Saturday, September 03, 2005


The Duumvirate

I often stress how little George Bush has to do with decision-making at the White House, so I couldn't pass up this glimpse of that reality as Elisabeth Bumiller and Adam Nagourney expressed it in the NY Times
As Mr. Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser, listened on the sidelines, as did Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president and Mr. Bush's overseer of communications strategy. Their presence underscored how seriously the White House is reacting to the political crisis it faces.
An appearance by Bush is not a sign of much of anything. But Cheney and Rove—now that's serious!

Related post
George Bush: Cheerleader-in-Chief of Social Security "reform" (2/14/05)


The insurgency is spreading

I read (but now cannot find the link) that the Bush administration was objecting to the media's use of the word "refugee" to describe the survivors of Katrina—too Third World, I suppose. But the Army Times (via BoingBoing) has come up with just the right word—the insurgency.

How to take advantage of fraud, waste and abuse

The Pentagon's Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz is resigning to become CEO and general counsel for the Prince Group, whose subsidiary Blackwater USA is one of the biggest private security firms in Iraq.

Robert Burns writes that

By law the inspector general is the principal adviser to the secretary of defense for matters relating to the prevention of fraud, waste and abuse in the Department of Defense.

This man knows where the bodies are buried. The Prince Group should see a princely bump in its earnings from the Pentagon in no time at all.


Quip of the Day

His heart and prayers may have been there, but his ass sure wasn't. —Amanda Lang, retired US army officer and political commentator commenting on Bush's thoughts on New Orleans

Iraq holds first post-Saddam executions

Law and order returned to Iraq yesterday with the execution of three convicted murderers. Death was by hanging.

According to the Courier-Mail

The three, believed to be members of Al-Qaeda linked extremist group Ansar al-Sunna, were sentenced in May for killing and kidnapping policemen and raping Iraqi women.

"This is the highest punishment against people who were killers and were executed despite protests from the international community," a spokesman said. "It will help deter criminals from committing crimes."

The U.N. and human rights groups had objected to the punishment.

Interestingly, Iraqi President Talibani also opposes the death penalty and refused to sign the death warrants. Apparently it makes no difference whether he signs or not; they kill 'em anyway.


Some opinions ...

From The Day of New London, Connecticut—
The destruction and death visited upon New Orleans could have been prevented in part if the federal government had years ago responded to the need to repair and replace old levees and other flood-control measures. That fact is bad enough in a city as exposed to natural calamity as New Orleans. But the circumstances pale by comparison with the cavalier, inept and unprofessional response by the Bush administration to the tragedy as it unfolded to destroy a great American city.

If the federal government is this incompetent in dealing with a natural disaster, how can Americans possibly believe that the Department of Homeland Security would do any better in the event of a terrorist attack?

From Arab News (8/31)

In the same way that Americans started to think differently about defense and terrorism after 9/11, there is every possibility that Hurricane Katrina’s destructive rampage will alter views about climate change. Until now there has been no stimulus to rethink ideas. There were no home-based massive natural disasters to bring the American media, the American public and American politicians face to face with the erratic weather patterns that are the consequences of global warming and which have had such disastrous impact elsewhere on the planet.

.... If public opinion decides that Katrina was a hurricane too many, if that change of mind batters some fresh thinking into the US administration, then much good will have come out of this tragedy.

From David Aaronovitch in the Times of London—

The truth is that the New Orleans disaster is far worse than 9/11, and dwarfs anything seen in the West in modern times save for the Etna eruption and the San Francisco earthquake. In that sense it only tells us how vulnerable we are.

Well, not all of us equally. When disasters or fires or bombings happen, you discover just who was travelling on your trains, who was crammed into your hostels or who was living in the low-lying areas. It isn’t the failure to act in New Orleans that is the story here, it’s the sheer, uninsured, uncared for, self-disenfranchised scale of the poverty that lies revealed. It looks like a scene from the Third World because that’s the truth. It’s a quiet disaster that’s been going on for years — a pudding-basin-full-of-poverty situation.

Andrew Buncombe and Andrew Gumbel in the Independent

The prospect of an ugly, elemental battle for survival in New Orleans was made worse by the fact that even before Hurricane Katrina it was the poorest urban area in the United States. The ghastly spectacle of overwhelmingly black residents caged in an unsanitary sports stadium and left almost entirely to their own devices could not but evoke memories of the darkest days of segregation and overtly racist Jim Crow laws in the American South. The potential for racial conflict has been quietly side-stepped in much of the US media coverage to date, but it is also impossible to ignore.

The prospect of a major societal breakdown was not restricted to the disaster area. As the first evacuees were welcomed to their new temporary home, the Astrodome in Houston, officials felt obliged to deny that the dispossessed were being held in prison-like conditions. The Astrodome was "not a jail", the chief executive of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, insisted at a news conference.


Quote of the Day

The destruction of New Orleans represents a confluence of many of the most pernicious trends in American politics and culture: poverty, racism, militarism, elitist greed, environmental abuse, public corruption and the decay of democracy at every level.
—Chris Floyd in "The Perfect Storm"

Chris Floyd is one of the very best writers in print or on the Web. If you read nothing else today, please read "The Perfect Storm."


Joke of the Day

Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well.
—Michael Brown, chief of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), quoted in "The big disconnect on New Orleans"

Question of the Day

Why is it that the money people pay in taxes is going elsewhere and two (former) presidents are told to go out and collect private funds?
—Dem. Representative Diane Watson, quoted by Tom Curry in "Political storm blows in Washington"

Friday, September 02, 2005


FEMA. It's time to point the finger

From yesterday's White House press briefing—
QUESTIONER: Scott, I know the President obviously is focused on response efforts right now, but can I talk to you about preparedness? Is the President satisfied with the way assets were pre-positioned, specifically in those areas like New Orleans and Mississippi, New Orleans particularly, a place that was identified by the Red Cross as being particularly vulnerable because of its geographical location. Is the President satisfied?

MR. McCLELLAN: One thing that I think is important to keep in mind at this time, this is the immediate aftermath of a major catastrophe. This is a time when the whole country needs to come together to help those in the region. And that's where our focus is. This is not a time to get into any finger pointing or politics or anything of that nature.

QUESTIONER: Scott, there's already a line of discussion going on about the funding of projects prior to this, whether projects in New Orleans, in particular, were under funded because of the Iraq war or for other reasons. Is there a -- do you find any of this criticism legitimate? Do you think there is any second-guessing to be done now about priorities, given that the New Orleans situation was sort of obvious to a lot of the experts?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together and help those in the Gulf Coast region. And that's where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or playing politics.

The White House never likes to see finger-pointing unless it's done by the White House finger. Yet I probably wouldn't be writing this post if I hadn't caught Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff and FEMA Director Mike Brown1 on TV last night lying like psychopaths as to why they weren't better prepared.

The truth is—If the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had been selected by lottery, chances are we could have gotten better management.

Consider FEMA's task. According to the web page recounting their history,2 FEMA is "tasked with responding to, planning for, recovering from and mitigating against disasters." Viewed against the background of Hurricane Katrina, the utter failure of the agency is evident.

Why did FEMA prepare for the unknown risk rather than for the known risk?

A clue to FEMA's problem may be found on the same web page—

Billions of dollars of new funding were directed to FEMA to help communities face the threat of terrorism. Just a few years past its 20th anniversary, FEMA was actively directing its "all-hazards" approach to disasters toward homeland security issues. In March 2003, FEMA joined 22 other federal agencies, programs and offices in becoming the Department of Homeland Security [DHS].... Today, FEMA is one of four major branches of DHS. About 2,500 full-time employees in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate are supplemented by more than 5,000 stand-by disaster reservists.

You may recall from yesterday's post ("Just how stupid are they?") that in 2001 FEMA "issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City." So the threat of a hurricane to New Orleans was very well known. I had heard of it; Louisiana politicians knew of it; and even FEMA had a clue.

So why did FEMA not follow their mandate to plan for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from such a disaster? I can tell you in one sentence: IT WOULDN'T HAVE HELPED TO PROMOTE GEORGE BUSH.

With FEMA tucked into the Department of Homeland Security under Michael Chertoff, terrorism became sexy. The mandated functions of FEMA—like every other agency of the administration—were co-opted to serve the promotion and re-election of George. And when you think of George Bush, you naturally think of terrorism, not hurricanes. Or to put it another way, it became the function of FEMA to keep you thinking of terrorism rather than hurricanes, because it was well established that public support for George went up every time the threat of terrorism was mentioned.

Protecting us against terrorism?

As for terrorism, the DHS itself—and thus FEMA—has become another hog-waller for the administration's own pork-barrel spending. Vice President Cheney's state of Wyoming has become perhaps the best protected state in the nation against terrorism. But woe unto those who live in a blue-state port city.

Of course, FEMA's preparedness for a terrorist attack is actually unknown, since there hasn't been a terrorist attack against which to measure their response. But you don't need to be a bureaucrat-genius to realize that much of the planning and preparation for hurricane survival is not different from that needed in the event of a terrorist attack.

Without charging you the normal fee of several million dollars to do a "study," let me suggest a few issues common to hurricanes and terrorist attacks that FEMA should have addressed—

I could go on, but it wouldn't be fair to leave FEMA's 2500 employees with nothing to think about in the future. You can readily see that measured by the fulfillment of these minimal requirements, FEMA was not—is not—prepared for a terrorist attack.

What's FEMA's excuse for the poor response?

Here's what Chertoff and Brown are offering—

  1. This hurricane disaster was unique because the levees broke.
  2. The victims are to blame for not leaving when ordered.
  3. FEMA had to hold back to protect the relief workers.
  4. They didn't anticipate the breakdown of communications.

But I know you want to hear it from Director Brown himself. He was interviewed last night on PBS by Jim Lehrer:

1. The disaster was unique

Brown: It has been very unusual in my history as an emergency manager and an official of this government that what we see is we've had a disaster, even unlike hurricanes in the past, continued long after the hurricane made landfall.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall you had what I would call the typical, you know, disaster of the wind damage, and the storm and the rain and power outages. And then it became even worse because the levees began to break, and suddenly we had a major American city, New Orleans, completely inundated by floodwaters.

Only one way will do to describe this performance—This man is a lying sack of shit.

Here he is trying to pretend that the "normal" hurricane disaster results from wind, storm (whatever that means), rain and power outages. But the National Hurricane Center, another federal enterprise, says in bold at the top of its web page,

"The greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from the storm surge." - Brian Jarvinen, National Hurricane Center
He might also have wanted to read Mark Fischetti's "Drowning New Orleans" in the October 2001 issue of Scientific American.

Now this asshole is talking as if the storm surge and broken levees were a surprise that FEMA could not have anticipated. Perhaps they were too busy preparing for martial law in the event of a terrorist attack.

2. The victims are to blame for not leaving when ordered to evacuate.

BROWN: And on top of that, even though there were mandatory evacuations and voluntary evacuations called for, literally hundreds of thousands of people for whatever reasons— I'm not going to second guess - but for whatever reasons —chose or could not evacuate.

And now we're having to evacuate those people after the storm and get relief efforts to them just as rapidly and as efficiently as we can.

Since Mr. Brown doesn't want to second-guess the reasons why so many did not evacuate, as FEMA Director he should have considered it beforehand. Do we need to tell this idiot that poor people in urban areas don't own cars?

If the government is now paying to evacuate "those people" after the disaster, wouldn't it have made more sense to evacuate them beforehand? As usual, for the poor it's every man for himself, and many in New Orleans seem to have responded in kind. While the media are aghast at the looting, they say nothing of the decisions that essentially left these people to die.

3. FEMA had to hold back to protect the relief workers.

LEHRER: Mr. Brown, I'm sure you're aware that there have been enormous complaints today from the people affected, up to the officials in New Orleans, the disaster director of New Orleans in fact called the federal effort that you are in charge of a national disgrace because it's moving so slowly, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. How do you respond to that?

BROWN: Well, I understand his frustration. You know, if I were in his shoes, I'd be very, very frustrated, too. But what the American public needs to know is that we have brought to bear the full resources of the federal government.

What we cannot do, and what we did not do immediately after the storm passed and as the levees were breaking, was to be able to bring in rescue workers and urban search-and-rescue teams and the medical teams because they themselves would have then become disaster victims. So we had to come in very carefully and very methodically. And it frustrated me, too because I would rather just have charged in there and done everything we could have.

FEMA couldn't bring the rescue workers in because they had made no preparation for this catastrophic event. In disaster after disaster rescue workers have taken great risks to themselves to help the victims. Why was this different?

4. They didn't anticipate the breakdown of communications.

JIM LEHRER: Peter Slevin of the Washington Post .... spent all day there, and he said the most striking thing that he has seen is there seems to be nobody in charge. There's no information being disseminated to the victims of this, and people are in a state of panic. What's the problem, Mr. Brown?

MIKE BROWN: Well, we're -- first of all, it's amazing to me how much communications have been broken down. There literally is no communications within the city of New Orleans. The cell towers are down. It's difficult even to use the satellite phones and to make the communications with those like we normally do.

We're working very closely with Mayor Nagin to be able to communicate with him. We've taken Army helicopters and moved into the Baton battleship, a command post that he can use so that he can communicate with his people.

But he's one mayor trying to communicate to all of those people without a telephone, without a way to distribute a newspaper or anything else. So we're trying to give him all the resources we can to communicate to his citizens.

So FEMA couldn't anticipate a communications failure? Didn't plan a secure communications system?

Would the situation have been different in a massive "terrorist" attack? No. Quite likely it would have been worse, since there would have been no forewarning.

If the public had a truly representative body rather than the Congress, it might ask exactly what it was that it purchased with its multibillion dollar investment.

Related posts
Dirty propaganda in a "Dirty War" (updated) (2/24/05)
Just how stupid are they? (9/1/05)


1The FEMA website offers this on Mr. Brown—

Michael D. Brown was nominated by President George W. Bush as the first Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response in the newly created Department of Homeland Security in January 2003. As the head of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Under Secretary Brown leads federal disaster response and recovery operations and coordinates disaster activities with more than two dozen federal agencies and departments and the American Red Cross. He also oversees the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration, and initiates proactive mitigation activities.

Additionally, Under Secretary Brown helps the Secretary of Homeland Security ensure the effectiveness of emergency responders, and directs the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center, the National Disaster Medical System and the Nuclear Incident Response Team.

His preparation for the post is noted at the bottom—

His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight and as a city councilman.

2The page was last updated on October 23, 2004—just before the Presidential election. [back]


Condemnation of the Day

Conspiring with the mullahs against women may be George W. Bush's greatest act of treason against the world's people - and it will live in infamy. —Tom Watson in "Sands of Death"

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Insight of the Day

I am not a hero. Guys like me are just a necessary part of things. To maintain this way of life in a fine community like this, you need psychos like us to go and drop a bomb on somebody’s house. —Marine invited to speak to a wealthy community as a war hero, as quoted by Robert Jensen in "Waking up in an armed camp"

Just how stupid are they?

Sidney Blumenthal, Bushologist and former Clinton advisor, has written an illuminating article that suggests a connection between the devastation of New Orleans and a known practice of the Bush administration: the trumping of science by ideology, or (as characterized last year by a scientific group including 20 Nobelists) "the distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends."

Acting for "partisan political ends" would include kowtowing to the Christo-Republicans. But overall the scientists were too kind in their characterization. Many decisions of the Bushniks are motivated by simple greed, abetted by meanness and stupidity.

Here's a timeline of hurricane-related decisions that I've extracted from Blumenthal's findings—

Blumenthal's point overall is what I call the "neo-medieval" mindset of this administration. He gives a number of fine examples from the past two weeks—

If the Cheney administration can accomplish all that in just two weeks, imagine what they can do between now and January 2009.

Follow-up post
FEMA. It's time to point the finger (9/2/05)


1The announcement of an indefinite postponement of a decision was in the face of an earlier promise to make a decision by September 1. The FDA's action—or lack thereof—brought with it the resignation of one of its top bureaucrats.

According to Kristen Gerencher in Marketwatch,

Susan F. Wood, assistant commissioner for women's health and director of the Office of Women's Health at FDA, stepped down in protest.

"The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health," Wood wrote in an email that was later made public.

"I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled."


Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Buy Citgo

Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA has offered $1 million from its U.S.-based refinery unit Citgo for relief efforts.Reuters, "'Cowboy' Bush failed in Katrina evacuation - Chavez"

Related post
Go Citgo: Join the BUY-cott (5/18/05)


Headline of the Day

Cheney to hold St. Louis fundraiser for Talent

Does this mean that Bush has gotta go?


Question of the Day

How long will this go on? Unless the Congress grows a backbone, or the voters begin to take revenge on Iraq war supporters from both parties at the ballot box, it is hard to see when it might end, or when even it might get better. President Bush's numbers go lower, but he is in office until January 2009. —Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador and associate editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Factlet of the Day

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. —Will Bunch writing in Editor & Publisher

Latest Abu Ghraib document hearing not promising

If you heard there was a hearing on the release of additional Abu Ghraib photos and videos yesterday, you are well ahead of the curve. With the media focussed on the devastation of Katrina, there is little chance for the spotlight to fall on Abu Ghraib. The Pentagon and CIA can only rejoice. In May 2004, according to CNN, “Rumsfeld told Congress the unrevealed photos and videos contain acts 'that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman.’” If Rumsfeld found them "sadistic, cruel and inhuman," you know they can't be good.

As far as I can tell, only Larry Neumeister of the AP reported on yesterday's hearing. This case is important not only because of the seriousness of the materials under contention but also for what it reveals about this administration's response to any judicial order.

What the MSM commentators (and bloggers, for that matter) are missing is the willingness of any department of the Executive Branch simply to ignore a judicial order, aside from showing up for the inevitable next hearing. A completely remarkable state of lawlessness has been growing in the Bush administration, and the media report (if at all) each particular instance without noting the overall trend.

The ACLU's effort to obtain these materials has itself followed such a torturous path that I will try to sort it out.

A brief history

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on October 7, 2003, that demanded "the release of information about detainees held overseas by the United States." The ACLU requested an expedited release. On October 30 the Pentagon refused

claiming that the subject matter of the request was not "breaking news" and that there was no "compelling need" for the immediate release of information about the mistreatment of detainees. The Defense Department also claimed that expediting the request was unnecessary because failure to expedite would not "endanger the life or safety of any individual."

This should be known as a "Pentagon home-run," since the Defense Dept. lied on all three bases.

In May 2004 the ACLU filed a supplemental FOIA request, the Pentagon again rejecting an expedited release of any materials.

The ACLU went to court in an attempt to compel the Dept. of Defense to comply with the FOIA requests in August 2004. The government argued that the judge did not have jurisdiction. Judge Hellerstein thought otherwise, and the judge so ordered on August 17, 2004.

By the following week the Pentagon was still seen to be stonewalling—

The ACLU has already provided the government with a list of specific records that it knows are in the government’s possession. The court last week ordered the government to either turn over the records requested in that list or review the documents and provide specific reasons for not releasing them. Rather than actually comply with that order, the government has neither released the records nor completed its review. Instead, it has withheld the records, arguing that they may be exempt from release once they are actually reviewed. In many cases, the government has not stated when its review will be completed.

The parties returned to court on September 7, 2004 for a follow-up hearing. By this time Hellerstein was losing his patience. The AP reported

Suggesting the government was acting as if it had something to hide, a federal judge Wednesday gave Washington one month to release records related to the treatment of prisoners in Iraq."

In this order [pdf] Judge Hellerstein wrote,

As of today, eleven months later, ... no documents have been produced by defendant; no documents have been identified; no exemptions have been claimed; and no objections have been stated.

.... Merely raising national security concerns can not justify unlimited delay.

.... If the documents are more of an embarrassment than a secret, the public should know of our government's treatment of individuals captured and held abroad.... We are a nation that strives to value the dignity of all humanity.

I order that by October 15, 2004 defendants must produce or identify all responsive documents.

And so it has gone. The Pentagon has reluctantly released documents, some of which implicate higher authorities in the torture of Abu Ghraib detainees. For instance in March the ACLU got hold of a "memo signed by Lieutenant General Ricardo A. Sanchez authorizing 29 interrogation techniques, including 12 which far exceeded limits established by the Army's own Field Manual."

What the Pentagon has consistently refused to release are 4 videos and 87 photographs taken at Abu Ghraib. After it missed another court-ordered deadline, the Pentagon along with the State Department asked that "all current and future photographs and tapes of detainee abuse be permanently sealed and, in addition, the reasons given for the motion be heavily redacted." On Monday August 15, 2005 Judge Hellerstein ruled that the Pentagon's reasons must be made public.

Hearing of August 30

Yesterday's hearing was concerned specifically with the release of the Abu Ghraib videos and photographs. The judge eliminated one video and 13 photos because they "would have required redactions so great as to render them inconsequential."

Gen. Myers himself, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had earlier submitted a declaration that

releasing the photos would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against U.S. troops.

Now that the Pentagon has brought out the big guns, the judge is showing signs of intimidation—

"How can I ignore the expert opinion of General Myers, who is concerned with the safety of his troops?" the judge asked. "I can't substitute my opinion for the opinion of General Myers."

He said troops in Iraq "face danger every day and don't deserve to have that danger enlarged."

The judge said he recognized the pictures might be useful to the public as it answers questions about the prison scandal, including whether those in command knew about the abuse and how extensive it was.

Yet, he said, there was a "high prurient value" in the pictures. "A judge cannot look at these without thinking to himself how quickly they'd be put on the 6 o'clock or 11 o'clock news and how easily they could be subverted to create a false picture of this country," he said.

ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh argued that release of the pictures was necessary for the public to assess the scope of the abuse and whether it could have been carried out without the knowledge of military leaders.

The judge didn't set a date for his decision but indicated that it would be soon.

We can only hope the judge will surprise us all, but I am pessimistic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Quote of the Day

It's downtown Baghdad. It's insane. I've wanted to come here for 10 years. I thought this was a sophisticated city. I guess not. —Denise Bollinger, tourist in New Orleans, observing the looting

Marines renew hunt for Vietnam-era deserters

The day after his inauguration in 1977 Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon to all who had avoided the Vietnam-era draft by not registering or by leaving the country. But he didn't pardon the deserters. This gave Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart, appointed last September to command the Marine Corps Absentee Collection Center in Washington, an opportunity to raise his profile. He's going after Vietnam-era deserters.

According to Will Van Sant of the St. Pete Times,

Averhart says 1,218 known Marine Corps deserters are still on the lam. Of those, about 60 to 70 are cases that have gone unsolved for many years, sometimes decades.

Averhart said he and his team have caught up with 27 of them since last September.

Averhart's latest catch was a 64-year-old living a quiet life under an assumed name. His real name was Jerry Texiero, a Marine Corps corporal at the time he deserted some forty years ago—

.... The collection center had fingerprints from when Texiero joined the Marines in December 1959. Military records indicate he was then in Los Angeles.

The prints were given to the FBI, which ran them through the National Crime Center Information database.

They got a hit.

Texiero's prints matched those of Gerome Conti, who was on probation after a 1998 fraud and grand theft conviction in Pinellas County.

Averhart said the case had likely been investigated several times over the years. He would not speculate on why Texiero had eluded capture, but talked of how things operate on his watch.

"It's just personal pride," Averhart said. "When I have a responsibility for something, I want to do well."

Friends of Jerry's have been scratching their heads over this one. Elaine Smith, his best friend, said,

"I understand him leaving the service," she said Wednesday. "Jerry is not a killer. There is no way that man could kill anybody."

As for Texiero's future,

Military officials say it's too early to tell what will happen to Jerry Texiero. When he arrives at Camp LeJeune, an investigation will begin into his desertion.

He could face a court martial and time in a military prison, or a simple discharge depending on the results of the inquiry.

Smith said she feels Texiero has atoned for any crime he may have committed, and that after 40 years, the military should let the matter go.

"They have got better things to do," she said. "I can't believe they are wasting their time on this thing with Jerry."

Well, Elaine, it's more like a sport really.

Monday, August 29, 2005


The threat of evangelicism

Someday I'll try to write a coherent piece on the fundamentalists, pentecostalists and evangelicals. But not today. Today, as with most days, it's just too painful to turn the mental spotlight on them for any extended period of time.

But when I get around to it, you may be sure of this—I will continue to view evangelical leaders as a threat to human decency, compassion, sanity, safety and survival—and I'm sure I've left out a few other important issues.

Everybody now knows about Pat Robertson's go-ahead for assassinating Venezuelan President Chavez. In response,

Venezuela’s head of the Justice and Interior Ministry’s religious affairs unit, Carlos Gonzalez, announced yesterday that Venezuela would suspend the authorization of permits for foreign preachers while the government reviews and tightens existing regulations on preachers already in Venezuela.

According to Gonzalez, his department had been considering this move for a while, but Pat Robertson’s declarations “have made us speed things up.”

I suppose that's why Ted Haggard, pastor of Colorado Springs' New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, wants a meeting with Chavez to apologize.

If I were Chavez I wouldn't let an evangelical within the city limits, since you never know which of them will be hearing voices from God or consider Robertson's remarks to be some sort of Christian fatwa authorizing murder. But Chavez will likely be more gracious.

But it's not the evangelicals vis-à-vis Venezuela that set me off today. It's the Brazilians.

In a piece called "The battle for Rio's soul," the Independent describes another front in the evangelical war on humanity.

... a series of recent bills put forwards to the state legislature - among them a bill to outlaw sex changes - by an influential evangelical politician have underlined a fierce tug-of-war between two dramatically opposed visions of Rio: the tolerant, liberal, beach paradise and the draconian, traditionalist city.

Some now believe that Rio's gay and transgender communities may be merely the first targets of a "cleansing mission" undertaken by ultra-conservative sections of the bancada evangelica (evangelical lobby).

Well, of course. This is just a warm-up.

.... Brazil's evangelical church has exploded in size in the past decade, growing from 13.5 million people (9.1 per cent) to 26.2 million (15.5 per cent), giving it unprecedented political power. Many parts within this church consider homosexuality a demonic act, while one church, the Igreja Universal, promotes televised exorcisms in which demons are expelled from desperate sinners: usually drug addicts, alcoholics and, of course, lesbians and gays.

This is the sort of thing you expect to find in Jonestown. Now they're drinking the Kool-aid in Rio.

Previous posts
Exorcism: "A growth industry for the pastoral care business" (2/18/05)
The Church of Secularism (2/22/05)
Nun tortured to death in convent (6/19/05)


Quote of the Day

It's become fashionable to say that 11 September 2001 was the day that changed everything in American politics. But I'm not sure the bigger watershed didn't come nine months earlier when the Supreme Court pulled the plug on the Florida battle and installed George W Bush in the White House.
—Andrew Gumbel, author of Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America, in "All I did was say they can't run a fair election"

Reading rainbow I

There are so many eye-catching passages in the news—intriguing tidbits, absurdities, and puzzles. I seldom have time to write about them.

So I thought I'd try something new—simply note certain items and move on.

Cuban cigars and the airport road

On the front page of the Sunday WaPo Opinion section, Lewis Simons, a former foreign correspondent, does a better-than-average job of what may easily become the most hackneyed topic of the Iraq war—a comparison with Vietnam.

In May Simons went to Iraq to do an article for National Geographic and noticed some improvements for the military since his days in Vietnam—

I was bound this time for the relative security of the walled-in Green Zone, just five miles from the airport. For security reasons, we could not leave immediately. I was assigned one of two dozen canvas cots in a large tent. It was air-conditioned. (This -- along with Internet availability, 30-minute-guaranteed to-your-tent-door Pizza Hut delivery, Cuban cigars at the PX, fresh meals and regularly sanitized portable toilets -- is one of the gains the U.S. military has achieved since Vietnam.)

Jeez! Here we are imposing a trade embargo on Cuba, and they're selling Cuban cigars at the PX? Well, the military has to smoke them out of sight of the public. They would be confiscated if brought back to the U.S.—at least in theory.

Aside from that small wonderment, Lewis makes this telling observation—

If, 2½ years in, you don't control the only road linking your military airport to your headquarters, you don't control much of anything.

Abramoff and Roberts committing the same crime?

On Page One of Sunday's Post was some breaking news on Abramoff. Susan Schmidt opens the story with,

Indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff claimed in e-mails sent in 2002 that the deputy secretary of the interior had pledged to block an Indian casino that would compete with one of the lobbyist's tribal clients. Abramoff later told two associates that he was trying to hire the official.

Not much surprise there. We already know what Abramoff is like, while sections of the Interior Department are devoted exclusively to screwing the Indians. It's a natural partnership.

It was the second paragraph that interested me—

A federal task force investigating Abramoff's activities has conducted interviews and obtained documents from Interior Department officials and Abramoff associates to determine whether conflict-of-interest laws were violated, according to people with knowledge of the probe. It can be a federal crime for government officials to negotiate for a job while being involved in decisions affecting the potential employer.

Could that possibly apply if the potential employer happened to be the federal government? As in John Roberts interviewing for a certain Supreme Court position while George Bush had business before the DC Appellate Court? Just wondering.

How do you prefer your acrylamide?

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is suing fast-food chains and snack manufacturers. He wants them to label chips and fries to alert consumers that the products may contain acrylamide, a possible carcinogen. Acrylamide is an organic compound formed when starches are cooked at high temperatures.

Frito-Lay is disputing this. They're not disputing that their chips contain the compound; they're disputing whether there is evidence that it causes cancer.

Another once-in-a-lifetime event in my lifetime

As Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, the mayor was calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime event." I'm wondering how many once-in-a-lifetime events it's going to take in people's lifetimes to force the U.S. government to address global warming.


A prescription for lawlessness

The proposed Iraqi constitution is a piece of paper that George Bush demanded. He needed it to wave around on his pro-war, pro-occupation tour. It is not the basis for a government, which is sort of what constitutions are for. It is on the other hand a sound basis for mayhem.

You don't need to read past Article I, first part, to have a good feel for what is to come—

Article (2): 1st _ Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation: (a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam. (b) No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy. (c) No law can be passed that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.

Each of these categories is very broad. So imagine a dartboard with three large circles that overlap in the center. Circle A represents all the laws that contradict the "undisputed rules of Islam." Circle B represents all the laws that contradict "the principles of democracy." Circle C represents all the laws that contradict "the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution." Representatives will now take turns throwing darts. If a representative can hit outside all of the circles, he has just crafted a law (though, of course, it may not be approved for political reasons).

Ah, but it's not actually that simple. The rules of Islam are greatly in dispute. The principles of democracy are nowhere defined in the constitution. And most of the rights and basic freedoms—at least the ones that seem to matter to Iraqis—are themselves to be defined by law. So the edges of our circles are extremely fuzzy. In fact, everytime someone throws a dart there is an immediate fuss as to whether the dart landed inside or outside of one or another of the circles.

So long as the players are willing to play, the game may continue. But scoring a clean hit will be rare indeed. The creation of an Iraqi law will be an event worth celebrating. But more likely one (or more) of the players will lose patience with the game, pick up a cue stick from the nearest billiards table and attempt to settle the dispute once and for all.

Yes, folks. The Iraqi constitution looks like the makings of a barroom brawl.

11:54 am - Edited to change "do not contradict" to "contradict" in the description of the dartboard circles.


Question of the Day

No one believes the [peace] process is working anymore. What do we get out of disarming Hamas? The right to negotiate? —Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority, quoted by Scott Wilson in the Washington Post

Joke of the Day

Israel withdrew lock, stock and barrel from Gaza, and that withdrawal cannot be replicated in the West Bank. I do not think the viability of a Palestinian state depends on its size. Just look at Bahrain and Singapore. —Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as quoted by Scott Wilson in the Washington Post

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Letter of 18 May 2004 from Michael Jay to Sir Andrew Turnbull

The Observer has just received another leaked letter. This one shows—a year before the London bombings—just how seriously the British Foreign Office regarded the effects of Britain's invasion of Iraq on its Muslim community, an effect that Prime Minister Tony Blair insists does not exist.

The Observer has placed an image of the document online, which I've transcribed so that its content may be passed along by the search engines. There was a "strategy document" enclosed with the letter that was also obtained by the paper. The Observer has not put it online, but Martin Bright discusses its contents.

[Note: The boldface, except in the headings, is mine.]

Foreign & Commonwealth Office [letterhead]

Sir Andrew Turnbull KCB CVO
Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall

18 May 2004

Dear Andrew,


Thank you for sight of the letter to John Gieve on relations with the Muslim community. John has already sent you and copy addressees the joint FCO/HO paper on Young Muslims and Extremism. As John has indicated, the paper draws on a range of sources and contains a comprehensive work programme. Both Mike O'Brien and Fiona Mactaggart have been working closely on the paper with officials, which now awaits comments from the respective Secretaries of State.

Other colleagues have flagged up some of the potential underlying causes of extremism that can affect the Muslim community, such as discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion. But another recurring theme is the issue of British foreign policy, especially in the context of the Middle East Peace Process and Iraq.

Experience of both Ministers and officials working in this area suggests that the issue of British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence amongst especially the younger generation of British Muslims. The concept of the "Ummah", i.e. that the Believers are one "nation", has led to HMG's [Her Majesty's Government] policies towards the Muslim world having a very personal resonance for young British Muslims, many of whom are taking on the burden both of the perceived injustices and of the responsibility of putting them right, but without the legitimate tools to do so.

This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organizations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon). The FCO has a relevant and crucial role to play in the wider context of engagement with British Muslims on policy issues, and more broadly, in convincing young Muslims that they have a legitimate and credible voice, including on foreign policy issues, through an active participation in the democratic process.

I attach the FCO's Strategy on 'building bridges with mainstream Islam', which outlines our approach to reaching out to the British Muslim community. Our key messages are that we are focused on Muslim concerns, we are actively working on solutions, we are receptive to new ideas and that we are fully engaged with the Muslim communities.

Our first task has been to get people to talk to us. Many mainstream organisations now feel more comfortable in engaging with us, and any previous stigma in doing so has been lessened. For example, we have managed to build working relationships with organisations that have previously been critical of us or have even declined to attend meetings. These include the Islamic Society of Britain, Q News, Young Muslims UK, Islamic Forum Europe, etc. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have even agreed to a public partnership with the FCO on our 'Muslims in Britain' booklet/CD (also supported by the Home Office).

Other work streams have included:

(a) Specialist advisers
We have established in the FCO a Partnerships and Networks Development Unit to strengthen and build upon the FCO's relationship and dialogue with UK civil society. One of the key priorities of this new unit is strengthening the relationship with, and consultation of, the Muslim community. We have employed a specialist to assist us in this.

(b) British Hajj delegation
Every year, in partnership with the British Muslim community, we send out a British Hajj delegation of eight doctors and consular staff to Saudi Arabia, to provide basic assistance for the approx. 20,000 British Hajjis who make the pilgrimage. We are the only Western government to send out a delegation of this nature.

(c) British Muslim delegations to the Islamic world
We are working to strengthen the links between the British Muslim community and many other countries in the Islamic world, e.g. through visits by British Muslim Parliamentarians and community leaders to Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia. In Indonesia, for example, a number of Muslim parliamentarians, visited that country last year to promote interfaith dialogue; a delegation of UK Muslim Councillors also visited Indonesia to share their experience of Islam in the UK. Most recently, the president of a British Muslim student organisation delivered the keynote address in Indonesia, to an audience of high profile figures from across the Islamic world. We have further British Muslim delegations planned to Malaysia, Kenya and possibly Libya.

In return, we have received a number of delegations from countries to discuss the role of British Muslims in society, including from Iran and the director of the Grand Mosque in Lyon, the Mufti of Singapore amongst many others.

(d) Islamic Media Unit √We use both print and broadcast media, aiming to build networks of young people, to engage a wider spread of UK and overseas communities and to challenge stereotypes. As part of this, we have established in the Foreign Office a specialist Islamic Media Unit to work with English language and foreign language media outlets to improve our ability to communicate with Muslim communities at home and overseas.

(e) Ministerial briefings for Muslim representatives
We have regular ministerial briefings for key Muslim representatives, to ensure that we are in tune with the concerns with the communities. These are closed meetings, where Mike O'Brien has had a frank and open discussion with the various representatives.

(f) Ministerial Outreach to regions
This is one of the most important components of our engagement with both the Muslim community, as well as wider BME communities. Ministers visit grassroots organisations in different UK cities, to engage with people who don't normally have access to government Ministers, in community centres, women's organisations, youth groups, etc.

(g) Outreach to Muslim youth
Both Mike O'Briend and Fiona Mactaggart recently met with the leadership of the Union of Muslim Students, and have plans for a series of meetings with young people across the regions.

(h) Recognition of Muslim contribution
We sponsor the 'Muslim News Awards of Excellence', which are awarded every year to British Muslims who have made outstanding contributions to different fields.

(i) Receptions to mark religious festivals
The FCO has been hosting Eid receptions for the Muslim community for a number of years (recently these have been hosted jointly with the Home Office).

(j) Islam Awareness and diversity course for FCO staff
We also run an Islam awareness and diversity course for our diplomatic staff, so they are aware of the basics of the faith when posted to the Islamic world.

(k) Islam & Europe
The concept of 'European Islam' seems to be increasing in importance among the younger generation of British Muslims. As a result it is essential that we are seen to be engaging on this level of Muslim identity from an early stage, especially in the context of possible accession of Turkey. We have agreed to co-host with the Islamic Foundation a seminar on Islam and Europe in the early autumn.

The above actions are in line with wider HMG engagement with the Islamic world. However, much still needs to be done, especially in the area of engaging young Muslims and looking at the causes of disaffection. The FCO/Home Office paper seeks to address this.

I am copying my letter to Mavis MacDonald, David Normington, Robin Young, Richard Mottram, David Omand, John Gieve, Howell James, Nick Macpherson, Helen Edwards, Joe Montgomery, Michael Richardson and Nigel Sheinwald.

Yours ever,

Michael Jay
[Foreign Office permanent under-secretary]


Related post
Blair contradicted by MI5 (7/29/05)


Pope plans to empty the seminaries; British army hopes to pick up the slack

Word has it that the Vatican is on the verge of announcing a new "religious instruction" that would prevent gay men from becoming priests.

Since there is actually no theological excuse for this—after all, they're all celibate anyway, aren't they?—the Church has come up with this—

The instruction tries to dampen down the controversy by eschewing a moral line, arguing instead that the presence of homosexuals in seminaries is 'unfair' to both gay and heterosexual priests by subjecting the former to temptation.

'It will be written in a very pastoral mode,' Haldane said. 'It will not be an attack on the gay lifestyle. It will not say "homosexuality is immoral". But it will suggest that admitting gay men into the priesthood places a burden both on those who are homosexual and those they are working alongside who are not.'

Of course not letting gay men enter the priesthood will also place a burden on them. There are only so many positions open in the entertainment field whereas opportunities in the clergy are virtually unlimited.

They say the Pope himself doesn't want to put his Gregorius XVI on the document. 'Twould sully his image.

Meanwhile the British Army can't get enough of a good thing. Jonathan Leake and Philip Cardy of the Sunday Times report,

The army came out in style this weekend when it launched a recruitment drive aimed at tempting more gays, lesbians, transvestites and even transsexuals into the ranks.

It set up a recruitment stall at the Gay Pride festival in Manchester, backing its new-found commitment to homosexual rights by sending 10 gay and lesbian soldiers in combat trousers and tight T-shirts to join thousands of marchers on a five-mile parade through the city.

They strode out behind a float put together by the RAF, which was also recruiting. Themed on a fighter jet, it featured an oversized cockpit and a banner proudly proclaiming, "RAF rise above the rest".

At the stall, the men in uniform, complete with medals, mingled with eager would-be recruits, one dressed in tight leather shorts and a pink cowboy hat.

It was the first time the army had actively tried to recruit from such groups. It says it simply wants to tap into the talents of the gay population.

An oversized cockpit will bring 'em in every time.

Related posts
New Pope explains priestly sex scandal (4/20/05)
In ecclesia Romae nolite quaerere, nolite dicere (4/23/05)

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