Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tales of the First Earth Battalion

It's been pretty much agreed to by most rational people that the present administration doesn't check in with reality often enough, but who would have thought that our military are fighting the War on Terror by channeling cosmic forces from the Beyond?

Alas, it's true, if you believe Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare At Goats.

From the product description on
In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice -- and indeed, the laws of physics -- they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them.

Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and fighting the War on Terror.

With firsthand access to the leading players in the story, Ronson traces the evolution of these bizarre activities over the past three decades and shows how they are alive today within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in postwar Iraq. Why are they blasting Iraqi prisoners of war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Why have 100 debleated goats been secretly placed inside the Special Forces Command Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? How was the U.S. military associated with the mysterious mass suicide of a strange cult from San Diego? The Men Who Stare at Goats answers these and many more questions.
Actually, wacky as the above reads, we know that the CIA - in conjunction with the army - dosed unsuspecting soldiers and civilians with LSD and basically screwed with people's minds for years back in the '50s. There's also the "remote-seeing" adventures of GRILL FLAME, and CENTER LANE by the Defense Intelligence Agency and INSCOM, and STAR GATE and SCANATE by the CIA. Then there's MKULTRA; well, the list of wackiness goes on and on. We learn of a connection to Scientology; many of the people involved in these various occult investigations for the military were paid-up Scientologists, apparently because they're familiar with Dianetic psychology and those engram gizmos, the E Machine:

Image:Scientology e meter blue.jpg

For those of you not in the know, the Church of Scientology was invented out of whole cloth by L. Ron Hubbard, a writer of rather bad science fiction stories in the '30s and '40s; he based his Church on Dianetics, The Science of the Mind, a book he wrote on a bet with - I have been told - Ray Bradbury. In Scientology, e machines are used to "audit" the supplicant, and advance him/her to the next level of Clear, until they come into the full possession of the knowledge that they are the reincarnations of 250 million-year-old outer space lizards. The e machine is Hubbard's contribution to mind/machine interface technology, although it's really just a fancy skin galvometer.

Hubbard aside, a good deal of the esoteric & psychic research was done for the military at (or via the auspices of) the Stanford Research Institute, in Menlo Park, California. Yeah, that Stanford Research Institute (as in Stanford University), the same people that brought us Tide laundry soap, Disneyland, those magnetic strips on your bank checks, diamagnetic levitation, and the Stanford-Binet IQ test.

And Uri Geller's back as well, according to Jon, so you know reality is really gonna get wanged some more.

This is your money the government is spending on this stuff, by the way; don't think that these programs are over; many are still chugging along. As puts it: Ronson tells of one ex-Army employee who claims to have killed a goat and his pet hamster by staring at them for prolonged periods of time. Like Ronson's original source, this man says he has been reactivated for deployment to the Middle East.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Chris Locke at Mystic Bourgeoisie

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The secret diaries of Ronald Reagan

Love him or detest him, Ronald Reagan was a remarkable man, and was much more than the filmoid one-dimensional character that some liberals have sketched him as being.

From the UK Telegraph:

The Prince of Wales was a "most likeable person", President Gaddafi a "mad clown" and Michael Jackson was "surprisingly shy".

Ronald Reagan; The secret diaries of President Reagan
Reagan in the Oval Office. His wife Nancy, he wrote, gave him 'more happiness than any man deserves'

The private diaries of Ronald Reagan, which are about to be published for the first time, reveal a US president who was worried about imminent Armageddon but who also fretted about how he would handle chopsticks in front of the Chinese.

The man who was credited with ending the Cold War reveals that he was "lonesome" when his wife, Nancy, was away and refused to talk to their son, Ron Junior, after he hung up on him.

His carefully handwritten and succinct private musings, contained in five leather-bound books embossed with the presidential seal, span his eight years at the White House from 1981 to 1989. Excerpts have been published in Vanity Fair magazine prior to a new book by Douglas Brinkley, a historian who was given exclusive access to the diaries.
They will reassure both Mr Reagan's supporters and his detractors, providing supporting evidence that he was both a dangerously simplistic buffoon or - alternatively - that, beneath the folksy exterior, lay a razor-sharp and highly-principled mind.

The shooting of Ronald Reagan; The secret diaries of President Reagan
On being shot: 'I sat on the edge of the seat
almost paralyzed by pain. Getting shot hurts'

Tom Leonard in New York, for the UK Telegraph

Copyright (C) UK Telegraph

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Gonzo Wisdom of Alberto Gonzales

The following pearls of wisdom were gleaned from a minor speech given by our dear Attorney General at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 20, 2006, modestly entitled "Regarding Civil Liberties and the War on Terrorism."

After a bit of flattery of the newly-fledged Air Force officers, Gonzo gives them a lesson in constitutional law, with a contrast-and-compare about "reasonable grounds" v. "probable cause."
1. "... in the United Kingdom, the arrest or search of a suspected terrorist is allowed if law enforcement “reasonably suspects” the person to be a terrorist or to possess “anything which may constitute evidence that he is a terrorist.”

"This reasonable suspicion standard is a lesser standard than the probable cause standard required under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The terrorism suspect can be detained in the United Kingdom for up to 28 days, and the reviewing official still does not need to find probable cause–only that there are reasonable grounds to believe that detention is necessary to obtain relevant evidence." (My emphasis)
UK's practice bad, USA's good because...
"I want to be very clear about the facts here: the Terrorist Surveillance Program does not invade anyone’s privacy, unless you are talking to the enemy in this time of war. It targets only international communications in which we have *reasonable grounds to believe* that one party is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization. The TSP is lawful. The President established the Program under both the authority given to him by Congress when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and by his authority under the Constitution."
Oops. Gonzo is admitting that we use the same unconstitutional standard as the UK. First he says that constitutional probable cause must apply, then he says we just go ahead and use "reasonable" standards anyway, voiding his argument. And how does Gonzo know who the hell we're talking to in the first place, unless he's tapping every phone in the United States ... oh, yeah, I forgot: the Terrorist Surveillance Program. And you can forget 28 days; try three-plus years in the case of the boys at Guantanamo, with no release in sight.
"Some people will argue nothing could justify the government being able to intercept conversations like the ones the Program targets. Instead of seeing the government protecting the country, they see it as on the verge of stifling freedom."
Very few people argue that, actually; in fact, no one of any standing makes that argument at all. What they do argue is that the people running the program don't actually obtain the warrants the Program - and Constitution - mandates. Strictly speaking, the NSA is authorized to monitor calls originating in "foreign countries" after obtaining a warrant, and no domestic telephony whatsoever. On the other hand, the President is on record as stating that he doesn't need a goddamn warrant, because he's Commander in Chief in a time of war. And just who the hell declared this "war"? An AUMF is not a declaration of war; by the way, Congress can call the war off.
"But this view is shortsighted. Its definition of freedom – one utterly divorced from civic responsibility – is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."
"As Justice Robert Jackson remarked in the case Terminiello v. City of Chicago, “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.” "
There you have it: the US Constitution is a suicide pact, written by a bunch of impractical suiciders who had just finished a longish period of bloody revolutionary war, and probably couldn't think straight.
2. "The fact is that the Patriot Act was born of a well-established criminal justice and national security structure as well as vibrant bi-partisan debate in Congress, both upon its establishment and its renewal."
Wrong, Gonzo; the Act was introduced onto the floor of the House ("on the House side, the version approved by the Judiciary Committee with some changes prompted by civil liberties concerns was replaced by a different version in the middle of the night") and was passed with a voice vote less than thirty minutes later. Not a single Representative or Senator had read the entirety of the 315 page bill. There was minimal debate in the Senate and none at all in the House.
3. "The Patriot Act does not authorize the government to go into your house or read your mail without probable cause and a warrant."
Wrong again, Beanie-boy. Instead, it authorizes self-written National Security Letters, no-knock B&Es, monitoring of your library reading habits, and muzzles the accused, and we all know how well that has worked out. Repeating, it authorizes "reasonable suspicion" rather than probable cause.
4. "The United States has no desire to be the world’s jailer, but we do have an obligation to both our own troops and to the soldiers of our allies to detain and remove terrorists from the battlefields of this conflict."
Fair enough, but wait...
5. "We have put in place extensive procedures to ensure that the individuals we detain at Guantanamo are, in fact, enemy combatants."
OK, which is it, 'terrorist' or 'enemy combatant'? Seems to me that armed combatants on battlefields are soldiers. Soldiers are covered by the Geneva Conventions on the Conduct of War. The Taliban is the indigenous militia of Afghanistan, and its members are soldiers, some of whom may be al Qaeda, but the others that aren't can't be terrorists, by definition. On the other hand, civilian "insurgents" are resistance-fighters legally justified in attacking foreign troops occupying their country. Gonzo is painting everybody with the same brush.
6. "The United States does not engage in torture, and consistent with our law and practice, no evidence obtained by torture shall be admitted at a military commission proceeding."
Har. See below.
7. "Al Qaeda has committed acts on a scale that transcends mere crime, as recognized by NATO immediately after the attacks of September 11th. Their crimes are therefore nothing less than war crimes. Given the magnitude of the atrocities al Qaeda has committed, there can be no comparison between the crimes of its members and that of common civilian criminals. "
Red herring. Nobody is saying that al Qaeda commits civilian-type crimes, although - forgive me - crashing an airplane or two into a building hardly compares to, oh, I don't know, how about dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima or fire-bombing Dresden? But if, as you say, we are at war, then these are war crimes, and again, are subject to Geneva and UCMJ-type laws, not "no-hearing hearings". For the record, General James "Raid on Tokyo" Doolittle once remarked that, had the US lost WWII, he probably would have been put on trial as a war criminal. Nuremberg rules apply, and trump US practice. (For an interesting history on the evolution of the tactic of indiscriminate bombing of civilians, see here.)
8. "’s war is fought at home, too..."
Here we have the key, the very essence, of Gonzo's wisdom; if the war is on our home ground, it stands to reason that the rules of that war must be applied to the domestic front. Thus, enemy combatants can and are being defined as such by the President under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and the Warner Appropriations Act of 2007.

So the President and Gonzales - not forgetting such luminaries as Irving Kristol, Norman Podherotz, John Yoo and the entire claque of Neoconservative authoritarian thugs - maintain that anyone, citizen or no, can be eavesdropped upon by the NSA and other agencies; can be detained and charged (or not) as a war criminal/terrorist by the government; and anyone can be rendered to a foreign country for interrogation using dubious "advanced techniques," on the President's sole authority.

Bear this in mind: Gonzo brings us not just the wisdom gleaned from his years of legal experience as personal weasel/consigliere to George W Bush, but the hopes and dreams of the entire Bush administration; the US Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper," and quite possibly, "a suicide pact."

Update: A very strong article about the subversion of the rule of law by the executive branch - posted today on - and its endorsement by the Wall Street Journal is here.

Revised and updated - 5/03/2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The girl blogger from Baghdad is leaving

River, the "girl blogger" from Baghdad, has been blogging from her hometown of Baghdad since August of 2003. For the last three and a half years she's been detailing her private life, including hopes for a better Iraq, but most recently she's been telling us about the deteriorating conditions in her hometown.

Sadly, she's about to leave. She talks about it in her latest post, as well as a thought or two about the walls going up all over town, turning Baghdad into a series of ghettos.

Abortion ruling blessing in disguise?

Eloquence in chalk

Killfile writes: The Court's 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart will very likely not prevent a single abortion. What it does do, however, is demonstrate a clear and unambiguous consensus from the Court that the Congress does have the authority and the power to legislate, based entirely upon moral grounds, the legality of a medical procedure. The precedent set in Gonzales v. Carhart, in conjunction with that set McCulloch v Maryland, fundamentally alters the landscape of the abortion debate and, with Democrats in control of the Congress and (potentially) the Presidency in 2008, the reaction from the American Right should be one of overwhelming terror, not jubilation.

Continue reading: Chickens Before They Hatch -- The Misplaced Jubilance of the Anti-Abortion Right

Tenet cries into his beer

The International Herald Tribune has obtained a copy of George Tenet's new book, "At the Center of the Storm," due out Monday. In it, Tenet unleashes his frustration at what he perceived as shabby treatment by the folks in the White House.

He pours a lot of vitriol over the figurative heads of the administration, and in no uncertain terms, although he never directly criticizes the president by name. Also, he whines just a little too much that he was a "patsy." (And him a grown man ...)

Anyhoo, some random quotes:

"There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years.

Nor, he adds, "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Tenet admits that he made his famous "slam dunk" remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on Bush's decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of "Meet the Press" last September in which Cheney twice referred to Tenet's "slam dunk" remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.

"I remember watching and thinking, 'As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war with Iraq,'" Tenet writes.

He also expresses skepticism about whether the increase in troops in Iraq will prove successful. "It may have worked more than three years ago," he wrote. "My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence."

As violence in Iraq spiraled, beginning in late 2003, Tenet writes, "rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration's message was: Don't blame us. George Tenet and the CIA got us into this mess."

There's more at: Tenent Denounces Cheney