seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Politics & Religion

Thoughts on the two - frequently both.

Terrorists in American Prisons - OK by me

Fred Kaplan has a great piece in Slate rationally explaining why those opposed to bringing terrorists from Guantanamo to U.S. prisons are wrong. This is a short piece and an important one - not only do we already have terrorists in our prisons, but we became responsible for them when the Bush/Cheney Administration created their ignorant policies.

There's something distasteful about the whole debate. The critics of transferring Gitmo prisoners to the United States are the same people who call on the Afghan and Pakistani leaders to crack down, at some risk, on their homegrown insurgents more fervently—and the same people who barely take notice when our armed drones mistakenly kill civilians in the crossfire of the war on terror.

But when decency requires that we take measures that appear to involve a little extra risk, they turn frantically parochial and refuse. And in this case, the measures required don't really involve risk—only responsibility. Surely they know that prisons are one thing that America does really well. Exactly what are the critics afraid of?

A Whistleblowing Patriot

Occasionally, ordinary people find the strength to do something extraordinary. During the Vietnam war, Daniel Ellsburg discovered a wealth of information that the government knew the war was a disaster but would not reveal the hopelessness to the American people -- sentencing thousands of American troops to their death (supposedly in the act of defending our freedom). At great risk to himself, he smuggled the evidence out of the RAND Corporation and got it the New York Times. They eventually published excerpts - called the Pentagon Papers - that forced substantial changes in policy.

Some regard Ellsburg as a hero and others undoubtedly as a traitor. I consider him a patriot - someone who has the strength to act against the government in the best interest of the people. Thomas Tamm is a similar patriot who deserves to be honored - and treated with as much respect as any other person who puts the welfare of the many above himself at great risk to himself. Newsweek ran "The Whistleblower Who Exposed Warrantless Wiretaps."

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that "the program" (as it was commonly called within the office) was "probably illegal."

We are supposed to be a nation governed by the rule of law, not the whim of man. The Bush Administration -- aided and abetted by an army of right-wing pants-crappers (at the fear that some terrorist might someday hurt someone) and chickenshit Democrats who are only interested in upholding the Constitution if they see political gain in it -- chose to ignore the rule of law, secretly declare the Constitution null and void, and begin wiretapping anyone they wanted to. For years, no one outside of a few selected officials knew about it.

But Tamm found out and alerted others. And, as you would expect, he is paying a price for it. Ironically, some insist that he has broken the law and therefore must be punished -- a conclusion they do not extend to those in the government who violated the law by illegally wiretapping untold numbers of Americans. Congress has extended retroactive immunity to the telco's that turned over our private information to the government illegally (disappointingly, Obama supported the measure while running for office) -- so it looks like the only person who will be punished for this program is the person who alerted the country to it.

Still, Tamm is haunted by the consequences of what he did—and what could yet happen to him. He is no longer employed at Justice and has been struggling to make a living practicing law. He does occasional work for a local public defender's office, handles a few wills and estates—and is more than $30,000 in debt. (To cover legal costs, he recently set up a defense fund.) He says he has suffered from depression. He also realizes he made what he calls "stupid" mistakes along the way, including sending out a seemingly innocuous but fateful e-mail from his Justice Department computer that may have first put the FBI on his scent. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Tamm has an impish smile and a wry sense of humor. "I guess I'm not a very good criminal," he jokes.

You can mail donations to his defense fund - the address is here. I just sent a few bucks, we need to stand up for those who put themselves at risk to expose illegal activities that impact us all - especially when so few in the government are interested in upholding the rule of law.

Meeting Fiction with Fiction

I have long felt that we need to take care in responding to the delusions of people we disagree with. Take, for instance, the crazy idea that we should not transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the US because they will break out and kill us all. One response would be to point out that we already house many more dangerous prisoners than these supposed super terrorists and that no one has escaped from a Supermax prison.

That would be one approach. However, I think a more poetic, and perhaps appropriate approach would be to response to these fears with something that those harboring the fears can respond to: fiction. These people already get the majority of their information from television shows like 24, right? Logic need not apply.

Good news from Vagabond Scholar, which I found via Schneier on Security:

Seeking to quell fears of terrorists somehow breaking out of America's top-security prisons and wreaking havoc on the defenseless heartland, President Barack Obama moved quickly to announce an Anti-Terrorist Strike Force headed by veteran counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer and mutant superhero Wolverine. Already dubbed a "dream team," their appointment is seen by experts as a crucial step in reducing the mounting incidents of national conservatives and congressional Democrats crapping their pants.

"I believe a fictional threat is best met with decisive fictional force," explained President Obama. "Jack Bauer and Wolverine are among the very best we have when in comes to combating fantasy foes." Mr. Bauer said, "We're quite certain that our prisons are secure. Osama bin Laden and his agents wouldn't dare attempt a break-out, and would fail miserably if they tried. But I love this country. And should Lex Luthor, Magneto or the Loch Ness Monster attack, we'll be there to stop them."

Torturing the Rule of Law

We now know that not only did the Bush Administration break numerous laws, they definitely lied about it - and in the case of torture, ensured that soldiers went to jail while letting those who gave the orders off.

What happened to the rule of law party? Republicans used to always talk about that, along with personal responsibility - another forgotten concept. Jonathan Chait looks back at the striking inconsistencies from Republicans on these issues. I think it is well worth the short read - especially given the Monty Python references.

God is an Iron

If you don't get the title, you need to read Spider Robinson.

This is kind of an old story, but I cannot pass up such poetic justice - especially when dealing with hypocritical California Democrats. Representative Jane Harman sold out the Constitution (in multiple ways) and it bit her in the ass. Jon Stewart's take is my favorite so far.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c
Your Government Not at Work - Jane Harman Scandal
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis First 100 Days

For some more analysis and a discussion on how she is trying to salvage herself, click on over to Mother Jones.

While you are there, Mother Jones has another serving of irony for you - explaining how the "far right" handed Democrats a 60 seat majority. Rather than "far right," I think I would describe them as idiot-faux-Christian-fundamentalists. These people can't lay claim to being actual idiot-Christian-fundamentalists because they don't actually know anything about the Bible, they just know a few soundbites and how to use them to manipulate millions of people across the United States.

These are some of the reasons I am an optimist. Those who abuse power empower those who resist them. Or, in Newtonian terms, things that go up come back down.

TNR on Health Care

A long, but productive day leaves me tired. So I'm going to encourage you to read an old article from The New Republic that discusses the health care system - how we got here and what we should do about it. Highly recommended. Hell, I may have already blogged it, but here goes.

In the absence of further government intervention, the insurance system deteriorated. The result is the situation we have today. At any one time, according to the most recent census figures, about 46 million people, or roughly 15 percent of Americans, have no health insurance. Conservatives note that this is just a snapshot in time, that very few people actually lack insurance for the entire year. But the fact that people are constantly moving in and out of coverage is not a sign of our health care system's strength; it's a sign of its weakness. Another way to look at the numbers is that, over the course of a two-year period, more than one-fourth of the population will go without health insurance for some time.

What Jesus Wouldn't Do

Hilarious and poignant. Thanks to daddYman for passing along.

Religion Thoughts

For the most part, the world's religions are strongest in those areas where people are poor, uneducated, without hope for a decent future, and influenced by the vision of the wonderful afterlife thta all the orthodoxies give promise to.

from an article called "Perhaps, My Swan Song" David Koven in Social Anarchism issue 39 in 2006.

Nonetheless, I think it wise to be familiar with religion - or at least catch phrases. One of the things I respect about daddYman is that though he is strongly opposed to Christianity as practiced in America, he also knows the Bible. This fascinating clip from NPR's On the Media suggests many of the folks at the NY Times don't know the Bible. Pretty hilarious, really.

I have yet to fully read the Bible, but I have read large parts of it and I find it quite handy in talking to people and understanding their thought process. Such knowledge is important in these United States - where so many claim to be inspired by an internally contradictory book from which they can find passages to justify damn near anything.

Big Gov is good

Thank you to daddYman who pointed this out to me.

Humbling Reminder

It is only fitting that shortly after I rant about Leon Wieseltier and how much I generally don't like his writing, that he writes something that I must rave about. His "Love Me I'm a Liberal" column is a must read.

The repudiation of George W. Bush is not in itself a renovation of liberalism, and neither is the apotheosis of Barack Obama. The public has not yet broken the grip of the conservative discourse that has dominated America for a generation. Consider the insane headline on Newsweek's cover, "We Are All Socialists Now": an exclamation of its inner Hannity, as if the president is preparing to abolish private property or expropriate the means of production. All that is happening, comrades, is that our democratically constituted central government is acting to protect the whole of our economy by taking over, for a period, a part of our economy.

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