Monday, April 30, 2007

A Whole Blog on Deniers!

Via Pharyngula, there's a whole blog just dedicated to dealing with the various deniers (holocaust, AIDS-HIV, creationists) that I have a discussed in other posts. They do a better job of defining denialism much better than I have: "The practice of creating the illusion of debate when there is none."

They also define deniers better than I did, by defining them by the tactics they use.

Check it out.

Fear and Loathing in the Fourth Estate

Bill Moyers has a new show on PBS called Bill Moyers Journal. It premiered last week with an episode about how the media completely failed in its obligations to question the rationale behind the Bush regime's call for war against Iraq and how it became an unwitting partner in fanning the flames of war by uncritically printing and legitimizing the regime's lies.

I nearly went crazy watching the show, because, at each step, I remember how obvious it was to me that what the regime was saying didn't add up and just didn't make any damned sense at all. It was so difficult listening to all these reporters and editors talking about how and why they let themselves become complicit in the regime's schemes, how they were afraid to dig too deeply or be too critical because it might be seen as unpatriotic, and how they decided that the war was inevitable anyway so they spent their time getting ready instead of questioning it.

The saving grace was a couple of guys from the Knight-Ridder news organization, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, who I had never heard of who actually did their jobs and questioned all the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the regime's story and didn't back down or let up. You haven't heard of them, in all likelihood, because Knight-Ridder doesn't have outlets in New York or Washington and so their reporting wasn't picked up by the larger news outlets. But they are a bright spot in an otherwise dark chapter in the history of American press.

They had all the same questions as I did. For one thing, it was known -- despite what Republicans will tell you -- that the neocons in the Bush regime wanted to go to war with Iraq from the earliest days of the regime, before 9/11. PBS' Frontline did an entire episode on the internal debate in the White House with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz pushing war with Iraq. So there was ample reason to question using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq, since there was no clear link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq and a preexisting desire to topple Hussein.

As such, you'd think the media would be skeptical of the regime's justifications for a war they wanted before the justifications existed. But no. In fact, according to Strobel, "There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting..."

Think about that. The Washington press corps was so uncritical of the push for war that editors were skeptical of critical pieces, not on the basis of the facts, but on the basis of what everyone else was writing. The press wasn't reporting reality: they were deciding what reality was, even when it was at odds with the facts. Because Landay and Strobel weren't liberal reporters with a bias and a point of view to push. They were just good reporters who had built up a network of trusted sources within government who were telling them that the facts just didn't add up. As Strobel said:

When you're talking to the working grunts, you know-- uniform military
officers, intelligence professionals-- professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not-- not always, of course, but more likely than not to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they're talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that...

We were basically I think hearing two different messages from-- there's a message-- the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq — it's WMD-- the fact there was an immediate threat-- grave threat-- gathering threat and — but the was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.

I didn't have access to these sources, and yet I still couldn't shake the feeling that, having seen the summer 2001 episode of Frontline that WMDs were just an excuse. And yet the rest of the Washington press corps, with their own sources similar to Strobel's and Landay's, failed to consider this possibility, to ask the questions, and to get the information Strobel and Landay did.

And then there were the reports that an Iraqi Kurd named Al-Haideri was claiming that Hussien had chemical and biological weapons sites hidden underneath his presidential palaces. I mean, come on! I didn't buy that one for a minute. Only some cardboard Dungeons & Dragons villain would hide that sort of stuff under his own house, right? And yet the media reported this as if there were any chance it was true. And, once again, only Strobel and Landay had my back, as Landay said:

And there were others [red flags], like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don't think so.
Exactly!!! How could anyone possibly believe that shit? The stuff Al-Haideri and Chalabi were selling to the Bush regime sounded like the kind of crap I would make up myself if I had no idea what I was talking about. Bad stories geeks would tell if they were trying to convince you they knew a bunch of secret James Bond type shit. As Landay said:

As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they're the same people who are telling these stories, 'til you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair Magazine... [like] jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth.

Who would believe crap like that? Only in movies do you train guys by making them kill dogs with their bare teeth. Wouldn't telling stories like that make you doubt someone's credibility? Well, apparently not if you're a member of the Bush regime or the Washington press corps. Then there's this, from Landay:

...and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these-- these stories, and as I-- and-- and-- and sometimes their rank would change...

And, you're saying, "Wait a minute. There's something wrong here, because in this story he was a Major, but in this story the guy's a Colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.
I mean, these supposed "inside" Iraqi sources couldn't even keep straight what their ranks and jobs were, but no one was questioning that? It's freakin' unbelievable. I didn't know this either, and yet I was skeptical. How could you not be skeptical when you have facts available to you like Strobel and Landay did?

Landay also spent a lot of time familiarizing himself with nuclear proliferation, for instance, by going to website for the Iraq Nuclear Verification Office, where reports on what Iraq was doing with regards to nuclear weapons was publically available. He learned that, even though inspectors hadn't been in Iraq since 1998, that it was unlikely Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program: "During the period of time between when the inspectors left Iraq, which was in 1998-- the end of 1998 and then, the United States had covered the place with spy satellites and-- U2 over flights, and-- you know, the-- other intelligence services had their eyeballs on this place."

So, when Cheney then said, in August of 2002, that "Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon," Landay was surprised:

And I looked at that and I said, "What is he talking about?" Because, to develop a nuclear weapon you need specific infrastructure and in particular the way the Iraqi's were trying to produce a nuclear weapon was through enrichment
of uranium.

Now, you need tens of thousands of machines called "centrifuges" to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You've gotta house those in a fairly big place, and you've gotta provide a huge amount of power to this facility. Could he really have done it with all of these eyes on his country?

No. Of course he couldn't. I knew it. Former weapons inspector Scott Ridder knew it. How could we all not know it? How could the entire Washington press corps not know it?

But Landay, unlike me, didn't just have to rely on what was plain to see. He called up one of his contacts:

So, when Cheney said that, I got on the phone to people, and one person said to me-- somebody who watched proliferation as their job-said, "The Vice President is lying."
Why in the hell was Landay the only reporter who made those calls? Why weren't alarm bells ringing in their heads like they were mine and his?

Why, when the Bush regime released an unclassified version of a white paper in which supposed "experts" said that aluminum tubes Iraq had attempted to purchase were for nuclear weapons production, did no other reporters beside Landay And Strobel notice that, as Landay said, "It turns out, though, that that majority of intelligence analysts were-- had no background in nuclear weapons"? Wouldn't that be something you'd expect a reporter to check on before filing a report? I would.

And this media groupthink that the Washington press corps succumbed to was so strong that Landay and Strobel, who were actually out gathering the facts, still wondered what the hell was going on:
WARREN STROBEL: But there was a period when we were sittin' out there and I had a lotta late night gut checks where I was just like, "Are we totally off on some
loop here? That we--"
JONATHAN LANDAY: Yeah. We-- we would--
WARREN STROBEL: "--are we-- we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?"
JONATHAN LANDAY: --everyday we would lo-- everyday we'd look at each other and say-- lit-- literally-- One of us would find something out and I'd look at him and say -- What's going on here?

It just boggles the mind. It's no accident that polls show that something like 2/3rds of Americans believed (and still believe) that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. When the press fails to challenge a president and regime on the blatant falsehoods they put out day after day, then how can the average American be expected to know they are being lied to?

And there's just no excuse for this. I knew. And I can't possibly be smarter than the whole of the Washington press corps. I saw the pattern, saw how the regime manipulated intelligence and the message, saw how they grasped for any straw to justify war. I knew that the regime was debating deposing Saddam before 9/11. And I knew that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. There's just no reason why the press corps didn't know, or at least ask the questions to find out.

The information was out there. Anyone who looked at what was happening could have seen it. But the fact that reporters with resources most of us don't have and access to contacts and information we could only wish for didn't see it, is just sad. It's an utter abdication of the role of the press in a free society.

The mainstream media, during those fateful days of the runup to an ill-advised, costly, deadly, and disastrous war, acted more like Pravda than like the Washington Post or the New York times. When the only voices pointing out the obvious truth that our government is lying to us are two guys from the Knight-Ridder news service and blogger/citizens like me, there's just no way we can shout over the constant din of the mainstream media and the 24-hour news cycle.

Democracy needs a free, independent press to function. When the press doesn't do its job, this is what happens.

Something I Learned in High School

When I was in high school, there was a sign in the library that read: "Your failure to be prepared does not represent an emergency for me." I think someone should have put this sign up in the White House and the Pentagon five years ago.

Because the recent calling-up of National Guard troops sooner than normal according to Pentagon guidelines and the extension of tours of duty for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from twelve months to fifteen months is a case of the failure of the Bush regime to prepare for the post-war occupation and reconstruction becoming an emergency for soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines unfortunate to be serving such incompetent leaders.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

No Testify For You!!!

According to NPR this morning, the Justice Department was just rebuffed in Federal court in its attempt to deny Congress the right to call a Federal prisoner to testify before a Congressional Committee. The Justice Department claimed that Congress had no authority to do so.

This appears to be an unprecedented move. From what I have gleaned, it appears that, since the founding of the republic, the Executive Branch has never tried to deny Congress the right to call a witness who happens to be in Federal prison. Ever.

The Justice Department claimed, I am not making this up, that they were worried for the safety of the members of Congress when the prisoner was testifying.

What did this beast of a man do that would make him such a threat?

He used other people's identities to falsely claim tax refunds from the IRS. With a computer.

I guess he's just too dangerous for the US Marshal Service to handle. Despite the fact that Marshal Service has brought dozens other felons to testify before Congress and were able to keep them from causing mayhem. Maybe none of them were of dangerous computer identity thieves. I don't know.

Cripes. Will the Bush regime stop at nothing to prevent any shred of oversight?

I happen to be reading "The Lucifer Effect", by Philip Zimbardo, the guy who ran the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 where a bunch of students were randomly selected to be either guards or prisoners and within six days the experiment had to be terminated because the guards were abusing the prisoners. His thesis, in large part, is that without oversight almost anyone, even the most normal person, can be induced by circumstances to commit evil acts.

And yet the Bushies think that the Executive Branch of the government of the most powerful nation in the world should be run in complete secrecy with no oversight...

Food for thought.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Types of Atheist

Over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable there's an attempt to categorize broad types of atheists. In short, the four categories presented are:
  • Rebel Atheist: Someone who becomes an atheist to piss his or her family off.
  • Revenge Atheist: Pissed off at or hates God so he or she says, "You killed my cat so I don't believe in you any more!"
  • Inherited Atheist: Inherits atheism from atheist parents.
  • Awakened Atheist: Used to be part of a religion but came to realize it didn't make any sense.

Most of the commenters seem to think these categories are pretty dead-on, but unfortunately, I don't fit into any of them.

I'm not an Inherited Atheist because my parents aren't atheists, though they hardly ever talk about religion or go to church, and as such didn't pass atheism on to me. And I'm not an Awakened Atheist because I never had any belief to awaken from.

I just never believed. I tried to believe at points in my childhood and teen years. I actually wanted to believe, but I just didn't. As a child I feared I would go to Hell if I died because God would know that I didn't really believe in Him. (I know it doesn't make much sense to worry about Hell if you don't really believe, but if you think about it, kids are often afraid of things they know don't really exist. I also knew that there weren't any monsters under my bed, but I was still scared of them).

I can't make myself believe in things that clearly aren't true. I don't seem to have much of a capacity for self-deception. I've never really been able to make myself believe something is true just because I want it to be true. There's some part of my brain that's a real buzzkill, because it sternly keeps reality and fantasy separated, never letting me confuse one for the other.

As such, I think I will call this fifth category the Rational Atheist, and I will define it as someone whose reason never let him or her believe in fantasies in the first place.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Totally Unacceptable

That's how I feel about shit like this. David Hicks, one of the detainees at Gitmo accused of being an "enemy combatant" and held for five years without charges, has been given a plea deal in which he will serve only nine more months in prison, and that in Australia.

But here's the part that pisses me off:

The deal included a statement by Mr. Hicks that he “has never been illegally treated” while a captive, despite claims of beatings he had made in the past. It also included a promise not to pursue suits over the treatment he received while in detention and “not to communicate in any way with the media” for a year.

Critics said those requirements were a continuation of what they say has been a pattern of illegal detention policies. “It is a modern cutting out of his tongue,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group, based in New York, that is coordinating the representation of detainees in many suits challenging Guantánamo detention.

Mr. Ratner and other critics said the provisions requiring Mr. Hicks’s silence and the recanting of his accusations of abuse raised questions of whether officials would use their extensive prosecutorial powers in the military commission process to muffle the public debate about detention policies.
The government absolutely should not be allowed to put provisions like this into plea deals. Deals like this essentially give the government carte blanche to mistreat prisoners by using the power over a prisoner's life and limb to silence him or her. How can we expect laws regarding the treatment of prisoners as well as the rules outlined in the Geneva Conventions to be followed when the government can put prisoners in the position of spending the rest of their lives in prison if they don't keep their mouths shut about mistreatment?

No legal rights are enforceable if the government can use its power to punish anyone who asserts those rights. This is no different than if the police were allowed to beat the shit out of suspects who asserted their Miranda right to have a lawyer present during questioning. If that were true, the right would have no meaning.

Bullshit. Utter bullshit.

"All Your Files Are Belong To Us"

I can't take credit for that awesome title. It comes from an article at TPMmuckraker regarding one Julie MacDonald, an assistant undersecretary in the Department of the Interior, who apparently sent internal government documents for review to a kid she'd met playing an online role-playing game.

A kid. Who she met in an online RPG. Who apparently didn't even have his own e-mail address, because she had to send it to him through his father's address.

For the uninitiated, it is quite common for people to lie about themselves in these games, the standard example being the fifty-year-old fat guy claiming to be a nineteen year old college co-ed. There's an element of wish fulfillment in RPGs and some choose not to restrict this to the character they are playing but to who they actually claim to be.

So, clearly, people you meet in an online role-playing game are the perfect people to trust with internal government documents. No chance they'll fall into the wrong hands that way.

One of the comments to the above-linked article is priceless:
I wonder if she traded the internal document for a Dwarven Iron Helm of +3 Mana

Which, of course, p'shaw, would be about the worst trade ever! She shoulda gotten at least a +3 Bow of Heartseeking. Sheesh.

Another astute comment:
In light of efforts being made to avoid WH controls over phones and emails, and folks getting excited that they now have a shiny new RNC-paid for BlackBerry so they can "really talk". When do you think that the staff is going to turn to World of Warcraft, Halo or Second Life to have conversations out of the reach of Congress and a newly re-focused Dept of Justice?

That's pretty funny, too. Can you imagine government officials logging onto WoW or EverQuest to discuss policy and then getting attacked by other players? "N00bs! Pwned!!!11!!11"

Which touches on one of the big ironies of all this: while the Bush regime is sending internal documents to online role-playing game acquaintances and getting special RNC BlackBerries so that their e-mails can't be subpeonaed, they're also conducting domestic wiretapping and looking at what library books we're checking out.

The regime seems to believe in Bizarro-world democracy, where what the government does is secret and unaccountable, but the citizens must be watched at all times. Conservatives always parrot that old saw when liberals complain about civil rights violations, that "if you aren't doing anything wrong then you don't have anything to worry about."

Why, exactly, does that apply to private citizens but not to the White House?

I think we all know the real answer to that question.