson.

IDC now being attacked by some religious fundamentalists

Judge Jones’ ruling in the Dover, PA has suddenly brought to light what had only been hinted at before, that not all religious people, even evangelicals, were happy with IDC ideas and strategy. Some fundamentalists were unhappy with the IDC movement’s minimalist strategy of claiming only a few supernatural interventions in the evolutionary process. They felt that IDC should go further and argue for the complete Biblical story of creation and be open about the fact that the designer was the Christian god.

In what must be the unkindest cut of all, even some members of the group known as “creation scientists” such as Hugh Ross are applauding the Dover decision, agreeing with the judge that IDC is not science.

Hugh Ross and his group called Reasons to Believe think that their version of creation science is science. They accept the theory of the Big Bang and an old Earth and Universe but believe that “God supernaturally and miraculously created Adam from the “dust of the earth” (not a pre-existing being) just as described in Genesis 1 and 2. Adam and Eve were the first humans, and from them came the entire human race.”

This collection of views puts Hugh Ross under the umbrella of “Old Earth Creationists” (OEC), as opposed to Young Earth Creationists (YEC) who believe that the Earth and the Universe are less than 10,000 years old. The YEC view can be seen at sites like Answers in Genesis.

IDC people had been seeing themselves as a “wedge,” a way of getting into the scientific tent and thus allowing explicit creationists in later. In this model, the IDC forces were the vanguard, the Marines if you will, establishing the beachhead, with the YEC and OEC and other anti-evolutionists providing the backup forces to consolidate the gains. So this attack by some members of the OEC, equivalent to being shot at from the rear by your own troops, must really hurt. In fact, IDCer William Dembski has complained about it.

In Australia, where IDC seems to have made some inroads, Nathan Zamprogno on his website The Baliset Palimpsests has an interesting take on the relationship between IDC and YEC and argues that the wedge strategy may be backfiring. He points out that it is the YEC people who are the people who actually go out and evangelize. The YEC folks are the foot soldiers, so to speak, of the fight against secular science while the IDC people are like armchair generals, directing it from their think-tanks and institutes. But the IDC wedge, rather than dividing secular science from religion, may have had the unintentional effect, by hogging all the religious media attention to its own worldview, of dividing the religious community itself, tempting Christians to choose IDC-type thinking by implying that YEC and OEC views are fringe and extremist, almost cult-like. Zamprogno implies that at some point, YEC and OEC adherents might turn against IDC as not being in their own best interests. Zamprogno’s prediction may be in the process of coming true.

Meanwhile, the journal Science identifies Evolution in Action as its 2005 Breakthrough of the Year, highlighting again how strong the consensus is in the biology community that evolution is the paradigm they want to work with.

I have noticed another significant shift since the Dover case judge’s ruling. Newspaper editorials are coming out and saying flatly that intelligent design should not be in science classrooms. (See this one in USA Today, for example.)

Before the ruling, journalists were following their cautious and curious strategy of ‘balance’, which seemed to mean treating IDC and natural selection as somehow close to equal status as theories in biology. Judge Jones’ ruling seems to have relieved them from them that particular burden. They now have judicial cover to say what has been obvious to other observers for a long time, that IDC is a religious-based belief that has no scientific standing.

It’s about time.

POST SCRIPT: Mazes

I have always loved puzzles and particularly mazes. But as a child I was only aware of the paper maze puzzles. It was only when I saw the Laurel and Hardy film A Chump at Oxford that I learned that there were real mazes that people can actually walk their way through, rather like the last challenge in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Ever since then I have wanted to walk through one of these mazes but have never had the opportunity.

Here are aerial views of some amazing mazes made in corn fields (Thanks to The Progressive Review). They look pretty intimidating. I assume that there is some rescue mechanism for those who get hopelessly lost. Of course, there is a surefire way of finding your way through any two-dimensional maze.

SPOILER ALERT: MAZES SOLUTION COMING UP!

If, from the beginning, you walk so that you keep your right hand in contact with the wall on your right, you will eventually get to the end point, although this might not be the quickest solution. Of course, you can do the same thing with your left hand and left wall. The key thing is not to change hands anytime.

An alternative approach is that at every intersection you encounter in the maze, you either turn always to the left or always to the right.

IDC losing yet more support

There are signs that even more people are feeling that introducing Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) ideas into science classes is not something worth fighting for. The Cleveland Plain Dealer deputy editorial director Kevin O’Brien, who would have been the most likely person on their editorial board to support IDC writes in a December 28, 2005 column:

What’s with these Intelligent Design people? For years, they’ve been lampooned as anti-intellectual, marginalized as religious nuts, and voted out of office whenever they’ve managed to sneak in under the radar. Now they’ve taken a solid whipping in federal court. And just watch: They’ll be back for more.

[A]s taxpaying members of the public, Christians have just as much right to a say in educational policy as anyone. But if they hope to be effective, they have to make an argument that’s scientifically valid.

Intelligent Design isn’t it. Neither the existence of a higher power nor its participation in the origin of life can be observed or measured, which is what science is all about.

Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who identifies himself as a religious conservative, says in a December 28, 2005 Washington Times column that he actually welcomes the judge’s ruling:

The decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to bar the teaching of “intelligent design” in the Dover, Pa., public school district on grounds it is a thinly veiled effort to introduce a religious view of the world’s origins is welcome for at least two reasons. First, it exposes the sham attempt to take through the back door what proponents have no chance of getting through the front door. Judge Jones rebuked advocates of “intelligent design,” saying they repeatedly lied about their true intentions. He noted many of them had said publicly their intent was to introduce into the schools a biblical account of creation.

This leads to the second reason for welcoming Judge Jones’ ruling. It should awaken religious conservatives to the futility of trying to make a secular state reflect their beliefs. Too many people have wasted too much time and money since the 1960s, when prayer and Bible reading were outlawed in public schools, trying to get these and other things restored. The modern secular state should not be expected to teach Genesis 1, or any other book of the Bible, or any other religious text.

Both O’Brien and Thomas acknowledge that the US is built on secular principles and that Christians should stop trying to make it into a theocracy. O’Brien says:

This nation’s founders wisely drew up a secular system of government, but they understood that the system they created was geared to a moral people who were capable, especially in their public lives, of restraining themselves.

And there’s the key for Christians living in today’s America: Our fight should not be to win control of government institutions – even so small an institution as a classroom – so as to restrain others. Our fight should be to win control of the nation’s culture by persuading Americans to see the value of restraining themselves. (my emphasis)

Thomas agrees, saying:

Culture has long passed by advocates of intelligent design, school prayer and numerous other beliefs and practices that were once tolerated, even promoted, in public education. People who think they can reclaim the past have been watching too many repeats of “Leave it to Beaver” on cable television. Those days are not coming back anytime soon, if at all.

Thomas recommends that those people with strong religious beliefs who are concerned about what they are being taught in the secular public schools should do what they should have done all along: take their children out of the public schools and put them in religious schools or home school them.

I have long been writing that a secular public sphere with great freedom for the private practice of religion is the system that has the best chance of promoting peace among the various religious beliefs. I had not expected such ringing support for this view from such unlikely allies as O’Brien and Thomas. It is very welcome.

POST SCRIPT: Crash

After my postings on race and prejudice, a reader kindly sent me a DVD (thanks, Josh!) of the film Crash (the 2004 film written and directed by Paul Haggis, not a different 1996 film having the same name), thinking it would appeal to me. I saw it and can report that it is a terrific film, with an excellent ensemble cast, including the minor characters. It captures how race is the prism through which most people instinctively initially view things, even though they may know better intellectually. It also shows the unpleasantness and damage that such unreflective responses can cause. It shows how people are complex in their motivations. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

The pettiness of some congressional bribes

In following the Abramoff affair in the media and other past scandals, I was struck by something that Adam McKay gave voice to, and that is the relative smallness of the amounts used to bribe these congresspersons. It is not that the fact that some of these Congresspeople can be bribed but that their price is so low. According to the <a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/03/politics/03cnd-abramoff.html New York Times: “Alice Fisher, an assistant attorney general, said Mr. Abramoff offered up gifts to government officials that included an all-expense paid trip to Scotland “to play golf on a world-famous course, tickets and travel to the Super Bowl in Florida, tickets for concerts and other events in Washington, repeated and regular meals at his upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions.”.

Dinners, concert and Super Bowl tickets, seem to me to be rather cheap to buy off a congressperson who earns $158,000 per year and in addition has enormous perks and extremely generous benefits. Why would anyone run the risk of being accused of taking bribes just for the sake of a steak dinner and whiskey or whatever it is they eat and drink at “upscale restaurants.” Even if one was a glutton, how much could it cost? $100? $200? And the same for concert tickets. Surely they could afford it?

Maybe the campaign contributions were large. And the trip to Scotland could perhaps run into a couple of thousand dollars, but surely if they really, really wanted to play golf at a famous course in Scotland, they could have afforded to on their salaries.

I think that it cannot be just the amount of money involved, although money has to be a contributing factor. It must also be the fact that being bribed is used as a marker of the fact that you have power, and some people like others to think that they are important and have the sense of power over people and events.

I think that being offered a bribe must be gratifying to the ego of such people. I also suspect that being offered a bribe someone who you think is important (because they are rich and/or celebrities and/or powerful and/or well-connected) is more valuable than being offered the same bribe by just regular people.

For example, if I offered to take a congressperson out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in return for doing me a favor, he or she would probably laugh at me or be insulted or even have me arrested. But if Donald Trump took that congressperson out for the same dinner, he probably would be granted the favor. The fact that someone supposedly important is paying attention to you, is spending some of their precious time with you, is fawning over you, gives much greater weight to the occasion and makes you feel important too, and generous (and even indebted) towards them. So you do them the favor. You take the petty bribe.

There are some people who do take bribes having a significant value. People like the Republican congressman from San Diego Randy “Duke” Cunningham who resigned after being found to have taken millions from defense contractors to steer contracts their way. (See a video of a conversation between MSNBC talk show hosts Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough where the latter, who used to be a Congressman, is candid about the blatant quid pro quo that exists between lobbyist payoffs and the favors they get in return.) There are also people in lower profile occupations who enrich themselves by taking a large number of small bribes from many people. These people clearly see bribes as a revenue stream, a steady augmentation of their income.

But for the others in all professions and in all walks of life who take relatively small bribes despite being paid well, I suspect that ego and a feeling of power play a big role.

One occasionally hears or reads about college professors who are approached with bribes for grades. I cannot imagine that the bribes offered are significant enough to make it worthwhile in any tangible sense, so I suspect that if professor succumbs to this kind of temptation, he or she does so for the same reasons given above, because it appeals to his or her sense of importance.

In all my years of teaching in both Sri Lanka and the US, I am happy to report that have never been approached with anything that could be even remotely construed as a bribe. Whether this is because my students have very high ethical standards or they think that my power ego is too weak or unworthy of being flattered, I cannot say. But I am thankful all the same.

POST SCRIPT: Britain taking the lead?

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair is often derided as ‘Bush’s poodle,’ eager to please his master by doing everything asked of him. But veteran journalist John Pilger points out that when it comes to criminalizing dissidents and opponents, Blair (and England) may be slightly ahead of the US.

Mad Max takes on evolution

Over at Pharygula, biologist P. Z. Myers comments on a Playboy interview with Mel Gibson where he is asked:

PLAYBOY: So you can’t accept that we descended from monkeys and apes?

GIBSON: No, I think it’s b***s***. If it isn’t, why are they still around? How come apes aren’t people yet?

Myers comments:

Someday, I really want to sit down and have a conversation with one of these many people who use the “If we descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” argument. It’s so stupid, so easily rebutted, and so indicative of a complete lack of thought about this argument they have jumped into, that I’d honestly like to find out what they are thinking. There is some fundamental misconception floating about in the creationist universe that underlies their objections, and you know, it seems to me that it is so basic and so simple that it ought to be addressed in elementary school.

I don’t think that this misconception arises out of a benign ignorance, except maybe for very young children or those who haven’t thought about it much. Rather I think that it is a willful decision not to seek the answer. After all, do people like Mel Gibson really think that the hundreds of thousands of biologists around the world have never thought of this argument? Does he expect that when they read his interview, evolutionary biologists are going to slap their foreheads and say “My God, he’s right! Monkeys and apes are still around! How could we have been so stupid and overlooked the significance of this fact all these years? Evolution is obviously wrong!”

It always amazes me when people trot out these “obvious” arguments against evolution (the second law of thermodynamics is another example) and think that they have demolished it. Can’t they at least give a little credit to the intelligence of the scientific community that maybe, just maybe, this argument had occurred to them too and that they were not convinced? What would have prevented Gibson from going to any biologist and asked her or him how the biological community felt about that argument against evolution. What he would have learned is that evolution does not say that humans are descended from monkeys and apes. What we share are common ancestors. Monkeys and apes are our cousins, evolutionarily speaking, not our great-great-…-grandparents.

Gibson does not have to accept the biologist’s answer. But then at least he could say something sensible like “I asked biologists about this and they replied X but I disagree for reasons Y and Z.”

But instead Gibson comes across as an idiot, the kind of person who went to school at the Unlearning Annex. I think that such people do not really want to know the answer. They have built a fortress around their minds and will keep trotting out these arguments, along with Mount Rushmore and the bacterial flagellum, as a kind of mantra, a charm to ward off dangerous ideas and to reassure themselves that what they already believe is correct.

As the old saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

Documentary: Persons of Interest

The synopsis of the documentary Persons of Interest says:

After the Sept.11 terrorist attacks, more than 5,000 people, mainly non-U.S. nationals of South Asian or Middle Eastern origin, were taken into custody by the U.S. Justice Department and held indefinitely on grounds of national security. Muslim immigrants were subject to arbitrary arrest, secret detention, solitary confinement, and deportation. Many were denied access to legal representation and communication with their families. 
During a period when the U.S. government has made every effort to depersonalize these detentions, refusing to reveal the names or even the number of immigrants detained, the voices of those affected – their testimonials and experiences -become our only window into the human costs of post September 11th immigration policies. 
Following an unconventional format, Persons of Interest presents a series of encounters between former detainees and directors Alison Maclean (Jesus’ Son) and Tobias Perse in an empty room which serves both visually and symbolically as an interrogation room, home, and prison cell. Through interviews, family photographs, and letters from prison, the directors have fashioned a compelling and poignant film, allowing those affected a chance to tell their own stories.

You can see a photo of the people and their families here and read their individual stories here.

By allowing this kind of thing to happen to non-US nationals during the post-9/11 xenophobic hysteria, it made it easier later to commit similar violations of US citizens’ rights, and we see that creeping encroachment on civil liberties happening right now.

The courage to stand up for what is right

It takes enormous courage to stand up and oppose one’s peers when they are doing something wrong, especially so when it is in the middle of a war and you have to make a snap judgment. Hugh Thompson Jr. was a person who had that kind of rare courage. He was a young 24-year old helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War who came across fellow American soldiers in the process of massacring Vietnamese civilians during the infamous My Lai massacre in March 1968. The events that immediately preceded his arrival were described this way:

As the “search and destroy” mission unfolded, it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. [Commander Lt. William] Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.

0107-01.jpg

When Thompson came upon this scene while the massacre was in progress, he “put his helicopter down between the soldiers and villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow Americans if they attacked the civilians.” He had only a two-man crew (Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta) with him so the three of them ran the real risk of being easily overwhelmed and gunned down by the Charlie Company troops doing the massacring. (A company can have anywhere from 62 to 190 soldiers.) After staring down his fellow soldiers, Thompson called in other helicopter support and they airlifted the few remaining survivors to safety.

(In the photo, Thompson, Jr., left, and his gunner Lawrance Colburn are seen leaving the My Lai Memorial, in Quang Ngai, Vietnam, March 15, 1998 after a reunion with two female villagers they rescued during the massacre. Glenn Andreotta was killed in combat a month after the My Lai event. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

Although Thompson reported to his commanders what he had seen, the story of the My Lai massacre remained secret and no action was taken until journalist Seymour Hersh reported it in November 1969, 18 months later, creating a worldwide uproar.

For his actions, rather than being hailed for an act of extraordinary courage, Thompson “was shunned for years by fellow soldiers, received death threats, and was once told by a congressman that he was the only American who should be punished over My Lai.”

This is the war mentality at work that says that any atrocity must be defended if it is committed by “our side.” As I have said before (see here, here, and here), war brutalizes all of us by making us ignore our common humanity and sense of normal human decency and tempts us to justify the unjustifiable purely on the basis of some warped understanding of “supporting our troops” or patriotism. We see the same phenomenon at work now, except that Arabs and Muslims in general, and Iraqis in particular, have replaced Vietnamese as people who are less worthy.

Thompson did not fall into that trap. He saw the Vietnamese civilians for what they were, ordinary people like you or me. “There was no way I could turn my back on them,” he said.

Thompson and his fellow helicopter crew members were belatedly recognized for their courage in 1998 with the Soldier’s Medal. He died of cancer on January 6, 2006. He was 62 years old.

It is easy to recognize and honor physical courage. But physical courage combined with the kind of moral courage demonstrated by Hugh Thompson is rare indeed.

(A friend of mine pointed to the recent death of Frank Wilkinson, who was victimized during the McCarthy era for standing up to the Congressional bullies of the early 1950s. It is interesting how people who stand up for their principled beliefs and are willing to pay the price are always the ones whom history recalls favorably, while those who go along with whatever the hysteria du jour are viewed with contempt.)

POST SCRIPT: Interview on blogging

I will be interviewed on Tuesday, January 10, 2006 on Cleveland’s NPR station WCPN 90.3 program 90.3 at 9 which runs from 9:00am to 10:00am. The topic will be blogging. There is a live audiostream which you can get at the WCPN website.

Fighting the fear-mongers

Glenn Greenwald is guest blogging over at Digby and has an excellent piece titled Attacking Bush’s only weapon: Fear that extends what I wrote two days ago. He quotes a Bush speech delivered on October 6, 2005 where Bush says:

“The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.

“Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zarqawi has vowed, ‘We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life.’ And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.

“The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century. Yet, in many ways, this fight resembles the struggle against communism in the last century

….

“With the rise of a deadly enemy and the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history will be remembered for new challenges and unprecedented dangers.

Greenwald then analyzes the speech and others like it by Bush and Cheney and the rest of the administration and what they are trying to achieve. He really nails it.

Islamic terrorists here, as always, are depicted as omnipotent villains with quite attainable dreams of world domination, genocide, and the obliteration of the United States. They are trying to take over the world and murder us all. And this is not merely a threat we face. It is much more than that. It is the predominant issue facing the United States — more important than all others. Everything pales in comparison to fighting off this danger. We face not merely a danger, but, in Bush’s words, an “unprecedented danger” — the worst, scariest, most threatening danger ever.



And literally for four years, this is what Americans have heard over and over and over from their Government – that we face a mortal and incomparably powerful enemy on the precipice of destroying us, and only the most extreme measures taken by our Government can save us. We are a nation engaged in a War of Civilizations whose very existence is in imminent jeopardy. All of those plans for the future, dreams for your children, career aspirations, life goals – it’s all subordinate, it’s all for naught, unless, first and foremost, we stand loyally behind George Bush as he invokes extreme and unprecedented measures necessary to protect us from this extreme and unprecedented threat.



It is that deeply irrational, fear-driven view of the world which has to be undermined in order to make headway in convincing Americans that this Administration is engaged in intolerable excesses and abuses of its power. The argument which needs to be made is the one that we have seen starting to arise in the blogosphere and elsewhere: that living in irrational fear of terrorists and sacrificing our liberties and all of our other national goals in their name is the approach of hysterics and cowards, not of a strong, courageous and resolute nation.

Greenwald goes on to say what must be done to counter this fear-mongering and the paralysis that it induces:

What must be emphasized is that one can protect against the threat of terrorism with courage, calm and resolve – the attributes which have always defined our nation as it has confronted other threats. Hysteria and fear-mongering are the opposite of strength. The strong remain rational and unafraid.

In a rational world, the basic principle of risk is that it equals impact times probability: “In professional risk assessments, risk combines the probability of a negative event occurring with how harmful that event would be.” But the Administration has spent four years urging Americans to ignore that way of thinking and instead assent to any Government measure, no matter the costs or comparative harms, as long as they are pursued in the name of fighting this Ultimate Evil.

In fact, it is now essentially prohibited in good company to even raise the prospect that the threat of terrorism is exaggerated. It is an inviolable piety that there is no such thing as overstating the terrorism risk. One is compelled to genuflect to, and tremble before, the paramounce of this Ultimate Threat upon pain of being cast aside as some sort of anti-American, terrorist-loving loon.

The Administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian depiction of fear as being the hallmark of courage, and conversely, depicting a rational and calm approach as being a mark of cowardice.

In order to persuade the population that George Bush must not be allowed to claim the powers of a King, literally including the power to break the law, Bush opponents must attack that fear as the by-product of weakness and cowardice which it is. A strong nation does not give up its freedoms or sacrifice its national character in the name of fear and panic.

It is a great article. You should read the whole thing.

For those who are worried about being killed in a terrorist attack, you should see this site which gives you the statistics of all the other ways we can be killed. The point of this is not to frighten people more but to help them keep things in proportion. There are about 15,000 murders in the US per year, five times the number killed on 9/11, (and this happens every year) yet most people do not get paralyzed with fear at the thought of being murdered by criminals. We just go on with our lives.

POST SCRIPT: Combating obfuscation

One of the things that have puzzled me about the Bush Administration’s decision to wiretap people without warrants is “why”? The law allows for emergency situations since the government can wiretap first without a warrant and ask for retroactive approval from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court within 72 hours. The court has shown a great deal of deference for administration requests for wiretaps. From 1979 through 2004, the FISA court has approved 18,742 warrants and rejected only four! So why did the administration not apply for warrants?

My suspicion is that they wanted to wiretap people that they suspected that even this highly compliant court would find objectionable. Who could such people be? Here are my guesses:

1. Journalists
2. Political dissidents (antiwar activists, peace and justice movements, etc.)
3. Politicians

There have been some attempts at obfuscation about the seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping program by the NSA. For a good list of the baseless arguments that are being made (such as “Bush did not violate the law” and “Every President did it”) and the actual facts of the case that rebut them, see here.

Frightening people to subvert the Constitution

Those who justify giving the government sweeping powers of spying, arrest, detention, torture, and even killing usually resort to three kinds of arguments.

td051224.jpg The first is the extreme hypothetical: concocting some bizarre scenario (“A nuclear bomb is going to explode in New York City in one hour and only a captured terrorist knows where it is and how to defuse it.”) in which the only options seem to be torture or worse. The second is scaremongering, using inflammatory language to exaggerate beyond recognition either the powers of terrorists in general or some specific threat that was supposedly foiled by the authorities (Remember that Jose Padilla was originally supposed to have plans to detonate a ‘dirty bomb.’ That charge has been quietly dropped.) The third is to argue from the negative (“We don’t know, or can’t tell you, how many dastardly plots have been foiled or deterred by these government actions so we should fall on our knees in thanks to the government for carrying out these illegal actions that may have saved our lives.”)

It is curious how these apologists for government abuses display a kind of whimpering, fearful attitude that requires them to view the President as their protector, rather than finding strength within themselves, and in their neighbors, the legal system, and the Constitution.

As examples of the above points, see this exchange between former Republican Congressman Bob Barr and current Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher on the CNN program Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on December 16, 2005. (You can see the video here.) I have highlighted some key portions and corrected some obvious misattributions to some of the statements.

Barr forcefully makes the case far better than I can why the government wiretapping story is a scandal. Rohrbacher, on the other hand, weaves all those three strands of arguments into his responses, falling back on the usual hypotheticals, scaremongering, and distortions to essentially argue that the President can do whatever he wants, irrespective what the laws and the Constitution says. Notice how often Rohrbacher brings up the foiled plot to “blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.” Barr gives him his comeuppance on this right at the end.

BLITZER: Americans spying on Americans. In a story first reported today by the “New York Times” and confirmed by our own sources here at CNN, President Bush is said to have authorized the super secret National Security Agency to conduct electronic eavesdropping here at home. The president is saying only that he won’t discuss ongoing intelligence operations. 

Joining us now are two conservative Republicans who have very different views on this issue. From Atlanta, the former Congressman and CNN contributor, Bob Barr, and from Capitol Hill, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Congressman Barr, what’s wrong with what the president has decided to do?



BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What’s wrong with it is several-fold. One, it’s bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it’s bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order. 

So it’s bad all around, and we need to get to the bottom of this.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Congressman Rohrabacher — I suspect you don’t.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, (R) CALIFORNIA: No. What’s really bad is the fact that we have an evil opponent who wants to blow us up and that six months after 3,000 of our American citizens were slaughtered right in front of our eyes, that we were confronted with this challenge. I’m really sorry that we have this kind of evil enemy that wants to slaughter us, but I’m very happy that we have a president that, six months after they slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens, he decided to follow up on a lead that was given to our people by breaking up an al Qaeda cell in Pakistan, and followed through on that to make sure that there wasn’t another imminent attack, and thus probably saving many thousands of American lives. We can be proud of President Bush for protecting us. 


BLITZER: Congressman Barr, what do you say? 



BARR: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Constitution is the Constitution, and I took an oath to abide by it. My good friend, my former colleague, Dana Rohrabacher, did and the president did. And I don’t really care very much whether or not it can be justified based on some hypothetical. The fact of the matter is that, if you have any government official who deliberately orders that federal law be violated despite the best of motives, that certainly ought to be of concern to us. 



ROHRABACHER: 9/11 is not a hypothetical. We are at war.

BARR: No, but the hypothetical is the — the other cases you were talking about. 


ROHRABACHER: Bob, now that we are at war, that is not hypothetical. We have an enemy that has decided that they’re going to terrorize the American population by committing mass murder. That is not hypothetical. We are at war, and sometimes at war you — 



BARR: No, what you were saying, Dana, is that there were other case — those are hypothetical — 



ROHRABACHER: No, that’s not — Bob, you haven’t read this. No, that’s not hypothetical at all. One of the cases that was involved in this, was someone who was attempting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and because of these wire taps, we were able to stop that. 



BARR: No, you’re wrong there, Dana. First of all –



ROHRABACHER: And by the way, how do we know who wasn’t deterred from blowing up other targets. The fact is –



BARR: Well, gee, I guess then the president should be able to ignore whatever provision in the Constitution as long as there’s something after the fact that justifies it. 



ROHRABACHER: Bob, during wartime, you give some powers to the presidency you wouldn’t give in peace time.

BARR: Do we have a declaration of war, Dana? 



ROHRABACHER: You don’t have to do that. 



BARR: We don’t? That makes it even much easier for a president.

ROHRABACHER: No, you just have to make sure that the people of the United States understand that we are at war. They understand that al Qaeda slaughtered 3,000 of our citizens — more people than the Japanese slaughtered at Pearl Harbor. 



BLITZER: Congressman — let me interject for a second, Congressman Rohrabacher. 



ROHRABACHER: Sure. 



BLITZER: Everything you say is true, but why not go through the process of either getting new legislation authorizing this or let the court orders be fully implemented? In other words, before the NSA goes and eavesdrops on Americans, get a court order? 



ROHRABACHER: First of all, let us note that all this eavesdropping on Americans were that, there were some people living in the United States, whether they’re American citizens or not — we don’t know how many are American citizens — that were involved with contacts overseas. This is eavesdropping on people who were doing international calls and the list that we got, came from what — came from an al Qaeda cell that we broke up in Pakistan. 

I am very pleased that our president didn’t wait around but, instead, ran right forward immediately to try to follow up on this and find out what they were planning. I believe he probably thwarted several major attacks by doing that.

BLITZER: Congressman Barr, do you want to respond to that? 



BARR: Here again, this is absolutely a bizarre conversation where you have a member of Congress saying that it’s okay for the president of the United States to ignore U.S. law, to ignore the Constitution, simply because we are in an undeclared war. 

The fact of the matter is the law prohibits — specifically prohibits — what apparently was done in this case, and for a member of Congress to say, oh, that doesn’t matter, I’m proud that the president violated the law is absolutely astounding, Wolf.

ROHRABACHER: Not only proud, we can be grateful to this president. You know, I’ll have to tell you, if it was up to Mr. Schumer, Senator Schumer, they probably would have blown up the Brooklyn Bridge. The bottom line is this: in wartime we expect our leaders, yes, to exercise more authority. 

Now, I have led the fight to making sure there were sunset provisions in the Patriot Act, for example. So after the war, we go back to recognizing the limits of government. But we want to put the full authority that we have and our technology to use immediately to try to thwart terrorists who are going to — how about have a nuclear weapon in our cities?

BARR: And the Constitution be damned, Dana?



ROHRABACHER: Well, I’ll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, DC, or New York or Los Angeles, it’ll burn the Constitution as it does. So I’m very happy we have a president that’s going to wiretap people’s communication with people overseas to make sure that they’re not plotting to blow up one of our cities. 



BLITZER: We’re out of time, but Bob Barr, I’ll give you the last word. 



BARR: Well, first of all, or last of all, this so-called plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge was bogus because it had to do with a group of idiots who were planning to dismantle it with blow torches.

Rohrbacher has to know full well that there was no plot to “blow up” the Brooklyn Bridge but keeps saying it because of the scary image it produces in people minds, especially when coupled with repeated mentions of nuclear weapons. The plot that was supposedly uncovered was a plan to use blow torches to bring it down, a harebrained scheme is there ever was one. Note that in the original news story on this on June 15, 2004, this was relegated to a passing mention near the end of the article, which indicates how insignificant this threat was viewed then. It is only later that people like Rohrbacher, in their efforts to support unbridled presidential power, have elevated this to a major plan to “blow up” the bridge.

People like Rohrbacher know that if you repeat a falsehood long enough, it becomes part of the public consciousness. This is why you need journalists who know the facts and can (and more importantly will) challenge such falsehoods as soon as they are uttered. Unfortunately not many do. It tends to be the bloggers who are keeping track of the details.

As Atrios points out:

“They keep reminding us that Bush’s illegal wiretap plan uncovered a dastardly plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. Said plot involved bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge with blow torches. It’s rather like busting me for my evil plot to blackmail the world’s governments for ONE MILLION DOLLARS by threatening to send the moon crashing into the Earth.

But, either way, that isn’t the issue. The president broke the law. Repeatedly.”

2006: The Year to Say “Enough is Enough!”

The past decade has seen the systematic whittling away of civil liberties, the bypassing of judicial due process, and even the condoning of torture, all in the name of fighting the war on terrorism. It is time to fight back, to say that these actions are setting a dangerous precedent, by giving the government almost unlimited power over the lives of ordinary people. These creeping encroachments on rights long taken for granted lay the groundwork for an authoritarian system of government.

We need to start exposing these actions, so that people become increasingly aware of how far down this dangerous road we have gone. As a start, we can begin by examining a lesser known story (at least in the US) of how the Tony Blair government in England and the US government have been complicit in the torture that has been going on in Uzbekistan.

Craig Murray was once the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. His complaints about the Blair government’s complicity with the Uzbek government in torture got too much for the British government, which set about unsuccessfully trying to smear him, but they did manage to remove him from office.

He has now written a book that the British government has tried to suppress because it contains incriminating evidence about how the CIA passed on to England information received from torturing prisoners in Uzbekistan.

In a preemptive response to this attempt at suppression, Murray has released those documents to bloggers so that the news will be out and impossible to suppress. You can read the story and the documents, which also reports on the US government’s strong support for the brutal and repressive Karimov government in Uzbekistan, at the Blairwatch website. Thanks to the internet, the documents have now been mirrored on so many sites around the world that the British government will be unable to suppress them though they will undoubtedly try to punish Murray severely to deter future whistleblowers.

As the Blairwatch website says: “Craig Murray stood up for what many of us believe, and it cost him his Job, his health, and his professional reputation. The least we can do his stand by him as he defies the UK government’s attempts at censorship, and possible prosecution.”

The Memory Hole website (which performs an invaluable service on keeping track of documents and photos that become politically embarrassing and the government would like us to forget) has the documentation about the US government’s cozying up to the Karimov government, as well as that government’s acts of torture and repression.

Why are the UK and US governments so cozy with Uzbekistan and Karimov, despite its appalling reputation? Here’s a clue: Uzbekistan currently possesses about 600 million barrels of proven oil reserves, but this is soon expected to increase.” It also “has estimated natural gas reserves of 66.2 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).” While not making the top 10 rankings in either oil or gas reserves, these are sizeable.

(Note: There are also calls in England for a parliamentary inquiry into another allegation of torture by British secret agents, in Greece this time. England seems to be also rapidly using ‘anti-terror’ legislation to justify giving its security forces extraordinary powers over its citizens.)

Greg Saunders has more on this that is well worth reading.

POST SCRIPT: Talk on the Collapse of Intelligent Design

Case’s Department of Biology is pleased to present:

The Collapse of “Intelligent-Design”: Will the next MONKEY TRIAL be in OHIO?

A talk by Ken Miller, Brown University

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Strosacker Auditorium
Case Campus
7 pm

Details:

Kenneth R. Miller PhD was the star witness in the recent Dover “Panda Trial” in Pennsylvania where Judge John E Jones found “intelligent-design” to be a religious view, not science. He is the author of a bestselling high school biology textbook that was subject to the Cobb County, GA disclaimer sticker that warned students that evolution was “a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were removed by court order in 2005. Miller is also author of the bestseller, Finding Darwin’s God.

Questions from the audience will be entertained and the event will be webcast.

Free and open to the public

Contact: Patricia Princehouse 216-368-8585, evoluti[email protected]