Saturday, August 13, 2005
Quote of the Day
—Unnamed "senior official" as reported by Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer
Outsourcing the war: Cheap Colombian mercenaries
Agence France-Presse reports that the U.S. has just found a new trove of fighters—in Colombia.
A US company operating out of Ecuador says it has signed up about 1,000 Colombian police and military staff to work as hired guns in Iraq, for less than half of their US counterparts' salaries.
Colombians "have been fighting terrorists for the past 41 years and are experts in their respective areas" such as explosives and guerrilla warfare, Epi Security and Investigation says on its website, iraqijobcenter.com.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo reported Friday that the Colombians would be paid $US2,500 to $US5,000 a month, roughly half what their US and British counterparts earn.
Sounds like they may be exporting their right-wing paramilitaries. That should really take some of the pressure off U.S. forces and be quite a treat for Iraqi civilians. All at bargain prices!
The "Western Way" of War (8/9/05)
Tip of the iceberg
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) press release notes that since 2000 the RNC has received donations of over $2.5 million from 6 people currently under investigation. To help us grasp the number "6" the Democrats helpfully point out that that is more than enough to form a basketball team. What were they thinking? Prison-yard recreation?
Jim Crow II
From the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—
A lawsuit filed today alleges that Tyson Foods Inc. is responsible for maintaining a segregated bathroom and break room, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, in its Ashland, Ala. chicken processing plant. Twelve African-American employees filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleging that a "Whites Only" sign and a padlock denied them access to a bathroom in the Ashland plant. The complaint states that numerous white employees had keys to the bathroom that were not provided to African-American workers.
The African-American employees' complaint also alleges that, after they complained about the segregated bathroom, the plant manager told them that the bathroom had been locked because they were "dirty" and announced the closing of the break room. According to the complaint, the same white employees who had keys to the "Whites Only" bathroom formed their own, private break room, using Tyson materials to construct the furniture. Initially, a locked door segregated the private break room. To the present day, locked cabinets and a locked refrigerator maintain a private break room.
"When I was young, my mother used to tell me stories about segregated bathrooms," said Henry Adams, a plaintiff in this case. "I never thought that her reality of seventy-one years ago would become my reality today."
In the year 2005 news such as this is so incredible. I mean, if this were some little bar in Mississippi refusing to serve drinks, you might believe it. But Tyson Foods?! Yet I suppose we shouldn't be surprised after considering the hostile attitude of the Bush administration toward civil rights enforcement.
I've been eating far too much chicken anyway.
On the band it says "JPII BE NOT AFRAID, BXVI WE COME TO WORSHIP HIM." I'm not sure what this means, but I have to admit it makes me feel good all over.
You may view and order your papal wristband here. The scrolling text says we should hurry, so I'll keep this short.
In Ohio the police just got a little more secret
"The F.O.P. is committed to enhancing the safety of every single law enforcement officer in the nation," Canterbury said, "and the decision in this case is a major victory in our continuing efforts to do so: upholding the right to privacy for our police officers, and recognizing the inherent danger to these brave men and women by wantonly and unnecessarily making their personal information publicly available."
At issue was an interpretation of the Ohio Public Records Act, which according to the FOP press release, exempts from public disclosure "peace officer, firefighter, or EMT residential and familial information." The Court decided that photos were "familial information."
As the privacy rights of the public continue to shrink, the privacy rights of legislators, bureaucrats and enforcers continue to grow.
While they were at it the FOP also announced "the strong support of the Fraternal Order of Police for the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts, Jr. to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court."
Friday, August 12, 2005
That Abramoff arrest
Top Republican legislators are having trouble remembering who Jack Abramoff is. Here's how James Grimaldi describes it for the Washington Post—
Federal authorities sidestepped specific mention of Abramoff's high-powered political connections. At an afternoon news conference here, Acosta did not mention Abramoff's use of congressional contacts to seal the SunCruz deal. The closest officials came to doing so was when Delaney said that, "regardless of position, status, wealth or associations, fraudulent activity will not be tolerated."
But Abramoff's dealings with SunCruz were intertwined with his relationships with powerful members of Congress and their staffs. As the negotiations warmed up, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's office -- he was the House minority whip then -- gave Boulis a flag that had flown over the Capitol. And as the SunCruz deal was closing, Abramoff brought his lead financier to a DeLay fundraiser in the lobbyist's box at FedEx Field during a Monday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
To help land the deal, an Abramoff associate, Michael Scanlon, persuaded Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to officially criticize Boulis in the Congressional Record; later, Ney praised Kidan1 in the official publication of Congress.
Abramoff listed Tony Rudy, a top DeLay aide at the time, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) as personal references on his loan papers. And he flew key members of DeLay's staff -- including his current chief of staff -- on a SunCruz jet and took them for a night of gambling on a SunCruz boat at the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa. The Super Bowl trip came just days before Boulis's slaying.
Ney has said he was duped by Abramoff and Scanlon. DeLay's spokesmen have said he does not remember meeting the banker or sending the flag. His spokesman declined to comment. Rudy has declined to comment. Rohrabacher has said he gladly served as a reference for Abramoff.
For background on Abramoff I highly recommend Stephen Pizzo's piece "DeLay's godfather" at the Smirking Chimp.
1Adam Kidan is the unofficial chief suspect in the Boulis murder. Boulis was owed money on a $20 million note signed by both Abramoff and Kidan. There was a mob payoff but apparently no proof as to its purpose. Jessica Walker writes in Daily Business Review,
A lawsuit filed by the Boulis estate revealed that as much as $250,000 had been paid by Kidan to reputed Gambino crime family figures in New York City. Kidan said the payments were to provide security for the boats and denied any wrongdoing.[back]
Joke of the Day
—Mary Mason, federal trial lawyer defending the government in the lawsuit filed by Canadian Maher Arar, whom the U.S. sent to Syria to be tortured
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Quote of the Day
—Sunny Jacobs, playing herself in "The Exonerated," reviewed by Paul Majendie
Iran: Martyrs wanted
The advertisement calls for men and women to enlist with the "Lovers of Martyrdom Garrison" and promises those who are picked that they will be given "specific and specialized training". The aim it seems is "to achieve all-round readiness against the enemies of Islam and the sacred Islamic republic and to protect the foundations of Islam". To this end, "a martyrdom-seeking division" would be set up for each province in the country.
The application form for "Preliminary Registration for Martyrdom Operations" .... gives a choice of three targets: "occupiers of the Islamic holy sites" (referring to the US occupation of Najaf, Karbala and other places in Iraq), "occupiers of Jerusalem" (referring to Israel), and Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses against whom Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or legal judgment for death in 1989.
Ramachandran believes this recruitment is mostly a warning to any country that might be thinking of invading Iran—
... it is unlikely that those who registered to become martyrs in response to the advertisement will actually be sent on suicide operations, especially against high-profile targets. The advertisement and application forms should be seen as a propaganda exercise to signal that ordinary Iranian men and women are willing to blow themselves up for a cause. The public registration of these aspiring suicide bombers signals that they are willing to take the risks that come with revealing their identity as potential suicide bombers.
While it is unlikely that those who responded to the advertisement and signed on as martyrdom seekers - tens of thousands are said to have signed up - will be dispatched on individual suicide missions, the possibility that some of them at least will figure in operations to defend cities should the United States attack Iran cannot be ruled out.
Ramachandran greatly understates the probability of suicide-bomber resistance in the event of an attack on Iran.
The "Western Way" of War (8/9/05)
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Support Cindy Sheehan's vigil
Pentagon to march on the Mall
I am unaware of any march heretofore organized and promoted by the federal government, and if this doesn't worry you, I don't know what will. The country music theme, of course, will be an attraction for red-staters.
Word of the event startled some observers. "I've never heard of such a thing," said John Pike, who has been a defense analyst in Washington for 25 years and runs GlobalSecurity.org.
The news also reignited debate and anger over linking Sept. 11 with the war in Iraq.
"That piece of it is disturbing since we all know now there was no connection," said Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq veteran who heads Operation Truth, an anti-administration military booster.
Rieckhoff suggested the event was an ill-conceived publicity stunt. "I think it's clear that their public opinion polls are in the toilet," he said.
Rumsfeld's walk had some relatives of 9/11 victims fuming.
"How about telling Mr. Rumsfeld to leave the memories of Sept. 11 victims to the families?" said Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband in the attacks.
The Defense Department press release makes clear that this march is intended to be an annual event—
The goal for next year's walk is to get each state to host its own Freedom Walk to provide an opportunity for as many citizens as possible to reflect on the importance of freedom, according to a DoD press release.
The media have leapt in feet first—
The walk was made possible with the help of several local in-kind supporters, including Stars and Stripes newspaper, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Subway, Washington Post, Lockheed Martin, WTOP, ABC/WJLA-TV Channel 7 and News Channel 8, and the Washington Convention & Tourism Corporation, according to the Freedom Walk Web site.
In case you were hoping to attend,
"America Supports You" is a nationwide program launched by the Defense Department with the goal of highlighting how Americans across the country are supporting the men and women of the armed forces.
There will also be a private ceremony for the families of the 9/11 victims prior to the walk.
To avoid long lines, America Supports You Freedom Walk participants are encouraged to arrive at the Pentagon South parking lot between 7 and 8 a.m. According to the Freedom Walk Web site, the first 1,000 people to arrive will receive an official America Supports You campaign lapel pin.
8/11/05 11:10 am
The uniqueness of this Pentagon-sponsored march, with the plan to institutionalize it and see it spread to the 50 states, sent me on a forced march down Memory Lane.
Since this is a "Freedom walk," I assume that some of the participants will be "freedom fighters" as at Nuremberg, 1927—
Huge masses of German citizens and party members from Nuremberg and from all parts of the German-speaking world filled the streets in expectation of the appearance of every last German freedom fighter who had come to Nuremberg.
Hitler was big on the word "freedom," which when combined with a march was pretty darned irresistable. From "The Art of National Propaganda,"
Probably the most powerful weapon in the National Socialists' propaganda arsenal were the mass meetings. Many of the public and communal meetings were modelled on the theatre of the Weimar Republic. Collective dreams had been staged by Max Reinhardt in carefully rehearsed performances in which actors, lights, and public were all fused in a kind of total art, or Gesamtkunstwerk. These productions and the musicals, with their giant staircase for large casts, became the models for Hitler's mass marches, although the communists and social democrats also marched frequently and believed that the streets belonged to them. The massed ranks of Hitler's followers marched for the first time on a grand scale in 1929 at the big Party Rally in Nürnberg. Over 200,000 people arrived in special trains. The colourful and noisy display of their banners, uniforms, and marches would become a hallmark of future rallies. Wave after wave of people marched for five and a half hours in front of a Leader who was not yet even in absolute command. In these mass marches the enthusiasm for the regime was carefully orchestrated in the form of a complex visual arrangement of uniforms and group formations, choreographed like a ballet.
The feeling, as described by Werner Hager in "Bauwerke im Dritten Reich" (Structures in the Third Reich), was quite wonderful—
People are no longer a mass of individuals, a formless, artless mass. Now they form a body in unison, moved by a will and a communal feeling. They learn again to move in formations or to stand still, as if moulded by an invisible hand. A new corporate feeling is born, beginning simply in the feature of lifting the arm for the greeting and culminating in the mass march ..... The notion of a communal body is becoming a reality. Noble passion is stirred up, changing what is ephemeral into something lasting.
In 1932, when the Nazis still had electoral politics to contend with, they were careful to analyze the effectiveness of their propaganda. From "Tested Methods of Modern Propaganda" by Helmut von Wilucki—
Our most effective propaganda method was undoubtedly the Hitler mass meeting. The fact that the Führer placed all his energy in the service of propaganda, and the way in which he did it, had an effect on the masses of the voters. It was an event not only in our press, but also to some degree in other newspapers as well. As a result, not only those citizens who participated in the meetings, but everyone else as well was influenced by the spell of the Führer's mass meetings.
We had prepared by years of smaller meetings. That made the mass meetings in the grand style effective during the July campaign, particularly when they were supported by large marches. The S. A. [Brownshirt] march was always the movement's best method of propaganda.
Fascism, anyone? A few journalists are speaking up (8/10/05)
Fascism, anyone? A few journalists are speaking up
While you can easily hear the dismissive "they're all crooks and liars," the cynicism doesn't run deep. At heart the public just cannot imagine that their rulers are totally corrupt, much less dangerous. After all, we're all Americans and that just doesn't happen in America.
I understand how they feel. To the extent they pay attention to the news they hear no hint of anything to the contrary. And besides, it's what we were all brought up to believe, and to think otherwise is a bit like abandoning your childhood religion. Wrenching.
So I try to be gentle and maybe point out a thing or two they may not have noticed, but I avoid harangues.
But for journalists I have less patience. I know, I know—they were all subjected to the same jingoistic patriotic cant from their first day of kindergarten as the rest of us. But a certain cynicism should at least be instilled as a part of their professional training. And if that isn't enough, they should just pay attention to the news.
A growing number of them, of course, are themselves quite plainly corrupt—cynically aware of the acts of the Bush administration but lacking "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Bought and paid for.
But the ones who frustrate me the most are those who are aware of the news, aware of the government, but who use one defense mechanism or another1 to shield themselves—and the public—from the truth. For these folks the leaders of the Bush administration were first "misled," then they were "mistaken," then they were "obstinate" and finally they were "deluded."
Back in June I vented my frustration with this nonsense in a post titled "Superfluous beliefs," in which I discussed the ultimate purpose of the invasion of Iraq. It concluded with this—
"We the people" are not after anything but a reasonably quiet and comfortable existence, but our rulers are. They are not after oil; they are after power. Perfect, complete, absolute power. Imperial power. Totalitarian power.
If you imagine that they are about anything else, that they hanker for anything else, that they are motivated by anything else, you are holding a belief about their goals that is superfluous.
I couldn't even get that piece linked by the Leftie sites. But finally a few journalists are coming to their senses. These are journalists, somewhat to the Left, whose writing I generally respect, but who only now seem to be coming to the realization of the darkness about. It is only a whisper, but that is far better than silence.
First, there is columnist Matt Taibbi writing in the New York Press. He attended, almost by accident, the hearing held by some Democrats in the basement of the Capitol on the irregularities in the Ohio vote in the last presidential election. It was nothing less than a scales-falling-from-the-eyes epiphany. (His analysis of why he, along with the rest of the press, ignored the Ohio vote is well worth the read.) He was so stunned by what he learned that he did a two-part column devoted to Ohio. Taibbi doesn't quite "get it"; he still thinks the Neocons are deluded "clowns," an image that downplays the threat they pose. But he's coming damned close.
From his first column—
Here's the thing about Ohio. Until you really look at it, you won't understand its significance, which is this: the techniques used in this particular theft have the capacity to alter elections not by dozens or hundreds or even thousands of votes, but by tens of thousands.
And if we ignore this now, we're putting proven methods for easily ripping off major elections in the hands of the same party that had no qualms whatsoever about lying its way into a war in Iraq. In the hands of a merely corrupt political party, a bad election or two would be no big deal. But these clowns we have in power now imagine themselves to be revolutionaries, and their psychology is a lot like that of the leadership of Enron, pre-meltdown—with each passing day that they get away with it, they become more convinced by a delusion of righteousness.
In his follow-up column he focuses more on the Republican Congress than the administration—
[I]deology is increasingly not the defining characteristic of this Republican party. What distinguishes this party is its cheating. In CAFTA, in defiance of House rules, they hold the floor open for as long as it takes to get their vote. They not only do this, they proudly announce that they're doing this. In the House, they have made a habit out of disallowing Democratic witnesses, shutting off debate, conveniently miscounting votes and committing brazen acts of slander and libel....
In recent years it has been fashionable to compare these current Republicans with the Nazis and other totalitarian monsters. I've tended to resist those comparisons, but we've reached a point where it's looking more and more appropriate to describe the neoconservative attitude toward the rule of law as having many things in common with those other revolutionaries. These neocons may not have the authoritarian bent of the German fascists or the Russian communists. They're far more interested in stealing and deregulating than in controlling, censoring and governing. But it is more and more clear that, like these other notorious movements, they view adherence to rules and to the law as a failure of will and a political weakness.
I'm sorry that he can't recognize "the authoritarian bent" of the Neocons, but I have no doubt that he will in time—as will we all. Taibbi ends his column with an exhortation to the media that shows some realism about the Democratic Party—
That is why we in the media need to reexamine the 2004 election. If they really did steal it, we can't just let it slide. Because they'll do it again. And forget about the Democrats being able to do anything about it. They have their own problems.
Sidney Blumenthal was a Clinton advisor and knows government up close. He now writes regularly for the Guardian and the bulk of his writing has been to delve into the ways of George Bush. For that reason I once dubbed him a "Bushologist." For my tastes and opinions Blumenthal personalizes this administration around the figure of George Bush far too much. But I suppose it would be easy for a man who worked directly with Bill Clinton to assume that Bush is somehow acting presidential and in charge.
Blumenthal is no radical, but in his article "Above the Law" of August 5 he manages to say this—
[T]he dirty war that damages the difficult work of counter-terrorism continues unabated. It goes on for reasons beyond domestic political consumption. At its heart lies the drive for concentrated executive power above the rule of law.
Finally Joe Conason, well known and well respected, is coming round. His article of August 8 in the New York Observer reviews the efforts of the Judge Advocates General (JAGs) to warn off the administration from their policies of torture. And Conason praises conservatives such as McCain for trying to slip "standards for the treatment of military detainees" into the Defense Authorization Act.
More broadly, the J.A.G. officers were troubled by the implications for the military and the nation of the high-handed attitude exemplified by the Bush advisors. What kind of country would the United States become if we allowed our military officers to behave like criminals? What kind of country would we become if we accepted the dangerous theory, promoted by the Pentagon civilians, that in wartime a President can issue whatever orders he may choose, regardless of U.S. and international law?
We have yet to confront the full consequences of that theory, as applied in U.S. military detention facilities. At the moment, the Pentagon and the White House are withholding photos and videos that reportedly document abuses even graver than what we’ve already seen, despite a court order demanding their release.
The warnings of the J.A.G. officers were prescient indeed. Someday, when historians consider how this President and his associates sought to overturn American values, traditions and statutes in pursuit of absolute power, they will praise the officers and politicians who resisted those illegitimate maneuvers.
Could you say that a little louder, Joe?
Paul Craig RobertsThe person who has best peered into the heart of the Bush administration and has done so the longest is not a person from the Left but a conservative—a former Asst. Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I was quoting Paul Craig Roberts back in January, and I'd like to repeat some of it, in case you missed it. After hearing Bush's second inaugural address, Roberts had this to say in part—
At home the casualties are the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Republicans explode in anger when a liberal judge creates a constitutional right. But they sit in silence when the US Department of Justice (sic) creates the right for Bush to decide who has constitutional protections and who has not.
Like Robespierre, Bush justifies the state of terror that he has brought to Iraq by his noble aspirations. The effect is to destroy idealism with hypocrisy about violence. When the neoconservatives succeed in draining idealism of its power, will they then declare violence alone to be their goal?
Led by Bush, the Republican Party now stands for detainment without trial and war without end. It is a party destructive of all virtue and a great threat to life and liberty on earth.
1Denial: I'm not really seeing what I'm seeing. Projection: I'm only seeing what I'm seeing because some wild-eyed radicals have planted ideas in my brain, which must be rejected. Rationalization: I'm seeing what I'm seeing, but when you consider (fill in the blank), it is understandable. [back]
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Question of the Day
—Cindy Sheehan, from outside the Bush ranch, in "Security Threat"
Factlet of the Day
—Bambi Francisco in "Blogs become mainstream"
The "Western Way" of War
Were the terrorist atrocities in London the result of the 'warped logic' of the terrorists, as Tony Blair maintained, or of the logic of war in today's conditions, fuelled by the way the West fights its own wars, transferring risk from Western troops to innocent civilians? Can the West continue to fight wars in this way?
The concluding chapter of Martin Shaw's The New Western Way of War: Risk-Transfer War and Its Crisis in Iraq (Polity Press) analyses the links between the deliberate atrocities of Islamist terrorists in Western capitals and the 'accidental' massacres of civilians in Western wars. It argues that paradoxically the 'massacre embrace' of the terrorists trumps the 'massacre embarrassment' of the West, and that the answer for the West lies in the search for methods other than war, which has become counterproductive for our type of society. Hence we should abandon the idea of a 'war' on terror.
For Shaw, the contemporary Western way of war focuses on containing risks to the lives of Western soldiers in order to minimise political and electoral risk to governments. Risk is transferred to innocent civilians, whose killing is explained away as 'accidental'.1 Yet the idea of managing risk is fundamentally at odds with the brutal, unpredictable nature of war. Ultimately, attempts to manage, govern and rule over the risks of war produce greater risks for Western societies - as the bombings in Madrid and London have shown - and hence for those in power. After Iraq, the new Western way of war is in crisis and it will be more difficult for governments to fight this type of war.
It will only be more difficult if the public holds their feet to the fire!
Book details are here.
"The human cost of a fortnight in an embattled land" (1/17/05)
While the U.S. opposes Sharia in the Iraqi Constitution...
Meanwhile back in the U.S., according to Todd Shields of Mediaweek—
The Federal Communications Commission has hired as an advisor an anti-pornography activist and former lobbyist for groups that push for Christian precepts in public policy. The move may herald a reinvigorated campaign against broadcast indecency and bring renewed pressure on cable to reconsider its racy offerings.
Penny Nance, until recently a board member of Concerned Women for America, is working as a special advisor in the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, said aides to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.
The strategic planning office helps develop agency policy. Concerned Women for America describes its mission as “helping…to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.” ....
Sunday's meditation on Tuesday: Religion, torture and law
The new law would forbid "incitement to religious hatred" as a part of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Bill. Rather than do the sensible thing and end the special protections for Christianity under the blasphemy laws, this new bill would include all religions. (Jews and Sikhs are already protected based on their ethnicity. The aim is to expand protections to multi-ethnic religions.)
When every religion in England (with the exception of the Buddhists) has a God on its side, you have to wonder why they need the protection of the government? I'll come back to that in a moment, but first let's see what the Devil's been up to in Scotland.
The Devil at work in Scotland
The Edinburgh Dungeon is one of a small chain of tourist attractions that focus on the horrors of yesteryear. Here's what they say of themselves—
.... Terror and torture, mutilation and mass murder, persecution and pestilence: scenes from the more terrible chapters of centuries of Scottish history envelop you in all their grisly and gruesome detail.
Witch-hunters, grave-robbers, murderers, cannibals, executioners - you will find them all here, along with their wretched victims. And remember, as you wander further into the Dungeon's grim and bloody depths, all that you see and experience really happened - much of it disconcertingly close by.
The Gazeteer for Scotland adds—
.... Other experiences include the Old Town of Edinburgh as it was centuries ago, complete with dirt, disease, waste being thrown from a tenement window and the 'body cart' waiting to pick up the unfortunate victims of plague. The medical history of the city is also represented, with early attempts at surgery portrayed and the mortuary where those who died were brought.
There is also a range of torture equipment on display, including the innocently-named 'maiden' guillotine, used to execute Edinburgh criminals between 1564 and 1720, together with headcrushers, thumbscrews and flesh earers.
In other words, it's the Standard American TV diet with a little history thrown into the pot.
Each year the attraction must renew its entertainment license before a licensing board, which normally would be routine. But this year there is opposition—from a church. What the London Road Parish Church dislikes in particular is a feature known as "Satan's Grotto."
The ... church has complained about elves impaled on spikes, roasting robins and Father Christmas boiling in a witch's cauldron. Also under fire is children being asked whether they had been bad rather than good, offered 'nasty presents' instead of sweets and invited to take part in a 'yucky dip'.
The Christians claim the associations with evil are at least corrupting and at worst something that could lead to devil worship.
Malcolm Dickson, ... who wrote the letter of objection on behalf of the congregation, added: "We felt that it was time to make our voices heard. Their 'Santa display' twisted the whole meaning of Christmas. It is supposed to be about the birth of Christ and hope, not about evil.
"If this display had been aimed at any other religion it would have been closed down. People seem to think they can get away with this because it's Christianity."
How we prefer our torture entertainment in the U.S.
Now in the U.S. the fundamentalist churches present this type of entertainment for free, and any church that would like to join in may do so with the aid of the Hell House Outreach Kit. Here's how Chuck Goldberg of the Destiny Church describes the Hell House as presented at the Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colorado—
A tour guide, taunting and laughing throughout, leads visitors in groups of 30 through five scenes depicting the results of wrong choices that can take one to hell. Among the scenes is a blood-spattered drunk-driving father, writhing in physical and emotional torment outside his overturned car, several feet from his dead wife and daughter.
The most controversial scenes are the funeral of a homosexual AIDS victim, and a distraught, remorseful abortion patient beneath a bloody sheet begging for the procedure to end.
Each scene is portrayed as graphically as possible to maximize sin's impact. In scene six, visitors descend an elevator into hell itself, where Satan brags of his handiwork. Tormented souls agonize on the floor amidst evil-sounding music, thick smoke, sour smells, and insufferable heat. An angel, however, suddenly appears, overpowers Satan, and escorts visitors to heaven, where they see Jesus and hear the plan of salvation. Counselors then await to solidify their decision.
I love a happy ending, don't you? But I began to wonder what the Incitement to Religious Hatred law might say about all this.
What Britain's Incitement to Religious Hatred law does and does not intend to prevent
The British Home Office offers a FAQ on the new bill and gives an example of what would be forbidden—
... an extreme racist organisation widely distributing material setting out a range of insulting and highly inflammatory reasons for hating Islam. Such reasons have included suggesting that Muslims are a threat to British people and liable to molest women and that they should be urgently driven out of Britain.
The Home Office claims that the bill will not only protect believers but non-believers as well—
The new legislation will protect people of all religious beliefs, applying equally to incited hatred against Muslims, or Christians, or any other religious group. It will also protect people targeted because of their lack of religious beliefs or because they do not share the religious beliefs of the perpetrator.
But you really have to doubt their sincerity when you read their bullshit non-answer to the following question—
What about protection for other at risk groups such as those with disabilities or those who suffer because of their sexual orientation? Why isn’t the incitement to racial hatred provisions being extended to protect those groups?
The extension of the incitement provisions to cover people identified by their religion as well as race, is the closing of an unacceptable loop-hole that mono-ethnic religious groups (such as Jews and Sikhs) are covered by the existing offence whereas multi-ethnic religious groups (such as Muslims and Hindus) are not. The Government keeps provisions under constant review and is open to considering whether further extensions are needed.
The Home Office also assures that the law will not interfere with—
- Proselytising one’s own religion or urging followers of a different religion to cease practising theirs; for example Christians claiming that Jesus Christ is the way the truth, the life and the only way to God, Muslims exhorting people to submit to the will of Allah, or Atheists claiming that there is no God;
- Telling jokes about religions;
- Publishing or reading from religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur’an.
Unless, of course, "a person were to use threatening, abusive or insulting words/actions with the intent or likely effect that hatred would be stirred up whilst undertaking the actions listed above."
The true effect of the new law
What a hypocritical mess this bill creates! Since it is clear that under the law Muslims, Jews and Christians will be free to tell each other (as well as gay people, women seeking abortion and nonbelievers) that they are depraved scum of the earth who will burn in hell forever, the real effect of the law will be to hand the government the power to make arbitrary decisions as to which religious statements it likes and which it doesn't. And the Home Office acknowledges this—
The need to take into account all the circumstances of a case means that it is very difficult to give a yes/no answer to whether particular statements will be caught by the new offence. For example the context and audience of what is said are as critically important as the words themselves. The same series of critical statements might be more likely to stir up hatred in the backroom of a pub full of drunken men in area of deprivation and tension than said an in academic debate in a university.
In fact, the Home Office gives an example (using a Muslim, of course) of the type of behavior that would be forbidden—
The Muslim cleric el-Faisal gave lectures around the UK over a period of four years used threatening, abusive and insulting language against ‘unbelievers’, these lectures being recorded and subsequently put on sale. The inflammatory language was therefore deliberately designed to reach a wider audience. He said it is permissible to use chemical weapons to kill unbelievers and sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons “in that country which is 100% unbelievers”. The jury found el-Faisal guilty of three counts of soliciting to murder and three of incitement to racial hatred for similar utterances against Jews.
If these are the criteria, there are quite a few American evangelists who had better keep their butts—or more precisely, their mouths—out of Britain—not to mention U.S. Congressman Tancredo.
If the "Incitement to Religious Hatred" portion of the British Patriot Act passes (which it almost certainly will), the Edinburgh Dungeon may continue to feature its "Satan's Grotto" because Satanism will be protected. (The Scottish church opposing the Dungeon had no problem with the torture per se.) On the other hand the various religions will be nominally free to damn as much of humanity to a fiery hell as they like—so long as it is government-approved and focused predominantly on gays, abortion-seekers and nonbelievers.
What the British government is really after is greater control over speech, and it is going to get it.
As for the Scottish church wanting to shut down the Edinburgh Dungeon, their best tactic might be to urge the release of the Abu Ghraib photos and videos currently withheld by the Pentagon in defiance of a court order. Once the British and American publics are treated to this entertainment, the torture of the Edinburgh Dungeon may seem a little stale, forcing it to close for lack of interest. Perhaps then we may be able to stop clucking about torture in the past and see what, if anything, we can do about torture in the present.
Justice Stevens criticizes the death penalty
Apparently one issue on the mind of the Court, or at least on the mind of Justice Stevens, is the effect of O'Connor's resignation on death penalty cases. John Roberts, the nominee to fill her position, has a mixed history on the matter. Holland writes,
Roberts, 50, showed little sympathy for prisoner appeals as a government lawyer in the Reagan administration, but later did free legal work for a death row inmate.
In a February 1983 memo while serving in Ronald Reagan's White House, Roberts suggested that the high court could cut its caseload by "abdicating the role of fourth or fifth guesser in death penalty cases."
Scheidegger [legal director of a pro-death-penalty group] said that although Roberts' wife, Jane, is a member of a group that opposes capital punishment, Roberts has had no opportunities to vote on death cases in his two years on a federal appeals court.
Justice Stevens said that the number of death penalties "erroneously imposed" indicate that "there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice." Stevens suggested that among them are—
- inadequate representation at trial
- the jury selection process
- elected trial judges
- effect on the jury of victim-impact statements
The anti-abortion position of John Roberts' wife has been widely publicized but her presumed (from her group membership) opposition to capital punishment is less widely known. No word yet on Roberts' views on conjugal activism.
My view of John Roberts (7/24/05)
Monday, August 08, 2005
More insights into Iraqgate may be on the way
But just because the Republicans are by and large criminals doesn't mean they're accomplished criminals. To begin with you would need to be intelligent, and that accusation is seldom heard of top Republicans and their henchmen. Add to that an uncontrollable greed that puts them on the level of compulsive shoplifters—only for items in the million-dollar range—and an arrogance that deludes them into thinking that they are going about like the Invisible Man and what you get is a succession of scandals from one Republican President to the next which finally are dubbed by the media as the "gates."
Iraqgate was the contribution of the first George Bush, though the affair had gotten underway under Ronald Reagan. The operation was complex, international, and a great deal still hangs in a cloud of mystery. Basically, it was about secretly arming Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, an activity that continued after the war had ended. President Clinton aided in suppressing the revelations of that period.
As Jon Elliston wrote in Parascope,
Due to the complexity of Iraqgate -- the tangled international arms networks, the puzzling paper trail of export credits, the hard-to-track secret White House initiatives -- this is a scandal that simmers steadily but has never broken big-time. Despite the disclosure of their hidden support for Saddam, Presidents Reagan and Bush, along with leaders from other western countries that armed Saddam, have emerged relatively unscathed from the numerous official investigations into the scandal.
New York Times columnist William Safire, who has frequently written about Iraqgate, calls it "the first global political scandal." Referring to the United States, Britain and Italy (the latter two also covertly backed Iraq during the 1980s), Safire charges that "the leaders of three major nations are implicated in a criminal conspiracy: first, to misuse taxpayer funds and public agencies in the clandestine buildup of a terrorist dictator; then to abuse the intelligence and banking services of these nations to conceal the dirty deed; finally to thwart the inexorable course of justice."
I have praised before (here) the civil lawsuit as perhaps the most important tool in ferreting out the truth of government and corporate crimes.1 The defendant has fewer protections than in a criminal trial, and the process known as "discovery" can go where no man has gone before.
So now comes this news, as reported by Steven Pollak of the Fulton County Daily Report—
An Italian bank is suing the Iraqi government in Fulton County Superior Court in a bid to recover more than $1 billion the bank lent to Saddam Hussein's regime 15 years ago.
Those loans -- which originated in the Atlanta office of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro -- were at the center of an international scandal commonly referred to as "Iraqgate," during which critics blamed the first Bush administration with arming Saddam's government in the late 1980s.
To put the importance of these loans in context, consider this Mother Jones article by Steve Pizzo in 1992—
In a letter written just days before the presidential election last fall, with George Bush trailing in the polls, House Banking Committee Chairman Henry Gonzalez (D-TX) accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture of spending an entire weekend shredding documents that described the administration's role in obtaining $5.5 billion in U.S.-taxpayer-guaranteed agricultural loans for Iraq from the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL). Gonzalez demanded that all shredding equipment be removed from the department immediately. It wasn't.
According to Pizzo, the shredding also extended to the Justice Department—
Beginning the day after the [Clinton] election, according to Justice Department sources, wholesale shredding began to take place on the DOJ's sixth floor, where the key administrative offices are located.
The shredding occurred against a backdrop of chaos at the Department of justice. The DOJ was awash in allegations of deception, cover-up, perjury, theft, and obstruction of justice. Even as Attorney General William Barr was refusing to comply with congressional demands for an independent special prosecutor to investigate the BNL case, his Justice Department was under investigation by FBI Director William Sessions, who was himself briefly the target of a DOJ criminal probe.
Investigations up to this point have led only to the conviction of an underling of the bank—
Two inquiries by Republican and Democratic-controlled Justice Departments cleared the Bush administration of any wrongdoing. But many continue to speculate over how Atlanta bank employees lent the Iraqis billions of dollars -- some of which was backed by the U.S. government through two agricultural programs -- without the knowledge of their superiors in Rome or any high-ranking American officials.
The Justice Department accused the manager of the bank's Atlanta office, Christopher Drogoul, of organizing illicit loans and thereby defrauding the bank and the U.S. government. Some 18 months after FBI agents raided the bank's Atlanta offices, a federal grand jury in 1991 indicted Drogoul, along with some of his subordinates, a government-owned Iraqi bank and five Iraqi officials.
The indictment said the local officers of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, or BNL, received lavish gifts and bribes to extend more than $4 billion in unauthorized credit to Iraq.
Drogoul subsequently pleaded guilty in 1993 to two counts of lying to the Federal Reserve Board and one count of mail fraud. Judge G. Ernest Tidwell of the Northern District of Georgia sentenced the bank manager to 37 months in prison.
So the bank's lawsuit, assuming that the Iraqi government doesn't just fork over the money to end the matter, may take us a great deal further into determining who was really responsible for a multi-billion dollar line of credit to Saddam Hussein.
One judge involved in the criminal proceedings against Drogoul has already stated his thoughts on that case—
Senior Judge Marvin H. Shoob .... said Friday he believed the local bank officials were "small potatoes" in a larger conspiracy.
"They were pawns," Shoob said.
I should have noted the case title. It's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro v. Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Iraq, No. 2005CV104420 (Fult. Super. filed Aug. 4, 2005).