The Anthrax Questions

 Congress, Crime, Politics, Presidency, Society, War  Comments Off on The Anthrax Questions
Aug 032008

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent article up at discussing the unresolved issues around the 2001 anthrax incident. As everyone knows Bruce Ivins committed suicide earlier this week as a Grand Jury prepared to indict him in connection with the anthrax incident. Ivins had been a top anthrax researcher at a U.S. Government research facility for 18 years. So seven years after the incident, and after having to pay a settlement to one falsely accused researcher, we’re to believe the government had an airtight case against Ivins witnessed by his apparent suicide.

I’m sorry that the current government has brought me to the point that I can rarely believe the official version of events, but I am not buying that this is the end of the story.

Greenwald makes an excellent point about the importance of the anthrax attacks.

One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters — with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 — that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax — sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets — that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.

I have to agree with Greenwald that it was the anthrax letters that really cemented the whole idea that we were under siege right in heartland. This pushed it over the top for Americans, and began laying the groundwork for going into Iraq.

There are just way too many coincidences that played out in the wake of these attacks for me to believe that our friend Dick Cheney didn’t have something to do with hammering home the need for us to attack Iraq. I won’t get into a discussion of the official story of the 9/11 attacks here, but you have to remember that New York is viewed by most of America as a unique place. Certainly it would be a target, as would Washington. However, anthrax, sent in the mail, could go just anywhere…millions could be exposed for the cost of small mass mailing. Most Americans, while appalled, disgusted, and saddened to our core by the 9/11 attacks quickly began to feel like it was an isolated attack on high value targets, and most of us don’t live near high value targets. The attacks had to continue, and they had to strike at home.    

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Nov 092006

Of course I can’t pass by the 2006 mid-term elections without comment. It was clearly a stunning victory for Democrats, and I can only hope the new Democratic majority will roll back some of the powers granted to the executive branch. Unfortunately, that normally comes very slowly.

A lot of pundits are saying the outcome is more a vote against Republicans than for Democrats. I will concede that observation to a point. However, I think there was also a very strong vote against the war and against the Bush Administration. Given that he has two years left, the voters can’t vote him out of office, so they did the next best thing, and voted against all the Republicans.

But it was also very much a “throw the bums out” election, and the bums all had an “R” next to their names. Democrats made huge gains in governorships and in control of state legislatures. I do think it became clear that the ultra-conservative theocratic evangelical voting bloc did not come through for the Republicans this time, despite having the marriage amendments on the ballots in several states. In South Dakota, voters reversed a new law completely outlawing abortions, and in Arizona, a marriage amendment was defeated. In the states where it passed, it generally passed by very narrow margins, but Republicans were still turned out of office in many of those states.

The evangelical voters are all whining about how they will need to “take back the party.” I think that bodes well for Democrats. It will be the most extreme wing of that party pulling it as far to the right as possible. I think a big part of this election includes a fatigue with the amtaliban trying to legislate the morality of everyone else. Hence the narrowing of margins in these moral issues ballot initiatives.

Here in Florida, I think the conservatives actually shot themselves in the foot. Florida approved a Constitutional Amendment requiring a 60% affirmative vote to amend the state Constitution. This will make it extremely difficult to get an anti-marriage amendment passed here.

Arch homo-bigoted County Commissioner Rhonda Storms won a seat in the state legislature. I expect her to make the usual fool of herself in Tallahasee, but at least her influence and vote will be severly diluted relative to her ability to influence life here in Hillsborough County. Interestingly, she was running a strong Republican district where Repubs usually win with a margin of two to three to one. Storms beat an unknown Democrat with only 58%.

And of course we can’t get through a complete election cycle here in Florida without some Republican chicanery. Watch the FL13 race closely…there was an 18,000 UNDERVOTE in Sarasota. The local and state election officials are blaming it not on their defective electronic voting machines, but on voters choosing not to vote in a “nasty” race!! Democrat Christine Jennings was ahead in every poll right up to election weekend. Election-Law blog thinks the court might order another election…but there’s even a juicier possibility: Congress deciding.

I’m sure a Democratic Congress would be interested in investigating the nonsense that occured in Katherine Harris’ old district (and hometown) with the assistance of Jeb’s pals at the Secretary of State’s office…I think this will develop into a major story as the month wears on.

Whatever the reasons, Democrats are the majority, and now have an opportunity to make something of it. If we do, we’ll stay in the majority, if we try to play it safe, the Republicans will rise again.

I remember the Republicans always threatening the “nuclear option” in the Senate. This was their threat to eliminate the filibuster. They railed against how it resulted in a minority thwarting the will of the majority. I think they given up the right to use the filibuster in the next Congress.

U.S. Soldiers Kill Iraqi Woman in Labor

 Politics, War  Comments Off on U.S. Soldiers Kill Iraqi Woman in Labor
May 312006

Nabiha Nisaif Jassim’s brother was racing her to the maternity hospital in Samarra, Iraq, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. U.S. troops fired on the car because it didn’t stop at a roadblock and killed her and her about to be delivered child. Her fetus died too. Her female cousin also was killed. Jassim was 35.

U.S. version:

The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings.

Jassim’s brother’s account:

“I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped,” he said. “God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives.” He said doctors tried but failed to save the baby after his sister was brought to the hospital.

This kind of “collateral damage” is no more acceptable than this continued war.

U.S. Admits Using Chemical Weapons

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Nov 172005

Uh?? Didn’t we invade Iraq because Hussein did this very sort of thing?

Reversing numerous prior denials, Pentagon officials said yesterday that white phosphorous was in fact "used as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November." After first categorically denying any use of phosphorous, the Pentagon said months ago that the chemical was "fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night," but "not at enemy fighters." But in the March 2005 edition of the Army’s official Field Artillery Magazine, three Army artillerymen describe using phosphorous in Fallujah "for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE [high explosives].  We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP [white phosphorous] to flush them out and HE to take them out." The use of phosphorous was uncovered in part by a new Italian documentary which depicts "a series of photographs from Fallujah of corpses with the flesh burnt off but clothes still intact," which is reportedly "consistent with the effects of white phosphorus on humans." Washington Post defense analyst William Arkin said yesterday, "What I’m sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad P.R.  It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy."

Kingdom of Heaven

 Culture, General, Movies, Religion  Comments Off on Kingdom of Heaven
Nov 132005

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Balian of Ibelin travels to Jerusalem during the crusades of the 12th century, and there he finds himself as the defender of the city and its people.

Directed by
Ridley Scott

Action, Drama, War

Martin Hancock, Michael Sheen, Nathalie Cox, Eriq Ebouaney, Jouko Ahola, David Thewlis, Liam Neeson, Philip Glenister, Orlando Bloom, Bronson Webb, Kevin McKidd, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Steven Robertson, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig

We rented this movie Friday night. Much is said about how the film portrays religion, given the sensitive subject of the Crusades, but I feel that Ridley has achieved a wonderful balance between how Christianity and Islam are portrayed. Both are given fair airtime on their ideologies, and the film tries to preach (pardon the pun) about tolerance, yet highlights the dangers of fanatical followers of both religions, of misguidance from men in search of worldly power.

Christianity took a beating – where senseless battles are waged in the name of Christ, where insensitivity breed contempt. Priests are cast in negative light and given lines like “convert to Islam, repent later” when all around seems lost. It is emphasized in the show that what matters is in your head and in your heart – that noble actions speak louder than mere empty and repetitive “praise the Lord” chants, as if that will protect you during Judgment Day.

The script is no revolution of coherence or cohesion, yet it works rather well for this type of movie. Because this is more pure entertainment than anything else. In the press material Ridley Scott stated himself that this should be seen more as entertainment than historical facts. Which is absolutely fine by me i might add, at least as long as he states this beforehand. Perhaps the most disturbing things is for instance the way that Orlando Bloom goes from clueless blacksmith to full-fledged sword-wielding knight in 15 minutes movie-time.

And the actors? Orlando Bloom is in my opinion one of the most over-rated actors around today. Here though he’s better than I’ve seen him before. I think the main thing is that he manages to act and look more like an adult this time, while in most previous movies he has felt almost childish. The rest of the cast consist mostly of quite well-known names and they all do a fine job, making this movie quite well-acted although it’s not exactly Shakespeare…

All things said and done?I found this movie to be very entertaining. It’s visually stunning, reasonably well acted with a decent script and some nice characters. What it lacks in coherence and story it makes up for with a strong and quick pace (for the genre) and some truly impressive action scenes.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (No Ratings Yet)


 Culture, Movies, War  Comments Off on Jarhead
Nov 112005

Jarhead (2005)

Based on former Marine Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 book about his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and about his experiences fighting in Kuwait.

Directed by
Sam Mendes

Action, Comedy, Drama, War

Jake Gyllenhaal, Scott MacDonald, Lo Ming, Kevin Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Damion Poitier, Riad Galayini, Craig Coyne, Katherine Randolph, Rini Bell, Dendrie Taylor, James Morrison, Arman Zajic, Brianne Davis, Jamie Foxx

I’m behind a movie review here. We went to see this movie last weekend.

While it isn’t the film that has been so brilliantly advertised, it’s a very solid film. It feels a lot like “Full Metal Jacket” early on, but with more humor. Then, it becomes an entirely new animal. More of a psychological study in that you (and the characters) know the Boogeyman’s “out there,” you’re just waiting for him to strike. And the longer you wait, the more stir-crazy you become within your own mind.

The acting is superb and the cinematography is stellar. It’s an anti-war film without being distinctly liberal about it. It’s a true story, and for the most part, Mendes tells it like it is. So, you can make your own judgment about it. But based off what you see, and all that happens, you have no choice but see the absurdity, not only in war, but perhaps in some of the USMC’s tactics as well. It’s heartbreaking to see what an experience like this can do to young men.

If you’re looking for action, this is not the film you’re looking for. No heroism, judgments, insight, or hope. Just the documentation and reflection of build up, the destruction of lives, psychological torment, boredom, camaraderie, and…waiting.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Lord of War

 Culture, Movies, Politics  Comments Off on Lord of War
Oct 292005

Lord of War (2005)

An arms dealer (Cage) confronts the morality of his work as he is being chased by an Interpol agent (Hawke).

Directed by
Andrew Niccol

Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Shake Tukhmanyan, Jean-Pierre Nshanian, Jared Burke, Eric Uys, David Shumbris, Stewart Morgan, Jasper Lenz, Kobus Marx, Stephan De Abreu, Jeremy Crutchley, Ian Holm, Tanya Finch

Lay and I went to see Lord Of War several weeks ago. I don’t why I forgot to review it here. We thought it was an interesting movie. Not great, but worth watching. Many people might walk away from this one not feeling “entertained” because it’s not your typical Hollywood thriller. It’s not a “Feel Good” movie you should take a date on in the hopes of coming away high on life and hand in hand. It’s a movie that’ll make you think and might disturb the uninformed viewer who knows little about the politics of war.

This is a movie based on actual events (that means it’s a movie that has some truth to it). From what I heard the director made quite a bit of research of the gun running world when creating this movie.

This movie takes a look at the gun running business through the story of one particular trafficker played by Cage. It goes through two decades of wars & conflicts and how the business and politics of gun running works. Cage is the middle man in that world, who navigates through it very professionally and coolly. Cage’s character is made to be likable, but not a hero by any means.

Many people may think that this movie depicts certain cultures and races in a bad light, but if you know anything about history and keep up to date with world events you’ll understand the truth behind these portrayals.

The movie is interesting because it is as close as to a realistic look to arms trafficking as Hollywood could produce without making a documentary. It’s refreshing because of this.

I hope people see this movie because it very much shows the truth behind how wars are supplied and how the richest nations in the world have done this for the ultimate prize? that thing that makes the world go round ? Money.

The movie as a whole is produced very well and the acting and cinematography is up to par with the type of film it is (as mentioned before, don’t expect a big production Hollywood action flick).

Don’t expect your typical Hollywood ending here either.

Once Again A Call To Methodist Bishops to Denouce Torture

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Sep 282005

I have, several times in the past, called on the U.S. Bishops of the United Methodist Church, to write George Bush and denounce the practice of government sponsored torture. To the best of my knowledge, only five have done so. In light of the recent revelations, I am, again, calling on these Christian leaders to denounce toture. I will be much aggressive this time in that I plan to make a phone call to each.

I have previously posted the contact information for the fifty U.S. Bishops in PDF and Excel format. I ask you to join me in calling on them to write the White House, and take a stand against torture.

Dear Bishop:

Most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture “consistent with military necessity.”

Are we, as Methodist charged by our founding principles to be socially responsible, going to continue to close our eyes – even as this behavior continues to be exposed?

We have come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind in the Old World, “or we are lost and undone.” Can the leaders of Methodism consult their own consciences with respect to what Justice may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately as the patriots who founded our nation?

On September 24, The New York Times ran a detailed report regarding the kinds of “routine” torture that US servicemen and women have been ordered to carry out ( This week’s Time also has an article on the use of torture by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Those two articles are based on a new report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army Captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon spokesman has dismissed the report as “another predictable report by an organization trying to advance an agenda through the use of distortion and errors of fact.” Judge for yourselves; the report can be found at ( Grim but required reading.

See if you can guess the author of the following:

“In this land that has inherited through our forebears the noblest understandings of the rule of law, our government has deliberately chosen the way of barbarism…

There is a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can be paid in only one currency – the currency of human rights…When this currency is devalued a nation chooses the company of the world’s dictatorships and banana republics. I indict this government for the crime of taking us into that shady fellowship.

The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a civilized state. But to prisoners we say, ‘We will hold you where no one can hear your screams.’ When I used the word ‘barbarism,’ this is what I meant. The entire policy stands condemned by the methods used to pursue it.

We send a message to the jailers, interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and permissible: ‘Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be required of you.”

— Bishop Peter Storey, Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg, June 1981

The various rationalizations for torture do not bear close scrutiny. Intelligence specialists concede that the information acquired by torture cannot be considered reliable. Our own troops are brutalized when they follow orders to brutalize. And they are exposed to much greater risk when captured. Our country becomes a pariah among nations. Above all, torture is simply wrong. It falls into the same category of evil as slavery and rape. Torture is inhuman and immoral, whether or not our bishops and rabbis can summon the courage to name it so.

You forfeit your moral authority when you keep your heads down and eyes averted to this behavior. The question is this: Are we up to the challenge of confronting the evil of torture, or shall we prove Patrick Henry right? Is our country about to be “lost and undone?”

I once again call on each of you to decry the government sponsored torture that is clearly taking place. We, as Christians and Methodists can do no less. It is, as a leader of the Church, your obligation to speak up loudly and denounce these activities. As Bishop Story noted, one day too, our souls will be required of us.

Yours in Peace,
John Masters

Army Captain Alleges Systematic Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners

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Sep 272005

Time magazine yesterday revealed new allegations of "systematic abuse" of Iraqi detainees made by a "decorated former Captain in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division." For months, Capt. Ian Fishback said, U.S. soldiers were directed "to conduct daily beatings of prisoners prior to questioning." In one instance, "a soldier allegedly broke a detainee’s leg with a metal bat." Other prisoners had "their faces and eyes exposed to burning chemicals." Fishback says he told Army superiors of the abuse several times, but was met with "repeated brush-offs." Finally, he reported his charges to Human Rights Watch (read HRW’s full report). Now that the abuse is public, the Army says it has launched a criminal investigation.

Bush's Appeal for Private Contributions to Iraq

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Sep 262005

You will be happy to know that the President’s appeal for private contributions to help Iraq has been met with a grand total of about $600.

You won’t find anything about it in the American press, but Britian’s The Observer International says:

An extraordinary appeal to Americans from the Bush administration for money to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq has raised only $600 (£337), The Observer has learnt. Yet since the appeal was launched earlier this month, donations to rebuild New Orleans have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars.

The public’s reluctance to contribute much more than the cost of two iPods to the administration’s attempt to offer citizens ‘a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq’ has been seized on by critics as evidence of growing ambivalence over that country.

This is the first time our government has ever made an appeal to taxpayers to privately contribute foreign aid money, and it looks like quite the flop. I guess all those war supporters aren’t too keen to pony up, evidently having used up their tax breaks to slather Support the Troops magnets on their bumpers. I mean, those are each a couple of bucks. Not only are the freepers unwilling to put their neck’s on the line, neither are they going to put their money where their mouth is.

Haliburton Taking Good Care of Our Troops

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Sep 212005

Not only did Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary serve U.S. troops in Iraq spoiled food (sometimes a year past the expiration date), but also contaminated water from Iraq’s Euphrates River, containing "numerous pathogenic organisms" at nearly two times the normal contamination levels of untreated water. "[R]aw sewage is routinely dumped less than two miles from the water intake location." KBR water quality specialists reported their concerns, but were told by their superiors that their claims were "erroneous" and "corrective measures" had been taken, with no evidence anything had been done. Two whistleblowers resigned because of "unsafe water and pressure to cover it up" (one became sick from the drinking water) and another expects to  be terminated soon.

So now they’re being unleashed on the citizens of the Gulf Coast as well. Ya know, quite frankly, in words of our Vice President, to all of you that voted President Cheney and W into office, "Go fuck yourselves."