Sunday, May 31, 2009

Opray Winfrey, scam accomplice

Here's a great piece from Newsweek about Oprah Winfrey and how, shall we say, receptive she is to the claims of scam artists, frauds, and all-around soft headed alarmists.

It might not seem important, but she is followed so religiously by so many millions of women that we really shouldn't sit back in silence.

Here's an example:

According to The Secret, however, the Law of Attraction can use the vibrations of the universe to deliver more than just bubbles. The book that Oprah urges everyone to live by teaches that all diseases can be cured with the power of thought alone: "The question frequently asked is, 'When a person has manifested a disease in the body temple … can it be turned around through the power of "right thinking"?' And the answer is absolutely, yes." The book then offers the testimonial of a woman identified as Cathy Goodman. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I truly believed in my heart, with my strong faith, that I was already healed. Each day I would say, 'Thank you for my healing'." Goodman watched "very funny movies" to make herself laugh. "From the time I was diagnosed to the time I healed was approximately three months. And that's without any radiation or chemotherapy."

You should read the whole article. Maybe it's going too far to say that, whatever advice Oprah Winfrey gives, do the opposite, but maybe not by much.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When you're right, you're right.

This video is from Fox "News", and I apologize in advance for that. Still, it's important for what Jesse Ventura is saying. I'm not a big Jesse fan, but he makes some great points here. Unlike his right-wing interlocutor, he has the honesty to call torture for what it is. Naturally, the wingers want to make out that he's being all soft and gooey on the terrorists, but he gets it exactly right:

If we’re not going to be a country that goes by the rule of law, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, then what do we stand for?

I’m not worried about their welfare, I’m worried about what our country stands for.

The reason I bring this up, though, is that it came up in a conversation on FaceBook. Another liberal friend posted the video, and a local conservative extremist commented that she had listened to Ventura, and that he was a loony who believes in conspiracy theories.

So if you want, go back and watch the video again. There's nothing loony in there, it's all based on documented fact. There are no conspiracy theories; he's talking about what we already know: that people being held by the armed forces of the United States were tortured on orders from the highest levels of the government. No conspiracy, just fact.

There's more than that, though. Conservatives like to claim that they're patriots, but they're really not. They think that if you object to torture being committed by our government, you're loony. It's we liberals who are the patriots. You see, we believe that our country is better than this. When we criticize our country, we are calling upon our leaders and ourselves to live up to our highest ideals.

It's the conservatives who think that torture, indefinite detention, and the gross imbalances in wealth and poverty, access to health care, housing, education and other basic human needs, are consistent with their vision of America. If that's the standard you hold your country to how can you call yourself a patriot?

So maybe the recession isn't all bad

Remind me again what we were working for?

He taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago.

He said he would end torture, and then he did it.

He said he would close the prison camp at Guantanamo.

But now we have this: Not only has he pivoted on military commissions (motto: military justice is to justice as military music is to music) apparently Barack Obama is considering imposing a system of preventive detention on people the government doesn't like.

At a private, off-the-record with human rights advocates, Obama broached the topic of preventive detention.

The two participants, outsiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was intended to be off the record, said they left the meeting dismayed.

They said Mr. Obama told them he was thinking about “the long game” — how to establish a legal system that would endure for future presidents. He raised the issue of preventive detention himself, but made clear that he had not made a decision on it. Several senior White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on the outsiders’ accounts.

“He was almost ruminating over the need for statutory change to the laws so that we can deal with individuals who we can’t charge and detain,” one participant said. “We’ve known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning.”

Note: "individuals who we can't charge and detain" means people who haven't done anything, or we don't have evidence that they've done anything, or the case otherwise wouldn't stand up to scrutiny in court.

You'll remember that it was less than a year ago that the Supreme Court, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, invalidated the Military Commissions Act because it abolishes the right of habeas corpus for military detainees. The new Obama initiative, if it ever comes to fruition, will have to have the same abolition of habeas corpus in order to enable the government to keep people it suspects of harboring lethal intent towards us. How will our Constitutional Law professor president square his desire to abolish habeas corpus with Boumediene, or, for that matter, with his oath of office?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 18, 2009

No mojo for MoDo

There are people who love Maureen Dowd's column in the Times. I'm not a huge fan, myself, but she does have the occasional good insight.

I am a huge fan of Josh Marshall, so I do get annoyed when people, especially bigfoot journalists, steal his work and don't give him credit, like MoDo did Sunday.

After she got called on it she admitted it. At least, she admitted that the words in her column had apparently come from somewhere else. Really, what choice did she have? You judge for yourself.

Josh wrote:

"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

Maureen wrote:

"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

I'll save you the trouble of counting. It's forty-five words, and the only change is from "we were" to "the Bush crowd was". Dowd's explanation is that she got the line from a friend and reproduced it in her column. Even if you grant that as a professional writer she may have a slightly greater sensitivity to, and recollection of words, than most people, do you believe that she heard this sentence one time, in a conversation, and was able to reproduce it in her column, word for word, down to the punctuation?

Or if you're like me, maybe your first reaction was, "My sweet lord!"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A quiz

Where does this quotation come from:

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face continually. 1 Chron 16:11.

A. Pope Benedict's blessing on the inauguration of Barack Obama.
B. Jerry Falwell's graduation address at Liberty "University".
C. A daily defense briefing from Donald Rumsfeld to George W. Bush.

If you guessed C, you are correct.

This is part of a slide show of defense briefing cover sheets delivered by Rumsfeld to Bush to keep manipulating him in his conduct of the war in Iraq. GQ magazine has uncovered these cover sheets as part of its coverage of how Donald Rumsfeld's organizational behavior contributed to the Bush Administration's crimes and failures.

On the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This is only the latest of exposes involving Rumsfeld, which include such things as Rumsfeld's cheating at squash against his subordinates (Hey, if you're the Second Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, are you going to call the boss on his cheating?), but this is obviously much more substantive, since it involves the failures and crimes the permeated the Bush administration.

The article is exhaustive in cataloguing Rumsfeld's bureaucratic tactics, and the entire thing is worth reading. The logical question, of course, is whether Rumsfeld's mastery of the situation absolves Bush of responsibility.

I submit the answer is clearly no. First, the fundamental decisions were made, and the fundamental lies were told, by or at the behest of Bush. Second, in Bush we had an aggressively ignorant and incurious president, who by his actions mocked the very idea of competence as a governing principle. Despite the fact that he seized power in a judicial coup, once he took office Bush had the same obligation to the American people as any president, a responsibility that, once again, we are shown that he utterly failed to discharge.

And as Frank Rich points out in today's Times, it is for this reason that we cannot afford to simply turn the page, move on, and act as though the past eight years never happened.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Judge to parents: I won't let you kill your kid

Good news for Daniel Hauser: a judge in Minnesota has ruled that his parents may not refuse him treatment for his cancer, even though he allegedly also wanted to refuse treatment.

The boy is thirteen years old, and dominated by his parents, who are Catholics but also belong to a made-up cult that claims to use "natural healing" methods. His doctors testified that with treatment Daniel has a 90% chance of surviving, whereas without it his chances are 5%.

So why doesn't the kid get to make his own decision?

Well, first off, he's thirteen, and kids that age don't get to make that kind of decision. He can't read. And, as the judge found, Daniel has only a "rudimentary understanding at best of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. ... he does not believe he is ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill currently."

What's the parents' solution? Treat him with "herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water, and other natural alternatives — despite testimony from five doctors who agreed Daniel needed chemotherapy."

Sometime, assuming this kid grows to adulthood, and he understands a little more about life and death, I'll be glad to see him make his own decisions. Now, as a juvenile who has no understanding of the situation he's in, and in the hands of parents who are equally clueless, he needs someone with a level head on his shoulders to protect him from those parents. I'm glad this judge was there.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graham: Torture works because we used it for 500 years

If it was good enough for the Spanish Inquisition, apparently it's good enough for Lindsay Graham. Or, as he puts it starting at 0:26, the reason it's survived for five hundred years is because it works.

Graham is quickly distinguishing himself as one of the foremost pseudo-opponents of torture in the Senate. He'll say that he deplores it, he just doesn't want to do anything about the torturers, and he is interested in taking every chance to prove that torture was justified when Bush did it..

But what was most telling about this quote is how he justifies torture. We know it works, because it was used all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition.

Of course, what were they doing in the Spanish Inquisition? Were they trying to get information? No. They tortured people until they said what the church wanted them to say.

In other words, Graham proves what real torture opponents have been saying for years: it doesn't work because the victim will say whatever the torturers want him to say.

Thanks for proving our case, Lindsay.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What should we think about Roxana Saberi?

The news is good: Roxana Saberi has been released from her imprisonment, and it is hoped that she will be allowed to leave Iran very soon. We have written about her case here, and it's great news that she will be allowed to return to the United States and back to her work.

The news of her release, though, raises interesting questions about what the real story is and how we should think about it.

Presumably like most Americans, we thought of the charges against Roxana Saberi as being a pack of lies, a trumped-up excuse to imprison someone whose reporting was offensive to the Islamic totalitarians running Iran. A second line of analysis is that her imprisonment was the product of hardliners hoping to torpedo any rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

What we learn now, however, is that she has admitted to something. Specifically, she says that when she was working as a translator she made and retained in her possession "a confidential Iranian document on the U.S. war in Iraq". The precise nature of this document is unknown, but it appears to be undisputed that it was, and still is, a classified document.

We are used to totalitarian states seeking to criminalize journalism by charging journalists with espionage for what we would call ordinary reporting, such as photographing failing crops or other signs of weakness in their infrastructure. In this case, however, it seems pretty clear that the document Saberi copied was legitimately classified.

We had previously held pretty strongly to the line that Saberi's imprisonment was unjustified, and considered people who suggested that the espionage charge might be true to be not much more than trolls. So what do we do about the fact that Iran might have been justified in charging her?

Or, let's put it another way. Say we had a journalist from Iran in the United States, and she was doing some freelance translation work for the defense department, and she decided to keep a copy of one of the classified documents she had translated. Obviously it's not an exact comparison because we wouldn't be likely to hire a freelancer for this function, but stick with this a little bit.

What would happen to the Iranian journalist when we learned that she had kept classified American documents?

I suspect that the most charitable treatment she could hope for would be summary expulsion, but I think it is much more likely that she would be charged with espionage, and good luck to her to prove that she was just keeping it for her curiosity, and not to pass along to the government.

So if that's how we would handle an analogous situation, and we concede that Iran's interest in the confidentiality of its classified documents is as important to the Iranians as ours is to us, then what do we say about how Iran dealt with Roxana Saberi?

I truly don't know the answer, but it raises a question in my mind.

Labels: ,

Stop the Obama torture coverup

It's official now: the Obama administration is trying to block the release of more of the Bush administration's torture photographs.

The decision comes in an FOIA case now pending in the Second Circuit, and reverses a decision that Obama announced last month to release the photographs.

The Justice Department had concluded that further appeal would probably be fruitless, and last month, Gibbs said the president had concurred with that conclusion, though without commenting on whether Obama would support the release if not pressed by a court case.

Thus, the administration assured a federal judge that it would turn over the material by May 28, including one batch of 21 photos and another of 23 images. The government also told the judge it was "processing for release a substantial number of other images," for a total expected to be in the hundreds.

The NPR story, and a related story in Salon, convey the basics of this story. What I find particularly disturbing is this comment:

Obama, explaining his change of heart on releasing the other photos, said they had already served their purpose in investigations of "a small number of individuals." Those cases were all concluded by 2004, and the president said "the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.

What is Obama doing parroting the Bush line that the torture at abu Ghraib was an aberration at the hands of a "small number of individuals"? At best, this comment reaffirms the need to keep this case going so that the full contours of the torture program can be exposed. At worst, it demonstrates that Obama is willing to cover up for the entire torture mechanism developed by the Bush administration.

What's next?

Labels: ,

Friday, May 08, 2009

Too late for Bristol Palin

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Separated at birth?

So can you tell which of these guys is the White House correspondent for NBC News and which is the manager of New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk-comedy-folk duo and stars?

And, have they ever been photographed together?


Labels: , ,

Monday, May 04, 2009

CSNY 2000-03-30 Toronto - "Ohio"

May 4, 1970. I remember the day well. Four Americans murdered by Nixon and his troops.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Creationist goes to court to silence critic

I guess that's what's left when prayer doesn't work.

SANTA ANA – A Mission Viejo high school history teacher violated the First Amendment by disparaging Christians during a classroom lecture, a federal judge ruled today.

James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, referred to Creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense” during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

That's the takeaway message from the Orange County Register, but a closer examination shows that the court was clearly wrong, and is likely to be overturned if the teacher has the resources to appeal this decision.

The suit, brought by a creationist former student of the defendant, attacked James Corbett for a large number of statements that the plaintiff construed as being opposed to religion, yet the court found only one that, in its view, actually violated the student's First Amendment rights.

The test by which government actions may be said to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is referred to as the "Lemon test", because it was first articulated in the Supreme Court's decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 406 U.S. 602 (1971). Under the Lemon test,

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Usually cases raising the Lemon test involve legislation, such as "moment of silence" legislation, but they apply to other circumstances in which a government official, like a public school teacher, is claimed to have taken a position that has the effect of establishing a particular religious view. In this case the court rejected the plaintiff's general claim that the defendant's statements had the effect of establishing a "religion of secularism", but it did find that one statement in particular failed the Lemon test.

The Court turns first to Corbett’s statement regarding John Peloza (“Peloza”). (Farnan’s Ex. I, pp. 222-25.) This statement presents the closest question for the Court in assessing secular purpose. Peloza apparently brought suit against Corbett because Corbett was the advisor to a student newspaper which ran an article suggesting that Peloza was teaching religion rather than science in his classroom. (Id.) Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, “was not telling the kids [Peloza’s students] the scientific truth about evolution.” (Id.) Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, “I will not leave John Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.” (Id.) One could argue that Corbett meant that Peloza should not be presenting his religious ideas to students or that Peloza was presenting faulty science to the students. But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The court is clearly wrong here in finding no secular purpose because it fails to adequately consider the nature of Peloza's religious statements that Corbett describes as "superstitious nonsense". In fact, Corbett's statement was not a wholesale attack on Peloza's religious beliefs, but on the factual claims made by creationists. These claims are not only religious in nature, but are demonstrably false, and have been shown to be so by a century and a half of scientific study. Thus, the description of creationism as "superstitious nonsense" is precisely identical to the description of astrology, or the belief that the earth sits on the back of a gigantic turtle, as "superstitious nonsense". As such, any public school teacher is justified in criticizing another teacher for teaching false and superstitious nonsense in the science classes of a public school. The district court is clearly wrong here.

There is another interesting point here. The particular statement that Corbett is sued for, and which the court found was a violation of the Establishment Clause, is the statement that creationism is "superstitious nonsense". In other words, it was a statement criticizing the religious beliefs of both the other teacher, but also the plaintiff. As you probably know, for years creationists have claimed that creationism, which they now prefer to call "intelligent design", and previously called "scientific creationism", is not religion at all, but science. This claim was authoritatively disposed of in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), in which the supporters of creationism brought in the leading experts in their field and mounted a valiant effort to establish the scientific validity of creationism, only to be thoroughly discredited in court. Yet in this case, the only way for the plaintiff to prevail is to demonstrate the essentially religious nature of the tenets of creationism. Thus, even in winning, the creationists lose.

Stranger things have happened, but it's hard to see this decision standing up on appeal.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, May 02, 2009

It's a good thing he knows what's important

You may have heard of Rep. Joe Barton. Even if you didn't know anything about him before, he recently distinguished himself as a science expert, mocking Energy Secretary (and Nobel Prize winner) Henry Chu for trying to use the concept of plate tectonics to explain how petroleum deposits could have formed under such cold areas as Alaska and the Arctic Circle, a video he himself posted on YouTube under the heading "Energy Secretary puzzled by simple question".

Not as well known is his stand on government. Like most conservative extremists, he is against big government. He signed Newt Gingrich's Contract on America in 1994, which stated,
This year’s election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public’s money.
So why is he in the news this week? Pretty simple, actually. He's standing up for the kind of principle that any small-government conservative would be committed to: the power of the federal government to decide the national NCAA football champion!

I kid you not. According to Barton, the need for national football playoffs is so obvious, and so important, that if the NCAA won't do it voluntarily he will introduce legislation to force them to do it.

So I ask you: if we can't get Michelle Bachman to say something stupid on camera every week, aren't you glad we have Joe Barton to pick up the slack?

Labels: , , , ,