Friday, March 30, 2007

The Stuff Of Roving Nightmares

The flailing arms...the evil grimace...the bloated contours.

When I saw that awful Rappin' Karl clip all over the Intertubes (and, horrifyingly, on my own television) this week, I kept sensing this frisson of déjà vu. I knew I'd come across that creature before. Somewhere.

It was Son Three who helped me connect the blobs, so to speak, when he asked to watch Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas for the umpteenth time last night. I pulled the DVD from its threadbare box, slipped it into the machine, and continued with my busywork, humming along to Danny Elfman's fabulous soundtrack.

And then: Eureka!



Oh, brother, you're something--
You put me in a spin;
You aren't comprehending
The position that you're in.
It's hopeless, you're finished,
You haven't got a prayer--
'Cause I'm Mr. Oogie Boogie
And you ain't going nowhere!

Also at Shakes place.

Friday Frank: King Kong (BBC Live, 1968)


Jazzy and rocking and wild time signatures--oh my. One of Frank's greatest gifts was his ability to find order within the entropy (or was it the other way around?)

Enjoy! And Bon Weekend to all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

From Cicero's Mouth To Congress' Ear

Over at Harp and Sword, Minstrel Boy reminds us of Cicero's bold tactics in court all those centuries ago and posits that our own Senate and House should turn their attentions to the lessons of our forbears:

This comes from his first great legal victory. Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres for crimes he committed while governor of Sicily. Theft of artworks, unlawful detention and execution of Roman citizens. The crimes were numerous and heinous. The biggest hurdle facing Cicero in his prosecution of Verres was that the ill gotten gains had been used quite liberally as bribes in the case. The jury was composed of Senators and the defense counsels were Hortensius and Metellus Pius who, at the time, were both consul-elect.

Knowing that there was a very limited time for the trial (if it progressed into the new administration there would be no chance at all of a conviction) Cicero rose on the first day of court and said this:

"Gentlemen of the court, at this great political crisis there has been offered to you, not through man's wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need---a thing that will help more than anything else to mitigate the unpopularity of your Order and the suspicion surrounding these courts. A belief has become established---as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves---that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.

But the character of the many I am prosecuting, is such that you may use him to restore your own good name. Gaius Verres has robbed the Treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty, and respect in you will be rightly restored. But it you do not---if his immense wealth is sufficient to shatter your honesty---well then, I shall achieve one thing at least. The nation will not believe Verres to be right and me wrong---but they will certainly know all they need to know about a jury of Roman Senators!"
I highly recommend reading the entire post. It may well inspire you to pull a few history books of the shelf for a little reacquainting session.

(H/T oddjob)

Also at Ezra's place.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Burger King: It Takes Bold Hearts To Reform A Whopper Of An Industry

via Swanton Pacific Ranch
It's not a big move--not yet--but it's a bold one:


In what animal welfare advocates are describing as a “historic advance,” Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, said yesterday that it would begin buying eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals in cages and crates.

The company said that it would also favor suppliers of chickens that use gas, or “controlled-atmospheric stunning,” rather than electric shocks to knock birds unconscious before slaughter. It is considered a more humane method, though only a handful of slaughterhouses use it.

The goal for the next few months, Burger King said is for 2 percent of its eggs to be “cage free,” and for 10 percent of its pork to come from farms that allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates. The company said those percentages would rise as more farmers shift to these methods and more competitively priced supplies become available.

The cage-free eggs and crate-free pork will cost more, although it is not clear how much because Burger King is still negotiating prices, Steven Grover, vice president for food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance, said. Prices of food at the chain’s restaurants will not be increased as a result.

While Burger King’s initial goals may be modest, food marketing experts and animal welfare advocates said yesterday that the shift would put pressure on other restaurant and food companies to adopt similar practices.

“I think the whole area of social responsibility, social consciousness, is becoming much more important to the consumer,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. “I think that the industry is going to see that it’s an increasing imperative to get on that bandwagon.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said Burger King’s initiatives put it ahead of its competitors in terms of animal welfare.

“That’s an important trigger for reform throughout the entire industry,” Mr. Pacelle said.

This is very good news, I believe. I haven't eaten red meat since 1981, but like many semi-vegetarian parents, I do allow the lads to indulge in the occasional Kids' Meal (we ask for cheeseburgers with no meat) when the accompanying toy is a must-have Star Wars something-or-other. And okay, even I've been known to give in to the odd hangover-inspired craving for those salty, greasy fries at Mickey D's. But I've long felt guilty for supporting these fast-food restaurants, knowing as I do that they're among the biggest supporters of factory-farming, a high-density method of raising livestock that values quantity (of meat produced) over quality (of the animals' lives, not to mention the taste and safety of the product itself).

Factory farms confine pregnant sows in horrible, claustrophobic gestation crates, causing both physical and psychological harm to the animals. Factory farms, who in general confine large numbers of all sorts of animals into tiny spaces, give their livestock antibiotic-laced feed, a practice that is increasingly coming under fire for its contributions to the Superbug syndrome. Factory farms fatten animals with corn, which practice alters the pH of cows' guts, causing proliferations of especially virulent strains of deadly E. coli in the animals' waste, at levels not seen in the waste of animals who graze outside. Factory farms translate to miserable lives for the creatures who die to put food on the table for most Americans.

But until recently, free-range meats and poultry could only be found at pricey health-food stores. These days, I'm seeing whole sections of freezers in plain old supermarkets devoted to free-range goods--even in behind-the-times Florida--and while the prices are still higher than those of factory-farmed meats, customers are, in ever-greater numbers, buying the products and asking for more. Clearly Burger King and other large restaurant chains have been paying attention to the increased demand. We can attribute their shift in purchasing policy to newfound awareness about the sentience of all living creatures--and I do think an increased awareness of humane alternatives to factory farming played a big part in their decision--but we must remember that significant consumer demand within a growing market segment is what ultimately brought about this sea change.

We became more educated and aware; we stopped eating meat altogether or started buying humanely raised products whenever practical and possible (not to mention affordable); we began asking questions: instead of Where's the beef, we wanted to know Where's the beef coming from?

I'll still order my cheeseburgers minus-the-burger, please, but knowing my money is going to a business that is at least making an effort to lead the industry in a new and humane direction will certainly put a smile on my face, even when I'm whispering my Sunday Morning Fries of Regret order into the drive-through microphone.

Also at Shakes' place.

Beauty Is Truth--Terrible, Cruel, Exquisite Truth

James Nachtwey
The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
--Oscar Wilde

Photographer James Nachtwey finds beauty--and even grace--in scenes some would consider too heartbreaking, too graphically affecting, to look at for more than a moment before turning away with eyes full of tears. To those I would ask, is that not the very noblest purpose of art itself? To provoke, to enlighten, to inform, and to inspire? Because Mr. Nachtwey's work, currently on display at the United Nations as well as 401 Projects in New York's West Village, most certainly elicits all of these responses and more. In this morning's New York Times, Michael Kimmelman notes:

Beauty is a vexed matter in scenes of suffering, cruelty and death. The difference between exploitation and public service comes down to whether the subject of the image aids the ego of the photographer more than the other way around. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Along with bravery and perseverance, Mr. Nachtwey’s pictorial virtue makes him a model war photographer. He doesn’t mix up his priorities. His goal is to bear witness, because somebody must, and his pictures, devised to infuriate and move people to action, are finally about us, and our concern or lack of it, at least as much they are about him and his obvious talents.

Mr. Natchwey, who in 1999 published Inferno, a book of photographs he took in Kosovo, Rwanda and other devastated war zones, has been documenting the resurgence of tuberculosis cases related to the AIDS epidemic, in Southeast Asia and Africa. And he worked extensively in Iraq, photographing wounded soldiers and insurgents alike, even sustaining injuries of his own during a grenade explosion.

Even the handful of photographs that accompany the NYT article are exceedingly difficult to look at--agonizing is not too strong a word--and they are nonetheless exquisite not only in their masterful composition, but also in their urgency and truth. And it is perhaps the truth of the collection entitled "The Sacrifice"--photographs of the wounded in Iraq, as well as the medical staff who care for them--that will provoke, enlighten, inform, and inspire Americans most at this point in time. Such honesty about the Iraq war has for the most part been in short supply, particularly as applies to information and straightforward facts from the White House. Mr. Kimmelman notes (emphasis mine):

Is this how these men would wish to be remembered? Are the pictures an invasion of privacy?

That was the Bush administration’s excuse for prohibiting photographs of returning coffins. But then there’s the argument made at the opening of the show at 401 by a ex-marine who lost his right arm in Iraq. (He was among a number of veterans who stopped by the gallery, a nonprofit space devoted to this sort of exceptional photographic projects, to pay tribute to Mr. Nachtwey.) The marine said he thought these pictures should be on billboards in Times Square so that everybody would know what’s really happening over there, and nobody could miss seeing them.

Wouldn’t that be something? Public art of real consequence and quality for a change, bringing home a war that the whole country is conducting but that only the small percentage of families in the volunteer military experience firsthand. There would be no chance to turn the page or flip the channel or skip the exhibition.

Public art of real consequence. Thank you, James Nachtwey, for your beautiful truths; may they enlighten many more, in New York and beyond, this spring.

(H/T Lisa in Baltimore)

Also at Ezra's place.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Largo Fires Steve Stanton

photo via TBO.com
It's a sad day in Pinellas County, Florida:

LARGO - Steve Stanton couldn't overcome the odds. Largo city commissioners voted 5-2 to fire him early this morning, a month after he revealed he planned to become a woman.

The vote was identical to one taken Feb. 27 and came after a six-hour meeting including four hours of public testimony, most of it urging the commission to save Stanton's job.

"I was optimistic, but realistic that it was going to be very difficult to slow down the train," Stanton, 48, said after the vote. He said he has made no decision about whether he'll take additional legal action.

Stanton - joined by his attorney, specialists and accomplished transgender people - had led the charge for his job Friday night, asking commissioners to look past gender issues and judge him on his accomplishments in 14 years as Largo's top bureaucrat.

[.....]

"I will tell you it is not about transgenderism," said Commissioner Gay Gentry. "It is about making sure that the 1,000 people who work in the city, work in such a way that they can give superior services for the 75,000 people who live in this city. I tried to vote the right way for the right reasons."

Commissioner Andy Guyette said honesty, integrity and trust were the foundations of their relationship with him and that "without trust, there is no longer a foundation to any relationship."

Gentry and Guyette were among the five commissioners who moved to fire Stanton in an emergency meeting Feb. 27, six days after the St. Petersburg Times disclosed he was undergoing hormone therapy in anticipation of gender re-assignment surgery. Later stories, which have garnered interest around the world, revealed Stanton had told a handful of subordinates and elected officials about his plans, but not every commissioner.

Stanton's 30-minute statement Friday night, his most extensive comments since the Feb. 27 meeting, were nearly eclipsed by the spectacle of the evening. After Stanton and his team spoke for two hours, commissioners began hearing from the roughly 100 people who had signed up to speak. Most were from Tampa Bay and they included several transgendered people, including a Pasco sheriff's deputy. Most spoke in support of Stanton.

I'm honestly surprised--and deeply disappointed--that the clear, peacefully-expressed wishes of so many Pinellas residents were overlooked, and subsequently overruled, by the city commission. Obviously they cannot get past an outdated, ill-informed mindset, one that no doubt swelled to bloated dimensions in recent weeks, feeding as it did on juicy sound bites of bigoted religious dogma.

For shame, Largo. For shame.

Also at Shakes' place and Pushing Rope.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Frank: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai & Eric Johnson Play My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama


My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama is one of my favorite Zappa songs (okay, so perhaps there are are a few of those). My boys love it too--they make me crank up the volume whenever I play the CD in my car. I don't take it personally--it's the rock-'n-roll equivalent of a quadruple espresso and is therefore in frequent rotation during morning (rush-to-school) drive.

Hopefully someone will find a clip of Frank himself performing the song and pop it on Youtube. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys this version, which showcases some exhilarating licks by Steven Vai, Eric Johnson, and the ever-brilliant Joe Satriani, whom I saw live at Tampa Theatre, a relatively tiny and wonderfully atmospheric venue, a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, the audience was almost entirely made up of musicians and their dates and mates.

Later I tried to call you,
Your mama told me you weren't there.
She told me don't bother to call again
Unless I cut off all my hair...
(H/T megahaker.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Son Two!

Happy Birthday, My Gentle Balinese Warrior.

Eleven years ago, a beautiful little boy came into our lives, and the world. And instead of announcing his arrival with the traditional newborn's cry, he looked up at the awestruck adults encircling him and began laughing. Today, D's unique take on things--along with his gentle nature and abundant love for living creatures of the two, four, and multi-legged varieties--continues to bring joy into the lives of everyone he encounters. Not a day goes by in which he doesn't squeeze the air out of me with one of his trademark hugs, after which I'll think to myself for the umpteenth time how very blessed I am to be his mother.

Many Happy Returns, my Darling D. Your Daddy and I are enormously proud of you.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Operation Iraqi Liberation: What Profiteth An Industry While A Nation Loses Its Soul


Four years ago, casting international law and human decency to the wind, America unleashed its legendary military might on the sovereign nation of Iraq, initiating a campaign of "shock and awe" that would soon turn into what is arguably the worst foreign policy fiasco in U.S. history. Today, we're still calculating the cost of this illegal, immoral war in terms of lives--American and Iraqi--as well as taxpayers' dollars. And let's not forget the metaphorical bridges we've burned alongside the actual ones we blew up--the cost to America's international reputation is unimaginable, immeasurable.

Despite everything, though, Operation Iraqi Liberation Freedom produced exactly the results it was supposed to. As author and BBC reporter Greg Palast writes today (reprinted here in its entirety):

Four years ago this week, the tanks rolled for what President Bush originally called, “Operation Iraqi Liberation” — O.I.L. I kid you not.

And it was four years ago that, from the White House, George Bush, declaring war, said, “I want to talk to the Iraqi people.” That Dick Cheney didn’t tell Bush that Iraqis speak Arabic … well, never mind. I expected the President to say something like, “Our troops are coming to liberate you, so don’t shoot them.” Instead, Mr. Bush told, the Iraqis,

Do not destroy oil wells.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration said the war had nothing to do with Iraq’s oil. Indeed, in 2002, the State Department stated, and its official newsletter, the Washington Post, repeated, that State’s Iraq study group, “does not have oil on its list of issues.”

But now, we’ve learned that, despite protestations to the contrary, Condoleezza Rice held a secret meeting with the former Secretary-General of OPEC, Fadhil Chalabi, an Iraqi, and offered Chalabi the job of Oil Minister for Iraq. (It is well established that the President of the United States may appoint the cabinet ministers of another nation if that appointment is confirmed by the 101st Airborne.)

In all the chest-beating about how the war did badly, no one seems to remember how the war did very, very well — for Big Oil.

The war has kept Iraq’s oil production to 2.1 million barrels a day from pre-war, pre-embargo production of over 4 million barrels. In the oil game, that’s a lot to lose. In fact, the loss of Iraq’s 2 million barrels a day is equal to the entire planet’s reserve production capacity.

In other words, the war has caused a hell of a supply squeeze — and Big Oil just loves it. Oil today is $57 a barrel versus the $18 a barrel price under Bill “Love-Not-War” Clinton.

Since the launch of Operation Iraqi Liberation, Halliburton stock has tripled to $64 a share — not, as some believe, because of those Iraq reconstruction contracts — peanuts for Halliburton. Cheney’s former company’s main business is “oil services.” And, as one oilman complained to me, Cheney’s former company has captured a big hunk of the rise in oil prices by jacking up the charges for Halliburton drilling and piping equipment.

But before we shed tears for Big Oil’s having to hand Halliburton its slice, let me note that the value of the reserves of the five biggest oil companies more than doubled during the war to $2.36 trillion.

And that was the plan: putting a new floor under the price of oil. I have that in writing. In 2005, after a two-year battle with the State and Defense Departments, they released to my team at BBC Newsnight the “Options for a Sustainable Iraqi Oil Industry.” Now, you might think our government shouldn’t be writing a plan for another nation’s oil. Well, our government didn’t write it, despite the State Department seal on the cover. In fact, we discovered that the 323-page plan was drafted in Houston by oil industry executives and consultants.

The suspicion is that Bush went to war to get Iraq’s oil. That’s not true. The document, and secret recordings of those in on the scheme, made it clear that the Administration wanted to make certain America did not get the oil. In other words, keep the lid on Iraq’s oil production — and thereby keep the price of oil high.

Of course, the language was far more subtle than, “Let’s cut Iraq’s oil production and jack up prices.” Rather, the report uses industry jargon and euphemisms which require Iraq to remain an obedient member of the OPEC cartel and stick to the oil-production limits — “quotas” — which keep up oil prices.

The Houston plan, enforced by an army of occupation, would, “enhance [Iraq’s] relationship with OPEC,” the oil cartel.

And that’s undoubtedly why Condoleezza Rice asked Fadhil Chalabi to take charge of Iraq’s Oil Ministry. As former chief operating officer of OPEC, the oil cartel, Fadhil was a Big Oil favorite, certain to ensure that Iraq would never again allow the world to slip back to the Clinton era of low prices and low profits. (In investigating for BBC, I was told by the former chief of the CIA’s oil unit that he’d met with Fadhil regarding oil at Bush’s request. Fadhil recently complained to the BBC. He denied the meeting with the Bush emissary in London because, he noted, he was secretly meeting that week in Washington with Condi!)

Fadhil, by the way, turned down Condi’s offer to run Iraq’s Oil Ministry. Ultimately, Iraq’s Oil Ministry was given to Fadhil’s fellow tribesman, Ahmad Chalabi, a convicted bank swindler and neo-con idol. But whichever Chalabi is nominal head of Iraq’s oil industry in Baghdad, the orders come from Houston. Indeed, the oil law adopted by Iraq’s shaky government this month is virtually a photocopy of the “Options” plan first conceived in Texas long before Iraq was “liberated.”

In other words, the war has gone exactly to plan — the Houston plan. So forget the naïve cloth-rending about a conflict gone haywire. Exxon-Mobil reported a record $10 billion profit last quarter, the largest of any corporation in history. Mission Accomplished.

As we sit in our offices and living rooms, watching the latest Bush administration scandale du jour depicted and dissected on our screens (there's Attorneygate, Plamegate, Hospitalgate...and those are just the ones from last week), may we sharpen our national focus on what was, and is--inarguably--the most enormous, shameful, unconscionably wasteful, and mind-blowingly expensive fraud scheme ever perpetrated against the American people.

Also at Shakes' place.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Delightfully Diverse Dublin


I loved Dublin when I first visited the city in 1998. To my superstitious soul, it felt as though there were intense writer vibes emanating from every spooky, stone-laden corner. And the people! Such warm, celebratory sorts--even on weekdays, even when it's foggy and cold in the middle of June.

Reading this, I realize it's high time I grabbed some friends and visited Dublin again, perhaps even on the next St. Patrick's Day (my bolds):

Lithuanian musicians, drum-beating Punjabis and West African dancers used Dublin's St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday to celebrate their place in a booming Ireland that has become a land of immigrants.

One man dressed as St. Patrick in papal hat and sunglasses did the samba, while another float nearby featured "Miss Panty," Dublin's premier drag queen.

Dublin's freewheeling parade drew a half-million spectators and included Christine Quinn, the first openly gay leader of the New York City Council. Quinn is boycotting the more conservative New York parade because the organizers refuse to let gay and lesbian groups march.

This year, she accepted an Irish government invitation to be part of the Dublin City Council contingent.

"The fact I'm here in Dublin and able to march and participate in inclusive events should send a message of how backwards the New York parade is," said Quinn.

The Irish economy has been booming for the past 13 years, drawing immigrants from around the world to the country - and its festivities.


In addition to its diversity and progressive attitude, which certainly give it a sizeable advantage over certain other world capitals (ahem), Dublin's got literary history to spare; fantastically interesting people (every cab driver is a gifted storyteller); delicious cuisine of every nationality--and of course the pub food, with jacket potatoes and chips that make one remember what spuds are supposed to taste like; and oh yes, Guinness and whiskey and bookshops--oh my!

(H/T oddjob)

Also at Shakes' place.

Addressing The Climate Crisis: US Not Leading Or Even Following

The richest and most developed nations in the world are forging ahead with plans to cut carbon emissions significantly by the year 2020. But the United States--arguably the richest and most developed of all, and inarguably the world's largest per-capita consumer of natural resources and contributor to carbon emissions--is still not on board. Worse, developing nations are citing America's poor example of stubborn isolationism as the reason for their own hesitation or outright refusal to participate and enact proactive climate-protection policies (bolds mine):

Environment ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, and officials from leading developing countries, were meeting to prepare for a June G8 summit at which climate change will be a major topic.

"On two issues, the United States were the only ones who spoke against consensus,'' German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting, which he chaired on behalf of Germany's G8 presidency.

Gabriel said the U.S. remained opposed to a global carbon emissions trading scheme like the one used in the European Union and rejected the idea that industrialized nations should help achieve a "balance of interests'' between developing countries' need for economic growth and environmental protection.

[.....]

The Bush administration, which for years questioned the reliability of scientific findings showing man-made pollution was responsible for the planet's warming, has shifted its stance.

Washington now backs the conclusions in a U.N. report last month which said mankind was to blame for global warming and predicted an increase in droughts and heatwaves and a slow rise in sea levels.

"There is a strong consensus on the science,'' de Boer said. ''We can now put behind us the period when science was called into question.''

Several environmental groups criticized the United States, which in 2001 pulled out of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, for refusing to support carbon dioxideemissions reduction targets at the Potsdam meeting.

Developing countries cite the U.S. position as a reason for their refusal to commit to reduction targets.

I realize that different cultures--indeed, different individuals within each culture--are going to have widely divergent ideas about how much change is realistic or even tolerable when the benefits of living green and adopting carbon-neutral lifestyles are, in many respects, not immediate, visible, and tangible. And Big Business in all its incarnations has done a bang-up job of scaring everyone into believing that reducing America's carbon footprint will lead to all manner of economic woes, not to mention intrusions on one's very freedoms, like the right to drive a massive, gas-guzzling SUV to, say, a football stadium, the building of which required the clearcutting and dredging-and-filling of once-sensitive land. Or the right to eat beef and pork for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Or the right to consume our way through time and space, demonstrating to the world once and for all that he who dies with the most toys wins.

But when all is said and done, I have to hope that even the stubbornest among us would want his children to enjoy a habitable world, as opposed to one in which draconian emergency restrictions had to be enacted and enforced lest everyone starve when arable, above-water land was in critically short supply and drowning in a hurricane-caused flood was a very real threat. Or, equally disturbing, a world in which ecosystems are so violently and precipitously thrown off-balance, deadly viruses that were once contained deep within rainforests emerge and begin to sicken the planet's already-stressed animals, including humans.

It should also be noted that some of us have already begun to view the climate challenge as an enormous economic opportunity.

Beyond the strawman arguments posited in such irresponsible statements as "Scientists disagree about how bad things will get and when we'll really notice any ill effect" or "Last year's hurricane season was tame, so I'm not buying this whole global warming thing", there really is nothing to debate at this point. We must take action, we must commit to a solid and comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and we must do it now.

It's time to put our pride in our collective pocket and take our place at the table alongside Europe's leaders. They know we're well-armed--aren't we always?--but this time, at this international sit-down, the weapons will be American ingenuity and innovativeness, two resources we actually do have in limitless supply.

Friday, March 16, 2007

And The Point Of Having A White House Security Director Would Be...?


Liveblogging for BradBlog, Brad Friedman points out that parties believed to be responsible for the gaping breach of national security that was the outing of covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson--including certain (cough *Rove*Libby*Cheney* cough) White House officials--were never even investigated. At all. Despite the President's promises (bolds mine):

In the second panel in the House Oversight Committee hearings this morning, following the testimony of Valerie Plame-Wilson, the Director of the White House Security Office, James Knodell, has stunned the Congress members by disclosing that no investigation into the leaking of Plame-Wilson's covert identity as a CIA operative was ever conducted by his office.

[.....]

HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA, CHAIRMAN)

Asks whether any official who discloses classified information has a duty to inform their superiors whether it was done knowingly or not. Is told yes, by both men.

Asks Knodell whether Ari Fleisher exposed classified info when he exposed the identity of Plame-Wilson (now admittedly). Knodell refused to answer because his understanding is that he would not be asked about ongoing investigations. Waxman says the question is not about the Libby trial, it is about the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.

Knodell says Ari's disclosure prior to Knodell's tenure which began in Aug. of 2004.

Asks Knodell if he was ever aware of a White House investigation into the leak. Knodell stuns! "I have no knowledge of any investigation within my office"

Waxman: Would a report have been filed if there was a leak investigation, intentional or not, of classified information prior to his joining office?

Knodell: "Yes"

Waxman: Is there such a report?

Knodell: "There is no report on file that classified information was disclosed in my office."

Waxman: Was any disciplinary action ever taken against Rove for his disclosure of information?

Knodell: "No."

CUMMINS (D) QUESTIONS

"Shocked" by Knodell's earlier testimony. Confirms that there is no report and no investigation into the leak in the White House Security Office.

Knodell says that there "was already an outside investigation, that's why we took no action."

Waxman interupts to ask about the specifics again.

Knodell repeats "I have no evidence of an investigation into the matter within my office."

Waxman: Do you have any knowledge of any investigation in the White House?

Knodell: "Not within my office."

DIANE WATSON (D-CA) QUESTIONS

Is also stunned by previous testimony. Confirms that Knodell, in fact, works for the White House.

Repeats that Rove still hasn't disclosed who informed him of W-P's covert identity. Says therefore, Knodell's office should have investigated. Knodell confirms. "There was no investigation from the office of White House Security"

She's amazed. Knodell confirms again. Watson says this is "dereliction of duty" to not have done an investigation even now.

VAN HOLLEN (D-MD) QUESTIONS

"Stunned" that there was no investigation.

Van Hollen: Is that policy?

Knodell: "No." admits "An investigation should be done."

Van Hollen: But one was not done??

Knodell: "That's correct"

VH asks whether his office is supposed to look into any disclosure, not just intentional disclosure, why his office is not today doing an investigation?

Knodell: "Mr. Congressman I will take that back to my review this with Senior Management"

Asks who his senior management is. About 5 or 6 people before any "reports to the White House" according to Knodell.

Waxman: When this hit, the President was outraged and said that heads would roll...and now it turns out there wasn't even an investigation.

Now it turns out there wasn't even an investigation.


Well, of course not. When we're talking about a culture that refers to waging war as "spreading democracy" and ransacking terrified Iraqis' homes as "winning hearts and minds", surely you didn't expect the phrases "the President is outraged" and "heads will roll" to mean, you know, that the President was actually outraged and heads would actually roll, did you?

Silly old bears. You must have forgotten that the President and All His Men (and Women) have been much too busy going through our private telephone records to concern themselves with any real threats to national security.

Also at Shakes' place.

Friday Frank: Inca Road With Claymation


Happy Friday, everyone! This is a terrific claymation video that Frank Zappa created in 1974, as shown on (and recorded from) the much-missed late night music programme Night Flight. The recording quality isn't the greatest, but remember, this short was made some thirty-three years ago and was, most likely, originally taped using VHS.

Who will be our next Frank Zappa, I wonder?!

(H/T rhawkins714)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sickening

He needs his fur more than we do.

This story is deeply upsetting:

WASHINGTON - A national animal rights group wants to put a group of fur retailers and manufacturers in the dog house.

The Humane Society of the United States asked the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday to fine high-end retailers and designers of clothing that contains mislabeled fur from dogs, wolves and raccoon dogs. The group also would like inventories seized and perhaps charges filed.

“Consumers have a right to know what they are purchasing,” said Michael Markarian, the executive vice president of the Humane Society. “If they are truly getting a type of dog fur, they should be outraged.”

The documents filed with the FTC name designers Andrew Marc and Michael Kors, among others. Many major department stores, including Barneys New York, Macy’s, Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, and Neiman Marcus also were cited.

The petition stems from a Humane Society investigation that turned up products that were made with fur from dogs, wolves or raccoon dogs, a species found mainly in China, that were sold as either fake fur or other types of fur in violation of the Federal Fur Products Labeling Act.

Raccoon dogs look like oversize, fluffy raccoons and aren’t kept as pets. Importing their fur is not illegal, but activists argue they are still a type of dog.

Mislabeling fur is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or a year in prison. Fur valued at less than $150 doesn’t have to be labeled.

Jim Sluzewski, a spokesman for Macy’s parent, Federated Department Stores Inc., said his company opposes selling dog fur but takes its vendors on faith that they comply with company policy.


Even if you're someone who eats meat--or, like me, someone who doesn't eat meat but does wear some leather in the form of belts and shoes--you must surely be disturbed by the practice of trapping and skinning dogs and (yes) cats for their fur, and then "mislabeling" said fur as fake or as a type of fur less upsetting to some Westerners, for example raccoon. Yes, cows and pigs and minks are mammals too, and yes, plenty of people in America and Europe eat beef and pork all the time, and they wear their skins, and the fur of minks, too. Hell, we even turn pigskin into footballs over here.

The difference, though, is that beef is labeled as beef. Anyone offended by the notion of eating a cow will know immediately, from reading the label if not actually looking at what's in the package, that the contents are decidedly not tofu, and off he'll go to another aisle. But what if the beef in that package labeled "Fresh Beef!" was actually the flesh of a dog or cat? You don't have to be a vegan to understand why such mendacity is wrong--people in the West don't eat dogs and cats, we befriend them. I'd be willing to bet most beef-eating Americans at baseball games this summer would not want to learn that the term hot dog had been interpreted literally, and that what they were about to devour was actually a footlong serving of ground Fido.

I don't see that the issue with the animals' fur is any different, ethically. It's not about vegetarianism, about whether or not you support using animals' bodies to make commercial products. It's about truth in labeling.

It is at least about that.

The Humane Society of the United States urges everyone to pressure Congress to pass The Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007, and so do I. Go here to send your e-mail now.

Also at Shakes and Pushing Rope.

Five Things No-one Knows

Oh dear, Riddley has tagged me with the Five Unknown Things meme. This could be tricky, since I am a talkative sort, and the people I talk to are talkative sorts, ergo not too much about me is unknown at this point. But let's see...

  1. When I was in high school, which was when we first moved to the States, I was never asked for a single date. Not even proms or Christmas dances--nothing. No boy even called me to meet him somewhere, not for pizza or a movie, not for the entire three years I was at Miami Palmetto Senior High School (I'm not bitter or anything). Well, there was this one double date of which I could have been part: my best friend Michelle and her boyfriend needed a date for his out-of-town friend to go to a fancy pre-Superbowl banquet and fête (the big game was in Miami that year). But my Dad said No Way, I was too young to be doing such a thing. And truth be told, I was a bit younger than my classmates. Okay, about a year and a half younger, which today hardly seems like an age difference at all.
  2. I know how to make French seams, tailors' tacks, welt pockets, and gores.
  3. I can climb trees really well. Even with a very girly level of upper-body strength, I'm able to get myself to the top of any decent climbing tree, mainly due to lower-body strength and flexibility combined with no fear of heights whatsoever.
  4. Although it is practically my country's National Dish, I could not stand roast beef as a little girl, and if it happened to be on the table (and therefore on my plate) at Sunday dinner, I would carefully spit it into my napkin and transfer the nasty little balls of chewed beef into the rubbish afterwards, when everyone was busy clearing the table (sorry Mum). I stopped eating meat altogether about twenty-five years ago, but that part isn't unknown.
  5. I know how to pick many types of locks as well as how to hot-wire a car (the older sort, before the computerization of ignitions). These skills I learned from my friends in college, almost all of whom were male (see Thing One, above).

I tag Kona, Stephen, JackGoff, SAP, and Quaker Dave, all of whom are stand-up guys!

Friday, March 09, 2007

EU Leaders Adopt Binding Target On Renewable Energy Use

We can say to the rest of the world, Europe is taking the lead,
you should join us in fighting climate change.

- EC President Jose Manuel Barroso

We can avoid what could well be a human calamity.
- Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

It's not so easy being green--certainly it isn't easy to change hearts and minds and habits, even with fuel costs on the rise again--but the grownups in Europe are making the commitment anyway, hopefully setting an example for the cool kids across the pond in Washington, kids whose China-funded credit cards and bulletproof SUV's are looking less cool by the day:

European Union leaders have agreed to adopt a binding target on the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, officials say.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Europe was now able to lead the way on climate change.

The 27 EU states will each decide how they contribute to meeting a 20% boost overall in renewable fuel use by 2020.

On Thursday, EU leaders agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by the same year.

BBC world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says there is an air of real achievement in Brussels.

But, he says, the compromises over each nation's share of the burden in reaching the targets have yet to be negotiated, meaning the hard decisions may still lie ahead.


This is where global-warming deniers and anti-environmentalism wingnuts will start chirping about the unfairness of it. Why is more required of some countries and less of others? they'll ask. Look at Kyoto--we disagreed with that and got away with not ratifying it. Don't forget Kyoto!

Listen: the EU agreement is designed to recognize that member nations are all at different starting points in terms of implementing alternative and renewable fuels. The goal for each country is to achieve a given, measured, improvement from that starting point.

The EU plan involves:

  • A 10% minimum target on the use of bio-fuels in transport by 2020
  • A commitment to increase use of solar, wind and hydroelectric power
  • A possible ban on filament light bulbs in offices, street lights and private homes by the end of the decade

[.....]

It is thought the EU could offer to extend its 20% target for emissions cuts to 30% if other heavy polluters like the US, China and India come on board.


Bravo, England, and Bravo, The Rest of Europe. If we continue to bury our heads in the sand, that sand will be underwater before long. At which point the family and I will simply head north, aiming the ship toward the flourescent bulbs glowing in the green and pleasant fog.

This Isn't An Argument; It's Contradiction



Here, it's performed live at the Hollywood Bowl, California, 1982. Argument is one of my all-time favorite Monty Python sketches. There's something so neatly-polished and gemlike to its circular wordplay, even as it skewers humans (particularly British ones) and their messy and peculiar attempts to interact with one another.

As with so many of the troupe's works, Argument seems to be eternally relevant, calling to mind the tenor of certain blog threads.

(H/T tigermeeks)

Also at Shakes' place.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Steve Stanton Files Appeal

Steve Stanton is appealing the county commissioners' decision to fire him:

LARGO - City Manager Steve Stanton appealed his firing this morning.

Commissioners voted 5-2 to place Stanton on paid leave and begin the firing process a week after Stanton acknowledged he planned to become a woman.

"I'm trying to do what I have to do to be a full person and get my job back," said Stanton, who makes $140,234 annually.

Stanton, 48, who has been Largo's city manager for 14 years, said he plans to request a hearing about 30 days from now. He said he will need the time to put on a thorough presentation, which will take up to three hours and will feature national experts in medicine, psychology and the workplace transition process for transsexuals.

Support The International Violence Against Women Act

From CARE:

Gender-based violence is a problem of epidemic proportions that has far-reaching consequences. Violence against women is linked to some of the world's greatest development and human rights challenges, including poverty, conflict, HIV and global health.

Violence against women is a human rights violation that has devastating impacts on the health of women and impedes a woman's right to equality, development, security and peace.

The terms "violence against women" and "gender-based violence" are used to refer to a range of abuses committed against women that stem from gender inequality and women's subordinate status in society relative to men. In 1993, the U.N. Vienna Declaration and Program of Action defined "violence against women" as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

Throughout the world, violence against women and girls is perpetrated within marriage and families by husbands, intimate partners and relatives; within communities by strangers and traditional leaders; in the workplace; across international borders as women are trafficked for sex and labor; and as a tool of war by military forces.

[.....]

As a global leader, the United States must continue to invest in a world where women feel safe in their homes, on the streets and at their jobs. This will enable them to build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities. Countries can take critical steps in ending violence against women by improving women's status in society, enforcing laws to protect women and prosecute perpetrators, and offering treatment for women. The United States can take critical steps in ending violence against women by:

  • Increasing women's economic empowerment and education
  • Increasing women's access to health care
  • Improving security in humanitarian and crisis situations
  • Promoting legal reforms and social norms to better address gender-based violence


Please tell your congresspersons you support the International Violence Against Women Act and ask them to do the same when it comes up for vote in the coming weeks.

Senator Storm's Latest Bluster Threatens Florida's Girls And Health Care Providers

Florida State Senator Ronda Storms, an überconservative Republican whose notable political accomplishments include, to name just a few shameful examples, cutting off Hillsborough County's funding of Planned Parenthood and codifying the county's non-recognition of Gay Pride events, has joined forces with Rep. Dennis Baxley (R) of Ocala, filing SB 2546, the Child Sexual Abuse Reporting & Evidence Collection Bill. This legislation would require health care professionals to assume pregnant teens are crime victims--and to call the police--if they know or suspect a girl under 16 is pregnant.

This is the general bill Storms filed, as it appears on the Florida House of Representatives site (italics mine):

Child Sexual Abuse Reporting & Evidence Collection: requires health care practitioners, personnel of abortion clinics or abortion referral or counseling agencies, & other specified persons to report pregnancy of child under 16 years of age to certain law enforcement agencies under certain circumstances; requires health care practitioner who performs abortion on child under 16 years of age to collect & preserve specified DNA samples from child & fetus & forward samples to FDLE, etc.


The language appearing in italics is, I believe, purposefully vague. It builds in miles of latitude for the prosecution of any non-compliers. Who is considered a "health care practitioner"? And by "personnel of abortion clinics", do they mean the receptionist, the armed guard, and the bomb-sniffing dog's trainer as well as the doctors and nurses?

I clicked through to read the bill's full text, whereupon I discovered the rest of the above paragraph (italics mine):

...providing for testing to identify or confirm the identity of the person responsible for impregnating the child; providing for the use of such evidence in certain criminal and civil proceedings; authorizing the Department of Health to revoke, suspend, or deny renewal of the license of a health care practitioner or abortion clinic for a specified time in certain circumstances; providing applicability; authorizing rulemaking; providing for the abrogation of the privileged quality of communications in certain circumstances; providing an effective date.

This is a dangerous piece of legislation wrapped in pretty tissue, a cannoli full of sweet concerns for sexually-abused teens that happens to be laced with policy poison. Look at those last words: providing for the abrogation of the privileged quality of communications in certain circumstances. This would permit the state to override doctor-patient confidentiality in "certain circumstances"--undoubtedly ones to be defined and decided on by Storms.

The bill is also wrongheaded in that it seeks to turn health care providers into de facto arms of the law. Some will say this is no different than requiring that gunshot wounds be reported to the police. They contend that evidence of a crime is the compelling force at work; if a girl 15 or younger is pregnant, that is evidence enough to know that someone committed a crime. And therefore, that someone must now be DNA-identified, hunted down, and prosecuted.

Never mind if the girl in question does not want to report a crime, but rather, is only looking for help in managing--or ending--her pregnancy.

Clearly the wishes of the pregnant girl do not even enter into the equation.

And that, I believe, is where one of the biggest problems with this legislation lies. A girl who was raped or abused can already ask a teacher or counselor or health care provider for help in reporting the crime. All that SB 2546 will accomplish is to discourage a girl who's pregnant by a boyfriend from seeking either prenatal care or legal, safe abortion if it means said boyfriend will be prosecuted, and even imprisoned, for statutory rape or child abuse. Once she has dismissed out-of-hand the option of sending her boyfriend to prison--and if we're realistic, we'll admit that a significant number of girls will be of that mind--she will be left with two less-than-stellar options: carry on with the pregnancy and never go near a clinic or doctor's office, or find an illegal and unlicensed practitioner and get an abortion that way, endangering her health and possibly her life.

I can already see Constitutional concerns with Storms' legislation. First, the abrogation of doctor-patient (or counselor-patient) privilege codified in this bill seems to fly in the face of Fourteenth Amendment privacy rights.

And the notion that health care providers, now acting as agents of law enforcement, must endeavor to "collect and preserve specified DNA samples from child and fetus" regardless of the girl's wishes--not to mention her right to be secure in her person--sounds an awful lot like the unreasonable search and seizure denounced in the Fourth Amendment.

If you're a Florida resident, I urge you to take a moment and write to or call your state congresspersons and implore them to vote against Storms and Baxley's dangerous legislation, SB 2546.

Also at Shakes' place and Pushing Rope.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Frank Zappa and Steven Vai, Rome 1982

I don't know about you, but I am longing for some guitar-powered escapism after this week's serial insanities.

It doesn't get better than this.



(H/T vac.)

Beautiful Signs

Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
- Anne Frank

Yesterday morning, crowds of well-wishers, friends, and local spiritual leaders gathered peacefully in support of ousted Largo city manager Steve Stanton.

LARGO - They stood 350 strong in the grass outside City Hall on Tuesday morning, united by faith.

They held signs, saying "Justice," "Compassion" and "Love," as well as these:

Some Baptists need their hearts examined.

Jesus wasn't the Terminator.'

We don't tolerate diversity, we celebrate it!

They were there to support Steve Stanton, who was fired from his job as city manager by the City Commission after disclosing that he is going to undergo gender-reassignment surgery.

The 30-minute rally drew more than a dozen clerics from churches and synagogues around the Tampa Bay area.

"We believe that Mr. Stanton is a human being worthy of being treated with respect, compassion and dignity," said the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, pastor of Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater.

"We likewise urge the citizens of Largo to hold their elected leaders to a high standard of justice and compassion in human relations. Therefore, we ask the city of Largo to hold true its self-articulated vision of being a City of Progress."

It's thrilling--dizzying, almost--to hear rational, intelligent, and vigorously moral language used to attack the hypocrisy and hatred spewed by the foaming faithful. Used forcefully and publicly.

Spudsy, be a love--I believe I need smelling salts and fainting couch both.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Toward Justice In Largo

Policemen dutifully protecting citizens
from the ominous threat of Don't Discriminate fliers


Reader alex sends along a link to Justice in Largo, created in support of Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith, who was arrested last week while trying to hand out Don't Discriminate fliers at the meeting during which city commissioners voted to dismiss transgender city manager Steve Stanton.

Smith was arrested during a heated hearing before the Largo City Commission in Florida, during which the commission voted 5–2 to begin the process of firing its 14-year city manager, Steve Stanton, because he announced his plans to transition from male to female.

The arrest occurred when Charlie Deppish of Tampa approached Smith and asked her for a flier that said only “Don’t Discriminate.” According to witnesses, Sgt. Butch Ward confronted Smith in the lobby and ordered her to take back the flier. When Smith asked why, Ward reportedly forced her into a side room where several officers violently shoved her to the floor and arrested her.

She has been charged with resisting arrest with violence, a felony, and disturbing others' assembly, a misdemeanor. Smith has been executive director of Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy organization, since 1997 and is nationally recognized for her leadership.

Check out the Web page, and if you haven't already done so, please take a moment to write a note of support for Ms. Smith, about whom Equality Florida chairman Amy Mandel writes:

Nadine Smith is nationally recognized social justice leader with two decades of experience in non-violent public education and advocacy.

She was peacefully participating in the Largo hearing alongside Mr. Stanton’s many supporters.

We believe Nadine is completely innocent.

On a personal note, Nadine has asked me to express both her thanks for the many notes of concern and support, as well as her deep deep disappointment at the decision to fire the Largo City Manager.

And thank you, as ever.

On Macho, Macho Men And Manly, Unshaven Girls

I really liked Glen Greenwald's take on the (latest) Ann Coulter bit of blather. He discusses a conversation on Fox last night between Kirsten Powers, Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin; Malkin makes the observation that Coulter is "very popular among conservatives", and Greenwald makes the following point:

This is why -- the only reason -- Coulter's remarks are so significant. And the significance lies not just in this specific outburst on Friday but in the whole array of hate-mongering, violence-inciting remarks over all these years. Its significance lies in the critical fact that Malkin expressly acknowledged: "She's very popular among conservatives." The focus of these stories should not be Coulter, but instead, should be the conservative movement in which Ann Coulter -- precisely because of (not "despite") her history of making such comments -- is "very popular." (Note, too, that Malkin urges that Coulter be shunned not because her conduct is so reprehesensible, but because her presence "is not going to be a help" win the 2008 election).

Coulter's use of a gay epithet to try to insult John Edwards was wrongheaded on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that persons who are gay are rightly offended that the state of being who they are--and the language used to describe this state--was, and is, being used to engender slurs with which to attack another person who clearly isn't gay (in this case, Edwards). They object to people using "gay" and "faggot" and worse as slurs because so doing implies that the word, and the state of being, is somehow negative. Surely thoughtful persons of all political persuasions would agree that it's time to denounce, and put a stop to, this nasty habit.

Coulter didn't literally mean that Edwards was gay; rather, she used the word to imply that John Edwards was a sissy, a girly-man, a person who isn't macho. And to a large sector of her conservative audience, machismo--or, more pointedly, the appearance or outright illusion of machismo--is the be-all and end-all of electability. Greenwald notes:

As critical as it is to them to feminize Democratic and liberal males (and to masculinize the women), even more important is to create false images of masculine power and strength around their authority figures. The reality of this masculine power is almost always non-existent. The imagery is what counts.

[.....]

Just as what matters is that their leaders prance around as moral leaders (even while deviating as far as they want from those standards), what matters to them also is that their leaders play-act as strong and masculine figures, even when there is no basis, no reality, to the play-acting.

Ronald Reagan never got anywhere near the military war (claiming eyesight difficulties to avoid deployment in World War II), and he spent his life as a Hollywood actor, not a rancher, yet to this day, conservatives swoon over his masculine role-playing as though he is some sort of super-brave military hero. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, who actually graduated the Naval Academy and was assigned to real live nuclear submarines, is mocked as a weak and snivelling coward who should not have a ship named after him.

And the ultimate expression of faux, empty, masculine courage and power is, of course, the Commander-in-Chief himself -- the Glorious Leader whom John Podhoretz hailed in the title of his worshippful cult book as The First Great Leader of the 21st Century -- with the ranch hats and brush-clearing pants and flight-suit outfits that would make the Village People seethe with jealousy over his costume choices.


Exactly. As a progressive, feminist woman who writes online, I'm often the target of such comments as "You're just another grubby man-hating liberal chick who should consider shaving her legs and looking in the mirror once in a while, " or worse. And this from people who have never met me, who know nothing about me. Based on my limited experience thus far with this relatively new medium (blogging), I second Greenwald's observation: there are an awful lot of conservatives out there wishing to masculinize progressive women while feminizing progressive men. One has to wonder what sort of confusion they must face every day, going out into a world in which female pilots, male nurses, gay football players, and straight male ballet dancers are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable. To my mind, this persistent need to pigeonhole people according to a narrow set of gender-based attributes signifies a troubling lack of awareness, not to mention a profoundly starved imagination. When all else fails (and all else is failing rather spectacularly, I'd say), call your male opponent a sissy or suggest that your female one is ugly or hairy and "can't get a man". It's beginning to look a bit desperate, don't you think?

And just for the record, this progressive woman--one who not only managed to "get herself a man" but also gestate and birth three smaller versions thereof--does wear makeup. And I do shave my legs. But I also climb trees, swear like a longshoreman, drive really fast, and loathe doing the laundry. Perhaps I'm a centrist after all!

Also at Ezra's place.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lawsuit Against NSA: You Spied On Us And We Can Prove It

Last May, I wrote about the NSA's secret domestic spying program, the existence of which the Bush administration would just as soon have kept completely quiet, but couldn't:
...the President authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to undertake what can only be described as a breathtaking and unprecedented operation involving domestic intelligence-gathering that targeted the telephone records of millions upon millions of unsuspecting American citizens.

Invading our privacy as never before. Illegally. Unconstitutionally.

And then, when called to the mat on this shocking affront to our rights, hiding behind that tired old "Gotta protect everyone from the terr'ists" line, and invoking (yet again) 9/11. In fact, when speaking about the domestic spying, 9/11 punctuated the first sentence out of the President's mouth. The only surprise is that we haven't been subjected to an Orange Alert this week. Yet.
In the ten months since, we've seen members of the (then) leading party embroiled in scandal after scandal--the Abramoff mess, the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, the Mark Foley page scandal--and we've cringed at and wept about the magnitude of our leaders' gross incompetence, the ongoing death and destruction at every turn in Iraq, the unresolved chaos in Afghanistan, and the administration's utter lack of respect for what shredded, tissue-thin scraps remain of the Constitution. So I think we can be forgiven for our collective case of outrage fatigue.

Two attorneys in Washington D.C.--perhaps the only known targets of the NSA's illegal warrantless domestic wiretapping program who actually have concrete proof of the government's unconstitutional actions--are still fuming, though, and they're taking action (my bolds):

It could be a scene from Kafka or Brazil. Imagine a government agency, in a bureaucratic foul-up, accidentally gives you a copy of a document marked "top secret." And it contains a log of some of your private phone calls.

You read it and ponder it and wonder what it all means. Then, two months later, the FBI shows up at your door, demands the document back and orders you to forget you ever saw it.

By all accounts, that's what happened to Washington D.C. attorney Wendell Belew in August 2004. And it happened at a time when no one outside a small group of high-ranking officials and workaday spooks knew the National Security Agency was listening in on Americans' phone calls without warrants. Belew didn't know what to make of the episode. But now, thanks to that government gaffe, he and a colleague have the distinction of being the only Americans who can prove they were specifically eavesdropped upon by the NSA's surveillance program.

The pair are seeking $1 million each in a closely watched lawsuit against the government, which experts say represents the greatest chance, among over 50 different lawsuits, of convincing a key judge to declare the program illegal.

You may read the entire piece at Wired News. I, for one, will be following this case with tremendous interest. Should Belew and his colleague succeed, there is hope for the restoration of privacy rights we all took for granted until not too long ago. Next up: CPR for habeus corpus? A girl can dream.

Also at Shakes' place.

US Soldiers Allegedly Delete Footage, Photos After Afghanistan Attack

Journalists covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are there because they believe the ends--getting the story and the images out there, telling the truth--justify the means, which is to say, putting their own lives in grave danger by even being in country. Imagine the anger and disappointment a reporter or photographer feels when a story is buried (or even axed completely) for reasons beyond his or her control (see Logan, Lara; CBS) or a series of important images are deleted or destroyed--which is exactly what happened to news photographers Sunday after they documented the gun battle after a suicide bombing:
Journalists working for AP said US troops erased images of a vehicle in which three people had been shot dead.

The US military said it could not confirm its troops had seized any film.

Afghans who were wounded in the attack say American soldiers opened fire on civilian cars and pedestrians on a busy highway. As many as 16 people died, though it is unclear whether the bullets that killed them came from Americans or militants (or both).

As the Americans sped away, they treated every car and person along the highway as a potential attacker, said Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar. But Maj. William Mitchell, a U.S. military spokesman, said those killed and injured may have been shot by the militants.

More than a half dozen Afghans recuperating from bullet wounds told The Associated Press that the U.S. forces fired indiscriminately along at least a 10-kilometer (six-mile) stretch of one of eastern Afghanistan's busiest highways — a route often filled not only with cars and trucks but Afghans on foot and bicycles.

"They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway," said Tur Gul, 38, who was standing on the roadside by a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand. "They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot."

It is not known how much, if any, of the images or recordings of the incident and aftermath remain intact. For its part, the Associated Press (AP) said it "plans to lodge a protest with the American military". To wit:

A freelance photographer working for AP and a cameraman working for AP Television News say they arrived at the site about half an hour after the suicide bombing.

Witnesses at the scene said three civilians in the four-wheel drive vehicle had been killed by US forces fleeing the attack, the journalists said.

"When I went near the four-wheel drive, I saw the Americans taking pictures of the same car, so I started taking pictures," photographer Rahmat Gul said.

"Two soldiers with a translator came and said, 'Why are you taking pictures? You don't have permission.'"

Mr Gul said troops took his camera, deleted his photos and returned it to him.

His APTN colleague, who did not want to be named, said he was told he could film the scene - but when he did so a US soldier got very angry and deleted any footage that included the Americans.

Khanwali Kamran, a reporter for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, said the American soldiers also deleted his footage, AP reported.

"They warned me that if it is aired ... then, 'You will face problems,'" Mr Kamran was quoted by the news agency as saying.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the alleged actions of the US forces, saying they dealt with the media poorly.

There are times when even I am at a loss for words, and this is one of them.

Also at Ezra's place.

To Fight For The Right Without Question Or Pause


Ah, Monday morning fun. I can't imagine how Max Blumenthal of The Nation was able to get himself and his cameraman into the CPAC to-do this weekend, but they managed to secure some excellent footage, including a little smackdown of Ann Coulter and a meet-'n-greet with Flipper, the anti-Romney dolphin.

The pièce de résistance, though, was Blumenthal approaching Michelle Malkin and asking her to autograph a black-and-white photograph--one showing dozens of Japanese Americans standing behind a tall, barbed-wire fence in an internment camp--along with her notorious book, In Defense of Internment. Malkin bristles, becomes unhinged--saying she was "all for honest, intellectual debate" and had published an errata page afterwards--and then, when asked if she's admitting she'd made mistakes, says Yes, I made a lot of errors, and storms off into the crowd, abandoning her Hot Air booth and ignoring questions about whether she'd learned anything journalistically. It's interesting that her blog post describes the incident somewhat differently:

Two punks from The Nation with a camera stopped by my book signing to ambush me about In Defense of Internment. Have they bothered to read the book? No. I look forward to their butchering of my comments and the predictable unhinged reaction.

Heh heh. Blumenthal clearly introduces himself, but is referred to as a punk who hasn't read her book (I'm uncertain how she'd know what he has and hasn't read). And of course, there's no mention of that heart-wrenching photograph. But the film clearly shows that the only butchering going on is Malkin's time-honored treatment of the, er, facts.

Perhaps she'll issue another erratum.

Also at Ezra's place.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fired City Manager Has Groundswell Of Support, Possible Grounds For Legal Action

The Groundswell

According to a majority of those surveyed by the St. Petersburg Times, the City of Largo was wrong to fire their city manager of 14 years, Steve Stanton:

A majority of adults in Largo and Pinellas County say the Largo City Commission was wrong to move to fire City Manager Steve Stanton this week, a St. Petersburg Times survey has found.

Most of the 601 residents surveyed also said the City Commission acted too quickly to fire Stanton on Tuesday night.

"The fact that he was a transsexual and planning to have surgery had nothing to do with his brain," said retired teacher Clifford Aldrich, 69, of Largo, who watched the meeting on television. "I saw an awful lot of intolerance and prejudice among the people in the audience, and it rubbed off on the commission."

Moreover, four out of five residents said they would accept a boss or someone they supervised who had a sex-change operation.

On Friday, Stanton said the responses did not surprise him.

"It's absolutely consistent with what I believed before I put my career on the line," he said.

And of course, the commissioners who voted to dismiss Stanton, having since been tapped on the collective shoulder by Risk Management, are now backscrambling like alley rats surprised by oncoming headlights, scattering rubbish as they go:

The majority of commissioners who voted to begin the firing process said their choice had nothing to do with Stanton's choice to undergo sexual re-assignment surgery.

Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Mary Gray Black said they had been unhappy with his performance for a long time.

Crozier, who also had problems with how Stanton treated employees, said she saw a window of opportunity to remove him.

"Unless you've worked with the man behind the scenes for many years you don't know his management style," she said. "That's not the kind of city manager I would want."

Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said she didn't move to fire Stanton because he was transsexual. She did so because she lost confidence in him, she said.

"I'm extremely disappointed how he handled it and shared it with the mayor and did not share it with the other commissioners," Arntzen said.

The Grounds

Should appealing the city commission's ruling prove unsuccessful, Steve Stanton could certainly take matters to the courts. New York-based law professor and consultant Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss, at her insightful and beautifully-written blog Transgender Workplace Diversity, notes that federal, state, and local rulings all offer precedent, and perhaps even encouragement:

Above I’ve discussed federal rights, but there is law on the state level that could give grounds for a lawsuit. Although Florida has no statute explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings has ruled that an individual with “gender dysphoria,” a medical term for transsexuality, is within the disability coverage of the Florida Human Rights Act. Smith v. City of Jacksonville Correctional Inst., 1991 WL 833882 (Fla. Div. Admin. Hrgs. 1991). In that case, the tribunal found that a corrections officer who was dismissed upon revealing her transsexuality was protected from dismissal based upon the disability created by the perceptions of the employer. The tribunal also rejected the employer's claim that inmates would not respect a transsexual, thus making non-transsexuality a "bona fide occupational qualification." If the Smith case is applied to Mr. Stanton's case, then discrimination based on his gender identity is discrimination based on perceived disability within the conception of Florida state law, and the claim that city residents and employees will not respect her after transition cannot be used as a justification. In the St. Petersburg Times story on the legal issues, the paper quoted Tampa lawyer Theresa Gallion, a managing partner at Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm, who cautioned against putting too much stock in that case, noting that it is not binding on Florida courts.

"The bottom line is that there are very few protections unless you live in one of the states" that specifically list transgender people in their antidiscrimination laws, she said.

She's right, of course, that the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings decision is not binding on other Florida courts outside the administrative system, but the decision points in Ms. Stanton's direction, and against the City Commission. But then Ms. Gallion should be expected to side with management, as her firm, Fisher & Phillips, only represents management.

As a resident of Pinellas county, I'm pleased to learn that my neighbors are, by and large, thoughtful, fair, and tolerant sorts; that just as I'd thought, the strident, blaring bigots are a minority.

And it's good to know the law may well be on Steve Stanton's side, too.

Also at Shakes' place.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Rolling Stones On Top Of The Pops: Let's Spend The Night Together ('67)


We loved Top of the Pops when I was little. In this episode, an almost-baby-faced Mick Jagger dances his peacock dance and sings Let's Spend The Night Together while the balance of the Stones are near-motionless, really; a troupe of wooden garden gnomes holding instruments would seem more animated. My memory of this Stones appearance is a fairly shapely one, and I can see them on our television screen, black and white ghosts boxed up and hovering in the low sixties greenness of our living room. So I must have watched it when it aired, from which fact I can also deduce that this excellent Top of the Pops ran in the early part of 1967, right before we left England, never to live there again.

Bon Weekend, everyone.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Equality Florida Activist Arrested At Largo City Commission Meeting

Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith was arrested while trying to hand out fliers at Wednesday's Largo city commission meeting during which officials voted to dismiss transgender city manager Steve Stanton. The fliers were printed with the words Don't Discriminate.

Police contend Nadine Smith, executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Equality Florida, became disruptive when they told her stop distributing the fliers in violation of a city ordinance.

Smith supporters contend the St. Petersburg resident is a nationally recognized social justice leader with two years of nonviolent advocacy.

"We believe Nadine is completely innocent," said Amy Mandel, chairwoman of the Equality Florida board of directors, who spoke on Smith's behalf Wednesday.

Smith, 41, was released from Pinellas County Jail early Wednesday after posting $5,250 bail on a felony charge of resisting arrest with violence and a misdemeanor of disturbing others' assembly.

Calling all city toadies: here's where you pull out the four-foot-thick ring-binder of obscure city ordinances--now with paper bans and floor maintenance tips!--and show how easy it is to pound the First Amendment into submission. Ah, right on cue:

The city assigned extra police and firefighters to the meeting. Officers had been instructed to stop the dissemination of fliers for three reasons, said Largo police spokesman Mac McMullen.

Fliers present a fire hazard; plus, when they end up on the floor, people can slip on them, McMullen said.

Given the already emotionally charged meeting, city officials also thought that fliers could become further disruptive, McMullen said.

Smith also lacked permission to pass out the fliers, as required by city law, he said.

And for good measure, throw in a charge of resisting arrest and some baseless accusations that Ms. Smith had become violent.

Fliers could become further disruptive. The condescension (along with the appalling grammar) just drips. Yeah, I suppose--if someone folded his into a sharp little pink mini-Concorde and put someone's eye out. Or created a hailstorm of spitballs one would be hard pressed to say were undeserved by at least some of those present. Do you know what I consider disruptive? Disruptive to the rule of law, I mean? When arrogant, egocentric, homobigoted tax evaders religious "leaders" bully government by claiming an exclusive hold on morality and a voice that represents the so-called majority, and then twist public policy and legislation to fit their narrow, nasty little worldviews.

(H/T Michael Hussey at Pushing Rope)

Pam is also on the story.

Also at Shakes' place.