Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Free Speech? What's that?

There has been a lot of outrage, all of it justified, in recent weeks, about Muslim terrorist attacks against free speech in Europe. What is less justified is the smugness that has accompanied this outrage, as though such a thing could never happen in the civilized West.

Not so fast. It was just last week that right-wing Holocaust denier David Irving was convicted and sentenced to prison for lying about the Holocaust. Odious and contemptible to be sure, but not, in the United States, considered grounds for imprisonment.

And now today we see that the New York Theater Workshop has decided to postpone the off-Boradway opening of a play about Rachel Corrie, a peace demonstrator who was crushed by an Israeli government bulldozerin 2003, after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work. The artistic director of the workshop reported that the recent electoral upset by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, and the sickness of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, had made "this community very defensive and very edgy," Mr. Nicola said, "and that seemed reasonable to me."

Of course, both of these issues relate to important political issues, and both can be expected to provoke political criticism. Nevertheless, one of the things that makes government censorship so dangerous is that it leads to self-censorship, and then what do we have? A country where people are afraid to criticize the government or be branded as traitors?

Oh yeah.

Justice Dept. Supports Economic Development in Egypt

When you read tomorrow's Times you'll see this story. I've settled lots of cases in my years of practicing law, and it's rare to enter into a settlement in which one party actually admits they did something wrong. Still, when the defendant is the federal government, and they agree to pay $300,000 to settle a case brought by an "Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after 9/11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism," what else can we infer?

That's right: John Ashcroft's Justice Department scooped up a bunch of innocent Muslims, and they even did their own special report that concluded, in language as careful as it is telling, that "While recognizing the difficult circumstances confronting the Department in responding to the terrorist attacks, we found significant problems in the way the September 11 detainees were treated." Still, when the report concludes that detainees were held incommunicado, prevented from contact with their lawyers or families, in conditions that were unduly harsh, and that they were subjected to a pattern of verbal and physical abuse--yes, these are the words of the Justice Department guys--it's hard to mistake.

And now we're paying for it.

Unfortunately, seeing what's happened around the world, I'm afraid the $300,000 cash payment will be the cheapest part of the price.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Memo

You have to read this article from this week's New Yorker. It's more than a profile about Alberto Mora, who just left his job as general counsel for the U.S. Navy. The article is a profile in courage of a man who came to his job as a conservative, a Reagan Republican, yet who instantly had the correct reaction when he learned of torture at Guantanamo. He did everything he could to stop it, challenging his boss and pushing his point so hard that the bosses who run the Defense Department just cut him out, all the while lying to his face.

There are three important things that this article confirms. First, it shows us that it's possible to find someone with radically different political views who is yet utterly committed to principle and the rule of law. People like that are scarce in the Bush Administration, and they're clearly trying to squeeze them out, but they're still there.

Second, as the actual memo makes clear, no matter what the Administration says, and no matter what games they play about adopting policies, or crossing their fingers when they sign legislation, the United States has a legal obligation to follow the provisions of international law that prohibit torture, and that the government actors who are ordering and condoning it are potentially liable criminally.

Third, there is no question about aberrant conduct by rogue elements in the armed forces. Torture is the policy of the United States government, and that policy has been set in the Defense Department and the White House. This is simply intolerable.

The New Yorker, and Jane Mayer, are to be commended for the courage to publis this article.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Unringing the bell

Thismay seem like a metaphysical question, or maybe an epistemological one: How do you make something that was public a secret? And why would you want to engage in such a seemingly pointless effort?

It's hard to answer the second question, except that if you're the government, and especially the Bush Administration, keeping things secret is an instinct, a habit you could hardly resist even if you wanted to. It doesn't seem to matter whether the old/new secrets are such earthshaking facts as "a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme to float balloons over countries behind the Iron Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets," or "a 1962 telegram from George F. Kennan, then ambassador to Yugoslavia, containing an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper article on China's nuclear weapons program." As we've learned just this month in the now-famous case of Cheney and Remington v. Whittington, or their treatment of the bodies of Iraqi war dead, the Bush Administration thinks that what we don't know can't hurt them.

What should be obvious though, is that you just can't do it. As the article in today's Times points out, there is no way they could recover all the copies of thousands of newly classified articles and papers from all the libraries, archives, and private collections in which they are now held. Yet that doesn't stop them from trying.

And these are the people who have the gall to say things like, "[T]he country is better off when we have a vigorous and free press covering our elections."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cartoons and free speech

There is an interesting article in Findlaw's Writ on the Muhammad cartoon conflict. The author's thesis is that rather than reflexively casting this as a conflict between free speech and repression, we must analyze this in the context of European law on freedom of speech. Since most European countries have laws that prohibit speech that incites hatred or resentment toward religious groups, their failure to enforce those laws against the publication of the challenged cartoons is properly seen as another example of bias against Europe's Muslim population.

I would take a different view. While people in the United States probably think of European nations as free societies, much like our own, this discussion actually demonstrates that these countries are not free societies. If speech can be punished or prohibited because it is offensive, you're not in a free society; it's as simple as that. I don't necessarily claim that it is the only characteristic of a free society, but limits on speech because they give political or religious offense is a reliable indicator that the society is not free.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Deadeye Dick

Josh is all over this story today and I can't add too much to it.

The only thing I keep thinking about is it's too bad he didn't avail himself of that firearms instruction his government was offering when he had the chance.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A good day in Vermont

It was pretty cold in Montpelier yesterday, but the sun was shining brightly, and the cold didn't stop a few hundred people from marching up State St. to the State House and expressing our outrage and opposition to Bush's war in Iraq. Speakers included Nancy Brown, founder of the Vermont chapter of Military Families Speak Out; Pablo Paredes, a navy veteran who was court-martialed for refusing to board his ship and transport soldiers to this illegal war; and Robin Lloyd, a long-time activist, who spoke of her trial and upcoming imprisonment for protesting the School of the Americas, and also of her experience more than twenty years ago as a member of the Winooski 44.

The march received coverage in both the Burlington Free Press and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Happy birthday

Today is the birthday of two great men, men born on the same day, both of whom have helped lead humankind out of oppression and ignorance. It was 1809, and who could have predicted the revolutionary changes to be wrought by the work of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin?

And yet now, the party of Lincoln owes its power in Washington to its embrace of racism and the cause of slavery in the South, and the modern allies of that party are doing all they can to wipe out the modern advances brought about by Charles Darwin.

On this historic birthday, we should reflect on what we can do to defend and advance the work of both Lincoln and Darwin.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What's more important, national security or political advantage?

Sometimes timing seems to be everything. Things got pretty hot for the Administration last week and earlier this week, with Gonzalez spending the whole day in the hot seat and even Republican Heather Wilson demanding that they come clean. Of course, the Bushies can't talk about any of this because it's all hush-hush, any disclosure puts our people at risk, you're a traitor if you even talk about it.

And then, what happens? Well, first they supposedly brief the House Intelligence Committee on their spying activities. (And don't you love the way they keep calling it a "program"? Do they think it makes it look better if they call "doing whatever the hell they feel like, no matter what the law says" a "program"?) Then, today, Bush tells us this new story about foiling a terror plot back in 2002. Of course, I have no knowledge if this story is true, although the fact that Bush is saying something is at least one piece of evidence that it isn't.

My real point, though, is that these secrets were so vital to the survival of the Republic until they became politically inconvenient, and now all of a sudden they can let a little bit leak out to release some of the pressure. Is this as transparent to everyone else as it is to me?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

These are the guys who are going to improve science education?

One of the reasons that it is so important to uphold and protect science is that its central ethos is honesty. You can't claim to be doing science unless truth is the paramount value. Every scientist knows that the time may come when they have to go public with the news that something they've been working on for years is just wrong. If you're doing science you have to be open and transparent about your data, your assumptions, your processes, and you're either right or you're wrong.

The one thing we know for sure about "intelligent design" is that, no matter what they claim, it isn't science. The adherents of intelligent design will never admit they are wrong, will never follow the science where it leads. It's creationism, i.e. religion, in disguise.

You undoubtedly remember that last summer Bush was saying that the schools should "teach both sides": evolution and ID, science and superstition. Then, just this past month we've seen that NASA, one of the agencies that are supposed to be all about science and truth, is muzzling its scientists. One of the stars of this effort, or culprits, is George Deutsch, a 24-year old former intern in the Bush-Cheney campaign who demanded that the Ph.D. level scientists at his agency insert "theory" behind every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

Now I'll grant you that schadenfreude is not the most attractive of emotions, but it's hard to resist when we find that young Mr. Deutsch has lost his job for lying about his academic record. It turns out that he said on his resume that he has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas, but that is not, strictly speaking true, although he has gone to UT.

It's too soon to tell, since this just came out today, but since there were no blow jobs involved I'm guessing that this won't get a tremendous amount of play.

Here are three important rallies to attend

There are a lot of reasons to raise your voices in the next 6 days. Here are three important rallies to attend:


Bring the Troops Home Now and Take Care of Them When They Get Here! Anniversary of Feb 15, 2003 march at which 10-15 million people around the world said, "No To War" 2,100 American soldiers killed. 16,000 wounded. Over 100,000 Iraqis killed. VT has the highest number killed per capita of any state. Over $225 billion wasted, money taken from jobs, education, and healthcare. Vermonters overwhelmingly voted against this war in referenda and town meetings last March. Not one more life or dollar for this war of aggression based on lies. We want the VT Legislature to adopt a resolution stating:"Vermont and its citizens call on the President to bring all the troops home now and take care of them when they get home."

1 pm: Gather at Montpelier City Hall (south and east sides)

1:30 pm: March to the State House

2:00 pm: Rally with speakers including Pablo Paredes (Navy Petty Officer who went to jail for refusing to go back to Iraq), Andrew Sapp, Iraq Vet for Peace and others

We need VOLUNTEERS to help -- CALL: 476 -3154

Other Info: 338.0515


Dear Friends:
This is an emergency.
We need you to come to the State House next Tuesday (Valentines Day) at noon to rally in protest of the health care bill that is being voted on in the legislature.
We need legislators to change direction and get back to the wonderful bill they passed last year. But under pressure from the Governor, they caved and are now about to pass a health care reform bill that will not only not help but may very well hurt future health care reform efforts. It is a piecemeal bill that takes a stab at covering some of the needs of uninsured Vermonters. But, it does nothing to curb overall costs. And it does nothing for inadequately insured Vermonters.
If the legislature passes this mediocre bill, this will likely derail reform efforts for years to come. Our legislators will tell us to be patient and wait for the "savings" that this bill supposedly will produce. Don’t count on it. Savings, if any, wil not appear for 5 to 10 years.
A the conclusion of the outdoor rally we will assemble in the lobby of the State House where we can buttonhole our legislastors.
Dr Deb


Main St., Barre. How many more of our sons and daughters will be promised the world only to send into war zones to face death or physical or mental injuries? Let the military know of our opposition. Info: 454 - 1447

The more things change . . .

Like you, probably, I didn't watch the State of the Union speech. Who needs it?

Now we know why. Even if you had watched it you wouldn't have heard Bush pushing his plan from last year to kill off Social Security. In fact, the only mention of this plan got a big ovation from the Democrats.

Of course, the SOTU is only talk, the budget is real. And what's in the budget? His plan to kill of Social Security.

Read all about it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tyranny at home

It's hard to stay on top of what happened today in the Senate spying hearings, but Matt Stoller has a great post at MyDD.com demonstrating how clear it is that we aren't talking about defeating terrorism, we're talking about spying on the political enemies of the Administration. I think my Senator, Pat Leahy, did himself and our state proud.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Gotta love Charlie Rangel!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Republicans, Defenders of Liberty

I swear, the Republicans couldn't find the moral high ground if you gave them a fucking map!

You remember the story from the other night about the two women hauled out of the House of Representatives, one antiwar and one pro-war, both for wearing T-shirts with messages on them.

The husband of the pro-war person, Representative C.W. Bill Young (R, Fla.) (and by the way, what's with that name?), was on the floor of the House yesterday, loudly decrying the way the government was suppressing speech. Great moment, right? What an opportunity to show that even in time of war, the Republicans are in favor of free speech and vigorous debate, right? Kind of like the ACLU in Skokie, proving that it's not about the politics of the thing, it's about the bedrock principle of freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, Young had other plans.

Wait for it. . .

Here's what he says in today's Post:

Young said he wouldn't be so mad if it were just Sheehan. "I totally disagree with everything she stands for," he said. But by removing his wife, Gainer's officers clearly "acted precipitously," Young said.

So I guess it isn't about principle after all.

Topo maps, anyone?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Freedom of Speech

This is just infuriating. I didn't watch last night, but I certainly read the news today, including this story about Cindy Sheehan being arrested for wearing a T-shirt.

Actually, it's about the fact that antiwar Cindy Sheehan gets arrested while pro-war Congressional wife Beverly Young is escorted out of the room for doing the same thing. What was the difference? The only difference that I can see is the message on the shirt, and these days disagreeing with the President can get you arrested.

True, they are recommending that the feds dismiss the charges against Sheehan, and the chief of the capitol police has been induced to try to apologize to her (don't you wish you were at the meeting where they told him that he had to do that?), but this is not an isolated incident. This has been going on for years when Bush wants to silence people who disagree with him.

It makes you wonder why they don't grasp the fact that this is the United States. The whole country is a free speech zone.

State of the Union Update

Did you watch? I did not. I cannot bear to watch that smug, self-satisfied cretin. I have a limit to how many times I can listen to someone tell me black is white, and I passed it a long time ago.

As a public service, though, here is a report from some people who did watch so you don't have to.