Friday, December 30, 2005

Are Iraqi police engaging in torture tactics?
NBC exclusive interview: Iraqi policeman says it's just how things are done

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. military officials announced Thursday the discovery of three more secret prisons, like two others where Sunnis claimed they were tortured.

The Iraqi police who run them, U.S. officials say, have been infiltrated by Shiite militias that target Sunnis, and can no longer be trusted....

...U.S. military commanders says reports of widespread torture are credible. Today, they announced plans to embed hundreds more U.S. troops with Iraqi police to reign in a force they helped create, but which now seems out of control.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kurds preparing takeover; U.S. exit strategy at risk
The U.S. plan for leaving Iraq is in trouble, with more than 10,000 Kurds in the Iraqi army prepared to seize control of northern Iraq for an independent state.

KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga -- the Kurdish militia -- and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

''It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,'' said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. ``Kirkuk will be ours.''...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Viewer mail
This is not anything out of the ordinary, but every now and then [Brian Flemming likes] to share Beyond Belief Media's fan mail:

You've definitely got some nerve. I'd love to take a knife, gut you fools, and scream with joy as your insides spill out in front of you. You are attempting to ignite a holy war in which some day I, and others like me, may have the pleasure of taking action like the above mentioned. However, GOD teaches us not to seek vengeance, but to pray for those like you all. I'll get comfort in knowing that the punishment GOD will bring to you will be 1000 times worse than anything I can inflict. The best part is that you WILL suffer for eternity for these sins that you're completely ignorant about. The Wrath of GOD will show no mercy. For your sake, I hope the truth is revealed to you before the knife connects with your flesh. Merry CHRISTMAS!!!

PS You people really don't have a clue as to what is in store for you... I thank GOD I'm not you.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bombs, protests in Iraq as election mood sours
Lull in violence ends as Sunnis, secular parties dispute poll results

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bombs struck Iraqi police and army patrols and destroyed an American tank in Baghdad on Sunday as fresh street protests over election results kept up tension that has soured the mood after a peaceful ballot 10 days ago.

In the violent northern city of Mosul, the killing of a Sunni Arab student leader abducted after heading a demonstration against the election results prompted accusations by mourners at his funeral against militias loyal to the victorious Shiite Islamists and their Kurdish allies in the interim government.

President Jalal Talabani, meeting the U.S. ambassador who is mediating in efforts to transform the newly inclusive parliament into a viable government, urged Sunni leaders to join a new, broader coalition. Otherwise there would be no peace, he warned.

Disappointed Sunni and secular parties have demanded a rerun of the Dec. 15 election and threatened to boycott parliament, a move that could damage U.S. hopes of forging a consensus that can keep Iraq from breaking up in ethnic and sectarian warfare.

But despite militant rhetoric, seemingly aimed at increasing their leverage, Sunnis are negotiating with others to build a governing coalition on the basis of the existing poll results.

Meeting U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in his Kurdish power base of Sulaimaniya, Talabani said: “Without the Sunni parties there will be no consensus government ... without consensus government there will be no unity, there will be no peace.”...

...City council leader Kamal al-Nazal complained of fraud in an election the once dominant Sunni minority had taken part in for the first time with high hopes, only to see them disappointed: “We went to a wedding,” he said. “And it turned into a funeral.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Mystery of the Coca Plant That Wouldn't Die
...Over the past three years, rumors of a new strain of coca have circulated in the Colombian military. The new plant, samples of which are spread out on this table, goes by different names: supercoca, la millonaria. Here in the southern region it's known as Boliviana negra. The most impressive characteristic is not that it produces more leaves - though it does - but that it is resistant to glyphosate. The herbicide, known by its brand name, Roundup, is the key ingredient in the US-financed, billion-dollar aerial coca fumigation campaign that is a cornerstone of America's war on drugs.

One possible explanation: The farmers of the region may have used selective breeding to develop a hardier strain of coca. If a plant happened to demonstrate herbicide resistance, it would be more widely cultivated, and clippings would be either sold or, in many cases, given away or even stolen by other farmers. Such a peer-to-peer network could, over time, result in a coca crop that can withstand large-scale aerial spraying campaigns.

But experts in herbicide resistance suspect that there is another, more intriguing possibility: The coca plant may have been genetically modified in a lab. The technology is fairly trivial. In 1996, Monsanto commercialized its patented Roundup Ready soybean - a genetically modified plant impervious to glyphosate. The innovation ushered in an era of hyperefficient soybean production: Farmers were able to spray entire fields, killing all the weeds and leaving behind a thriving soybean crop. The arrival of Roundup Ready coca would have a similar effect - except that in this case, it would be the US doing the weed killing for the drug lords.

Whether its resistance came from selective breeding or genetic modification, the new strain poses a significant foreign-policy challenge to the US. How Washington responds depends on how the plant became glyphosate resistant. That's why I'm here in the jungle - to test for the new coca. I've brought along a mobile kit used to detect the presence of the Roundup Ready gene in soybean samples. If the tests are inconclusive, my backup plan is to smuggle the leaves to Colombia's capital, Bogotá, and have their DNA sequenced in a lab.

In my hotel room, I put the swizzle stick-sized test strip into the tube filled with mashed Boliviana negra. The green water snakes up the strip. If the midsection turns red, I'll know that the drug lords have genetically engineered the plant and beaten the US at its own game. If it doesn't, it'll mean that Colombia's farmers have outwitted 21st-century technology with an agricultural technique that's been around for 10,000 years....

...Four weeks later, the scientist sends me an email saying that he has completed the DNA analysis and found no evidence of modification. He tested specifically for the presence of CP4 - a telltale indicator of the Roundup Ready modification - as well as for the cauliflower mosaic virus, the gene most commonly used to insert foreign DNA into a plant. It is still possible that the plant has been genetically modified using other genes, but not likely. Discovering new methods of engineering glyphosate resistance would require the best scientific minds and years of organized research. And given that there is already a published methodology, there would be little reason to duplicate the effort.

Which points back to selective breeding. The implication is that the farmers' decentralized system of disseminating coca cuttings has been amazingly effective - more so than genetic engineering could hope to be. When one plant somewhere in the country demonstrated tolerance to glyphosate, cuttings were made and passed on to dealers and farmers, who could sell them quickly to farmers hoping to withstand the spraying. The best of the next generation was once again used for cuttings and distributed.

This technique - applied over four years - is now the most likely explanation for the arrival of Boliviana negra. By spraying so much territory, the US significantly increased the odds of generating beneficial mutations. There are numerous species of coca, further increasing the diversity of possible mutations. And in the Amazonian region, nature is particularly adaptive and resilient.

"I thought it was unlikely," says Gressel, the plant scientist at the Weizmann Institute. "But farmers aren't dumb. They obviously spotted a lucky mutation and propagated the hell out of it."

The effects of this are far-reaching for American policymakers: A new herbicide would work only for a limited time against such a simple but effective ad hoc network. The coca-growing community is clearly primed to take advantage of any mutations....

Ears of plenty
IN 10,000 years, the earth's population has doubled ten times, from less than 10m to more than six billion now and ten million soon. Most of the calories that made that increase possible have come from three plants: maize, rice and wheat. The oldest, most widespread and until recently biggest of the three crops is wheat (see chart). To a first approximation wheat is the staple food of mankind, and its history is that of humanity.

Yet today, wheat is losing its crown. The tonnage (though not the acreage) of maize harvested in the world began consistently to exceed that of wheat for the first time in 1998; rice followed suit in 1999. Genetic modification, which has transformed maize, rice and soyabeans, has largely passed wheat by—to such an extent that it is in danger of becoming an “orphan crop”. The Atkins diet and a fashion for gluten allergies have made wheat seem less wholesome. And with population growth rates falling sharply while yields continue to rise, even the acreage devoted to wheat may now begin to decline for the first time since the stone age.

It is time to pay tribute to this strange little grass that has done so much for the human race. Strange is the word, for wheat is a genetic monster. A typical wheat variety is hexaploid—it has six copies of each gene, where most creatures have two. Its 21 chromosomes contain a massive 16 billion base pairs of DNA, 40 times as much as rice, six times as much as maize and five times as much as people. It is derived from three wild ancestral species in two separate mergers. The first took place in the Levant 10,000 years ago, the second near the Caspian Sea 2,000 years later. The result was a plant with extra-large seeds incapable of dispersal in the wild, dependent entirely on people to sow them.

The story actually starts much earlier, around 12,000 years ago. ...

Sunni claims that poll was rigged raise fears of fresh insurgency
SUNNI politicians in Iraq launched a fierce attack yesterday on the credibility of last week’s watershed general election, in what could be the first step towards their rejection of the eventual outcome.

As a religious Shia coalition swept the board the newly engaged Sunni leaders issued barely concealed warnings of trouble ahead, prompting fears that insurgents will take it as a signal to renew violence. ...

Iraq's election result: a divided nation
Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions.

Religious fundamentalists now have the upper hand. The secular and nationalist candidate backed by the US and Britain was humiliatingly defeated.

The Shia religious coalition has won a total victory in Baghdad and the south of Iraq. The Sunni Arab parties who openly or covertly support armed resistance to the US are likely to win large majorities in Sunni provinces. The Kurds have already achieved quasi-independence and their voting reflected that.

The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.

Islamic fundamentalist movements are ever more powerful in both the Sunni and Shia communities. Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi commentator, said: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq."

The success of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shia religious parties, has been far greater than expected according to preliminary results. It won 58 per cent of the vote in Baghdad, while Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister strongly supported by Tony Blair, got only 14 per cent of the vote. In Basra, Iraq's second city, 77 per cent of voters supported the Alliance and only 11 per cent Mr Allawi.

The election was portrayed by President George Bush as a sign of success for US policies in Iraq but, in fact, means the triumph of America's enemies inside and outside the country.

Iran will be pleased that the Shia religious parties which it has supported, have become the strongest political force.

Ironically, Mr Bush is increasingly dependent within Iraq on the co-operation and restraint of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the eradication of Israel. It is the allies of the Iranian theocracy who are growing in influence by the day and have triumphed in the election. The US will fear that development greatly as it constantly reminds the world of Iran's nuclear ambitions....

Bush Administration mining fundamentalist recruits
The former Dean of Academic Affairs at the fundamentalist Christian Patrick Henry College is appointed to oversee USAID's democracy and governance programs

...Michael P. Farris, a longtime Christian right activist is the founder and president of the Purcellville, Va.-based Patrick Henry College (website), whose motto is "For Christ and For Liberty." Located just 50 miles from the nation's capital, it bills itself as "one of America's top ten conservative colleges," a designation given it last November by the conservative Young America's Foundation (YAF), "a nationwide campus outreach organization dedicated to the promotion of conservative values."

Farris is a member of the Board of Directors of Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and belonged to the ultra-right secretive Council for National Policy. He is an attorney who specializes in constitutional law, and in 1993 he was the Republican candidate for the office of lieutenant governor of Virginia (he lost). Farris is also the author of "Where Do I Draw the Line," "Constitutional Law for Christian Students," "Home Schooling and the Law," and "The Homeschooling Father."

Farris, however, made his mark as founder and president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which was set up in 1983 to promote home schooling among Christian families.

Patrick Henry College's mission, as adopted by the Board of Trustees September 28, 2002, is "to train Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding. In order to accomplish this mission, the College provides academically excellent higher education with a biblical worldview using classical liberal arts core curriculum and apprenticeship methodology." Its vision is "to aid in the transformation of American society by training Christian students to serve God and mankind with a passion for righteousness, justice and mercy, through careers of public service and cultural influence."

According to Fischer, the school "requires ... all of its 300 students sign a 10-part 'statement of faith' declaring, among other things, that they believe 'Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is God come in the flesh'; that 'Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead'; and that hell is a place where 'all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity.'"

In addition, faculty members "must sign a pledge stating they share a generally literalist belief in the Bible," Fisher reported. "Revealingly, only biology and theology teachers are required to hold a literal view specifically of the Bible's six-day creation story."

Even though there are only 240 students enrolled, the college is flush: It "gets so much money from right-wing Christian donors that it operates without debt and yet charges just $15,000 a year for tuition," the Independent's Andrew Buncombe reported in January 2004.

Buncombe described the College as a campus out of some other time: "Students must obey a curfew, wear their hair neatly and dress 'modestly.'If they wish to hold hands with a member of the opposite sex, they must do so while walking: standing while holding hands is not permitted. And students must sign an honor pledge that bans them from drinking alcohol unless under parental supervision." In addition, "The MTV and VH1 pop-culture channels are blocked from campus televisions because their contents are considered inappropriate [and] the students' computers are set up with a program called Covenant Eyes, which monitors the websites they visit."

In addition to Farris and Janet Ashcroft, the wife of the then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, PHC's Board of Trustees includes: Chairman Jack W. Haye, a Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo Bank; Vice Chairman Paul De Pree, Ph.D., a Senior Project Leader with the Dow Chemical Company; Ramon Ardizzone, Chairman and CEO Emeritus of Glenayre Technologies, Inc.; Kenneth L. Connor, J.D., an attorney with Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. and the former head of the Family Research Council; Barbara Hodel, Vice President of the Summit Energy Group and the wife of Don Hodel who recently retired as President and Chief Executive Officer of Focus on the Family; James R. Leininger, M.D., the Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Kinetic Concepts, Inc. and a longtime funder and supporter of the privatization of public schools; Russell B. Pulliam, the Associate Editor of the Indianapolis Star; Wilfred S. Templeton, the President and CEO of Ft. Myers Toyota; and John E. Urban, a Partner (Retired) with Goldman Sachs....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This Sermon Brought To You By Narnia
The much-hyped Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opens in theaters today and for every bit of Narnia marketing you come across it seems you'll also find a corresponding article in the media.

The CT Weblog offers some broad coverage and specifically explores the question, did Disney pay for your sermon? Sermon Central is offering a Narnia sermon contest where you can win a trip to London and $1,000 cash. ...

Monday, December 19, 2005

‘Dr. Germ,’ other ex-Saddam aides freed
Some high-value detainees deemed no longer a security threat

BAGHDAD, Iraq - About 24 top former officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime, including a biological weapons expert known as “Dr. Germ,” have been released from jail...

...An Iraqi lawyer said the 24 or 25 officials from Saddam’s government were released from jail without charges, and some have already left the country.

“The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn’t been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq,” said the lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref.

Among them were Rihab Taha, a British-educated biological weapons expert, who was known as “Dr. Germ” for her role in making bio-weapons in the 1980s, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as “Mrs. Anthrax,” a former top Baath Party official and biotech researcher, Aref said.

“Because of security reasons, some of them want to leave the country,” he said. He declined to elaborate, but noted “some have already left Iraq today.”

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, would say only that eight individuals formerly designated as high-value detainees were released Saturday after a board process found they were no longer a security threat and no charges would be filed against them.

Neither the U.S. military or Iraqi officials would disclose any of the names, but a legal official in Baghdad said Taha and Ammash were among those released....

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rise in poll complaints troubles Iraq vote monitors
Suspected polling violations on voting day last week far exceeded the number in Iraq's first election in January, local and international monitors said yesterday.

On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

In January there were only five of these "red" complaints, the observer added. Red complaints are alleged breaches serious enough to potentially hand a seat to a party or election bloc unfairly. The election commission has declined to say how many such complaints it has received, but several parties handed in dossiers listing breaches allegedly seen by their monitors.

Secular Arab parties have accused the Shia religious bloc, which dominates the current government, of intimidating voters in Baghdad and many southern cities.

The Iraqi National List, headed by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, filed more than 60 complaints yesterday. They alleged that at several polling stations policemen, national guard troops, or men from the major crimes unit were chanting for the Shia religious list, known as 555.

At the Sharqia high school in central Baghdad, which was used as a polling station, a senior election official was said to have asked voters if they were going to vote for 555. Unless they said yes, they were not given ballot papers....

A Whore that Sitteth on Many Waters
What the Left Behind Series Really Means

...If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of last book in the Left Behind series, Glorious Appearing, and publish it across the Middle East, Americans would go berserk. Yet tens of millions of Christians eagerly await and celebrate an End Time when everyone who disagrees with them will be murdered in ways that make Islamic beheading look like a bridal shower. Jesus -- who apparently has a much nastier streak than we have been led to believe -- merely speaks and “the bodies of the enemy are ripped wide open down the middle.” In the book Christians have to drive carefully to avoid “hitting splayed and filleted corpses of men and women and horses,” even as the riders’ tongues are melting in their mouths and they are being wide-open gutted by God’s own hand, the poor damned horses are getting the same treatment. Sort of a divinely inspired version of “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

This may be some of the bloodiest hate fiction ever published, but it is also what tens of millions of Americans believe is God’s will. ...

... Sales figures aside, it is entirely possible that the Left Behind series is as important in our time and cultural context as was, say, Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its time, wherein Lincoln called it “the little book that started the big war.” The truth is that LaHaye is among the most influential religious writers America ever produced and is the most powerful fundamentalist in America today. He is the founder and first president of the eerily secretive Council for National Policy, which brings together leading evangelicals and other conservatives with right-wing billionaires willing to pay for a conservative religious revolution. He is far more influential than Billy Graham or Pat Robertson and was the man who inspired Jerry Falwell to launch the Moral Majority. He gave millions of dollars to Falwell's Liberty University. He’s the man without whom Ronald Reagan would never have become governor of California and the man who grilled George W. Bush, then wiped the cocaine off George’s nose and gave him the official Christian fundie stamp of approval. He created the American Coalition for Traditional Values that has mobilized evangelical voters, putting neo-conservative wackjobs into political offices across the nation. In short, he is the Godfather of Soul, fundie style. When the man lays it down, his peeps doo dey duty.

Scratch LaHaye and you’ll find an honest-to-god surviving John Bircher. In the 1960s when LaHaye was a young up-and-coming Baptist preacher fresh out of Bob Jones University, he lectured on behalf of Republican Robert Welch’s John Birch Society. We are talking about a man who believed Dwight Eisenhower was an agent of the Communist Party taking orders from his brother, Milt Eisenhower. Along the way LaHaye extended his paranoid list of villains to include secular humanists who “are Satan’s agents hiding behind the Constitution.” And the only way to destroy them is to destroy their cover....

Pushing the Limits Of Wartime Powers
In his four-year campaign against al Qaeda, President Bush has turned the U.S. national security apparatus inward to secretly collect information on American citizens on a scale unmatched since the intelligence reforms of the 1970s.

The president's emphatic defense yesterday of warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens and residents marked the third time in as many months that the White House has been obliged to defend a departure from previous restraints on domestic surveillance. In each case, the Bush administration concealed the program's dimensions or existence from the public and from most members of Congress.

Since October, news accounts have disclosed a burgeoning Pentagon campaign for "detecting, identifying and engaging" internal enemies that included a database with information on peace protesters. A debate has roiled over the FBI's use of national security letters to obtain secret access to the personal records of tens of thousands of Americans. And now come revelations of the National Security Agency's interception of telephone calls and e-mails from the United States -- without notice to the federal court that has held jurisdiction over domestic spying since 1978.

Defiant in the face of criticism, the Bush administration has portrayed each surveillance initiative as a defense of American freedom. ...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In Address, Bush Says He Ordered Domestic Spying
...The revelation that Mr. Bush had secretly instructed the security agency to intercept the communications of Americans and terrorist suspects inside the United States, without first obtaining warrants from a secret court that oversees intelligence matters, was cited by several senators as a reason for their vote....

... But the revelation of the domestic spying program, which the administration temporarily suspended last year because of concerns about its legality, came in a leak. Mr. Bush said the information had been "improperly provided to news organizations."

As a result of the report, he said, "our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies and endangers our country."...

Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 ­- Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight....

...Several national security officials say the powers granted the N.S.A. by President Bush go far beyond the expanded counterterrorism powers granted by Congress under the USA Patriot Act, which is up for renewal. The House on Wednesday approved a plan to reauthorize crucial parts of the law. But final passage has been delayed under the threat of a Senate filibuster because of concerns from both parties over possible intrusions on Americans' civil liberties and privacy.

Under the act, law enforcement and intelligence officials are still required to seek a F.I.S.A. warrant every time they want to eavesdrop within the United States. A recent agreement reached by Republican leaders and the Bush administration would modify the standard for F.B.I. wiretap warrants, requiring, for instance, a description of a specific target. Critics say the bar would remain too low to prevent abuses.

Bush administration officials argue that the civil liberties concerns are unfounded, and they say pointedly that the Patriot Act has not freed the N.S.A. to target Americans. "Nothing could be further from the truth," wrote John Yoo, a former official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and his co-author in a Wall Street Journal opinion article in December 2003. Mr. Yoo worked on a classified legal opinion on the N.S.A.'s domestic eavesdropping program.

At an April hearing on the Patriot Act renewal, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the F.B.I., "Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?"

"Generally," Mr. Mueller said, "I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens." ...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Official: Al-Zarqawi caught, released
Authorities didn't realize prisoner was terrorist mastermind

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces caught the most wanted man in the country last year, but released him because they didn't know who he was, the Iraqi deputy minister of interior said Thursday.

Hussain Kamal confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the al Qaeda in Iraq leader who has a $25 million bounty on his head -- was in custody at some point last year, but he wouldn't provide further details.

A U.S. official couldn't confirm the report, but said he wouldn't dismiss it....

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush Says 30,000 Iraqis Killed in War
President Bush offered encouragement to war-weary Iraqis on Monday but acknowledged they have paid a heavy price — 30,000 dead — as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and its bloody aftermath. ...

...Bush unexpectedly invited questions from the audience and immediately was asked about the number of Iraqi casualties in the war.

"I would say 30,000 more or less have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," the president said. "We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

White House counselor Dan Bartlett said later that Bush's estimate of the number of Iraqis killed was not an official figure but that the president was simply repeating public estimates reported in the media....

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Political Economy of Fear
by Robert Higgs

...Thousands of years ago, when the first governments were fastening themselves on people, they relied primarily on warfare and conquest. As Henry Hazlitt ([1976] 1994) observes,
There may have been somewhere, as a few eighteenth-century philosophers dreamed, a group of peaceful men who got together one evening after work and drew up a Social Contract to form the state. But nobody has been able to find an actual record of it. Practically all the governments whose origins are historically established were the result of conquest—of one tribe by another, one city by another, one people by another. Of course there have been constitutional conventions, but they merely changed the working rules of governments already in being.

Losers who were not slain in the conquest itself had to endure the consequent rape and pillage and in the longer term to acquiesce in the continuing payment of tribute to the insistent rulers—the stationary bandits, as Mancur Olson (2000, 6–9) aptly calls them. Subjugated people, for good reason, feared for their lives. Offered the choice of losing their wealth or losing their lives, they tended to choose the sacrifice of their wealth. Hence arose taxation, variously rendered in goods, services, or money (Nock [1935] 1973, 19–22; Nock relies on and credits the pioneering historical research of Ludwig Gumplowicz and Franz Oppenheimer).

Conquered people, however, naturally resent their imposed government and the taxation and other insults that it foists on them. Such resentful people easily become restive; should a promising opportunity to throw off the oppressor's dominion present itself, they may seize it. Even if they mount no rebellion or overt resistance, however, they quietly strive to avoid their rulers' exactions and to sabotage their rulers' apparatus of government. As Machiavelli observes, the conqueror "who does not manage this matter well, will soon lose whatever he has gained, and while he retains it will find in it endless troubles and annoyances" ([1513] 1992, 5). For the stationary bandits, force alone proves a very costly resource for keeping people in the mood to generate a substantial, steady stream of tribute.

Sooner or later, therefore, every government augments the power of its sword with the power of its priesthood, forging an iron union of throne and altar. In olden times, not uncommonly, the rulers were themselves declared to be gods—the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt made this claim for many centuries. Now the subjects can be brought to fear not only the ruler's superior force, but also his supernatural powers. Moreover, if people believe in an afterlife, where the pain and sorrows of this life may be sloughed off, the priests hold a privileged position in prescribing the sort of behavior in the here and now that best serves one's interest in securing a blessed situation in the life to come. Referring to the Catholic Church of his own day, Machiavelli takes note of "the spiritual power which of itself confers so mighty an authority" ([1513] 1992, 7), and he heaps praise on Ferdinand of Aragon, who, "always covering himself with the cloak of religion, ... had recourse to what may be called pious cruelty" (59, emphasis in original).[2] Naturally, the warriors and the priests, if not one and the same, almost invariably come to be cooperating parties in the apparatus of rule. In medieval Europe, for example, a baron's younger brother might look forward to becoming a bishop.

Thus, the warrior element of government puts the people in fear for their lives, and the priestly element puts them in fear for their eternal souls. These two fears compose a powerful compound—sufficient to prop up governments everywhere on earth for several millennia.

Over the ages, governments refined their appeals to popular fears, fostering an ideology that emphasizes the people's vulnerability to a variety of internal and external dangers from which the governors—of all people!—are said to be their protectors. Government, it is claimed, protects the populace from external attackers and from internal disorder, both of which are portrayed as ever-present threats. Sometimes the government, as if seeking to fortify the mythology with grains of truth, does protect people in this fashion—even the shepherd protects his sheep, but he does so to serve his own interest, not theirs, and when the time comes, he will shear or slaughter them as his interest dictates.[3] When the government fails to protect the people as promised, it always has a good excuse, often blaming some element of the population--scapegoats such as traders, money lenders, and unpopular ethnic or religious minorities. "[N]o prince," Machiavelli assures us, "was ever at a loss for plausible reasons to cloak a breach of faith" ([1513] 1992, 46).

The religious grounds for submission to the ruler-gods gradually transmogrified into notions of nationalism and popular duty, culminating eventually in the curious idea that under a democratic system of government, the people themselves are the government, and hence whatever it requires them to do, they are really doing for themselves—as Woodrow Wilson had the cheek to declare when he proclaimed military conscription backed by severe criminal sanctions in 1917, "it is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling: it is, rather, selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass" (qtd. in Palmer 1931, 216–17).

Not long after the democratic dogma had gained a firm foothold, organized coalitions emerged from the mass electorate and joined the elites in looting the public treasury, and, as a consequence, in the late nineteenth century the so-called welfare state began to take shape. From that time forward, people were told that the government can and should protect them from all sorts of workaday threats to their lives, livelihoods, and overall well-being—threats of destitution, hunger, disability, unemployment, illness, lack of income in old age, germs in the water, toxins in the food, and insults to their race, sex, ancestry, creed, and so forth. Nearly everything that the people feared, the government then stood poised to ward off. Thus did the welfare state anchor its rationale in the solid rock of fear. Governments, having exploited popular fears of violence so successfully from time immemorial (promising "national security"), had no difficulty in cementing these new stones (promising "social security") into their foundations of rule....

...This same factor helps to explain the drumbeat of fears pounded out by the mass media: besides serving their own interests in capturing an audience, they buy insurance against government punishment by playing along with whatever program of fear-mongering the government is conducting currently. Anyone who watches, say, CNN's Headline News programs can attest that a day seldom passes without some new announcement of a previously unsuspected Terrible Threat—I call it the danger du jour.

By keeping the population in a state of artificially heightened apprehension, the government-cum-media prepares the ground for planting specific measures of taxation, regulation, surveillance, reporting, and other invasions of the people's wealth, privacy, and freedoms. Left alone for a while, relieved of this ceaseless bombardment of warnings, people would soon come to understand that hardly any of the announced threats has any substance and that they can manage their own affairs quite well without the security-related regimentation and tax-extortion the government seeks to justify....

...This same factor helps to explain the drumbeat of fears pounded out by the mass media: besides serving their own interests in capturing an audience, they buy insurance against government punishment by playing along with whatever program of fear-mongering the government is conducting currently. Anyone who watches, say, CNN's Headline News programs can attest that a day seldom passes without some new announcement of a previously unsuspected Terrible Threat—I call it the danger du jour.

By keeping the population in a state of artificially heightened apprehension, the government-cum-media prepares the ground for planting specific measures of taxation, regulation, surveillance, reporting, and other invasions of the people's wealth, privacy, and freedoms. Left alone for a while, relieved of this ceaseless bombardment of warnings, people would soon come to understand that hardly any of the announced threats has any substance and that they can manage their own affairs quite well without the security-related regimentation and tax-extortion the government seeks to justify....

...Because during wartime the public fears for the nation's welfare, perhaps even for its very survival, people surrender wealth, privacy, and liberties to the government far more readily than they otherwise would. Government and its private contractors therefore have a field day. Opportunists galore join the party, each claiming to be performing some "essential war service," no matter how remote their affairs may be from contributing directly to the military program. Using popular fear to justify its predations, the government lays claim to great expanses of the economy and the society. Government taxation, borrowing, expenditure, and direct controls dilate, while individual rights shrivel into insignificance. Of what importance is one little person when the entire nation is in peril?

Finally, of course, every war ends, but each leaves legacies that persist, sometimes permanently. In the United States, the War between the States and both world wars left a multitude of such legacies (Hummel 1996, Higgs 1987, 2004). Likewise, as Corey Robin (2004, 25) writes, "one day, the war on terrorism will come to an end. All wars do. And when it does, we will find ourselves still living in fear: not of terrorism or radical Islam, but of the domestic rulers that fear has left behind." Among other things, we will find that "various security agencies operating in the interest of national security have leveraged their coercive power in ways that target dissenters posing no conceivable threat of terrorism" (189). Not by accident, "the FBI has targeted the antiwar movement in the United States for especially close scrutiny" (189)....

...Were we ever to stop being afraid of the government itself and to cast off the phoney fears it has fostered, the government would shrivel and die, and the host would disappear for the tens of millions of parasites in the United States—not to speak of the vast number of others in the rest of the world--who now feed directly and indirectly off the public's wealth and energies. On that glorious day, everyone who had been living at public expense would have to get an honest job, and the rest of us, recognizing government as the false god it has always been, could set about assuaging our remaining fears in more productive and morally defensible ways.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

CIA War Crimes
CIA has documented every use of its exclusive 'enhanced interrogation techniques'

...According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear . . . al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment. ...

Friday, December 09, 2005

When Self-Defense Is No Defense
Here's an outrageous twist on the sadly familiar story of the man who dies in a drug raid because police burst into the wrong home by mistake (whoops!)...

When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off
Some of the nation's most prominent megachurches have decided not to hold worship services on the Sunday that coincides with Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to "put the Christ back in Christmas."

The Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., has Christmas decorations, but not services.

Megachurch leaders say that the decision is in keeping with their innovative and "family friendly" approach and that they are compensating in other ways. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for the occasion that features a heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale.

"What we're encouraging people to do is take that DVD and in the comfort of their living room, with friends and family, pop it into the player and hopefully hear a different and more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message, that God is with us wherever we are," said Cally Parkinson, communications director at Willow Creek, which draws 20,000 people on a typical Sunday....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Professor beaten; attackers cite KU creationism class
LAWRENCE - A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Has 'War' become a leading brand for United States?
How Bush's imperial policies are being linked to economic woes and CEO angst in America

We hear a lot about the government largesse flowing toward Halliburton, Bechtel and a handful of other favored firms chosen to rebuild Iraq. Less often do we consider the possibility that the administration's bellicosity has been a major business blunder....

...If Bush is an oil president, he's not a Disney president, nor a Coca-Cola one. If Vice President Dick Cheney is working diligently to help Halliburton rebound, the war he helped lead hasn't worked out nearly so well for Starbucks.

A year ago, Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service reported on a survey of 8,000 international consumers released by Global Market Institute Inc. of Seattle. The survey noted that "one-third of all consumers in Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom said that U.S. foreign policy, particularly the war on terror and the occupation of Iraq, constituted their strongest impression of the United States."

"Unfortunately, current American foreign policy is viewed by international consumers as a significant negative, when it used to be a positive," said Mitchell Eggers, Global Market's chief operating officer and chief pollster.

Brands the survey identified as particularly at risk included Marlboro, America Online, McDonald's, American Airlines, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, United Airlines, Budweiser, Chrysler, Mattel, Starbucks and General Motors.

In past months, a litany of stories in the financial press featured unnerving questions for business. Typical were the Financial Times in August ("World Turning Its Back on Brand America") and Forbes in September ("Is Brand America In Trouble?").

A U.S. Banker magazine article in August relaying the results of an Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that 41 percent of Canadian opinion leaders were less likely to purchase American products because of Bush administration policies, compared with 56 percent in the United Kingdom, 61 percent in France, 49 percent in Germany and 42 percent in Brazil.

It's not just snooty foreigners who are negative, either. American business leaders have been starting to link economic woes to imperial policy. The U.S. Banker article warned, the "majority of American CEOs, whose firms employ 8 million overseas, are now acknowledging that anti-American sentiment is a problem." ...

...In June 2004, USA Today reporter James Cox wrote about how financially ailing companies are pointing to the war as the culprit: "Hundreds of companies blame the Iraq war for poor financial results in 2003, many warning that continued U.S. military involvement there could harm this year's performance. In recent regulatory filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission, airlines, home builders, broadcasters, mortgage providers, mutual funds and others directly blame the war for lower revenues and profits last year."

Among those complaining was Hewlett-Packard, which claimed that the occupation of Iraq has created uncertainty and hurt its stock price.

While fingering the war might just be a convenient excuse for some underperforming executives, the level of grumbling is noteworthy, as are the comments of outspoken fund managers profiled by Cox. "The war in Iraq created a quagmire for corporations," David Galvan, a portfolio manager for Wayne Hummer Income Fund, says in his letter to shareholders. Vintage Mutual Funds concludes that "the price of these commitments (in Iraq and Afghanistan) may be more than the American public had expected or is willing to tolerate."

In an SEC filing, Domenic Colasacco, manager of the Boston Balanced Fund, calls the U.S. occupation "sad and increasingly risky." ...

Traveling Sheep
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The Transportation Security Administration has changed the rules of its airport-security system just in time to create extra hassle for the millions of busy holiday travelers. More travelers will be subjected to random pat-downs. Screeners will routinely grope the thighs of attractive women. Security officers, now trained in "behavior recognition," will identify travelers who seem nervous (imagine that, somebody running the airport-security gauntlet and appearing nervous) and pull them aside for bonus hassling....

... Which is to say, the system remains much as it was before: a degrading, obnoxious, contemptible, outrageous farce. It's also a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, although the government's lap-dog judges say otherwise. I know that I am not the only person in America who looks at this thuggery as I do. So what's going on?

Two years ago, in an assessment of the new federal airport-security arrangements published in the San Francisco Chronicle, I noted that it "routinely abases and humiliates the entire population, rendering us docile and compliant and thereby preparing us to play our assigned role in the Police State that the Bush administration has been building relentlessly." In the light of what I have observed since making that observation, I cannot help but believe now that I was barking up the right tree then.

Strange as it might seem, most people get used to being treated as criminals or inmates in a concentration camp. Americans are no exception. Keep beating them down, and eventually you will produce a thoroughly cowed and compliant herd, a mass of pliant raw material in the hands of their political masters, perfectly willing to sacrifice their dignity rather than irritate an airport-security thug and be made to miss a flight. And heaven forbid that they write their congressional representative to complain. Such impudence might get them placed on some black list at the TSA or even at the FBI. Best to keep quiet, stay in line, act as they are ordered to act. Even making jokes, an airport sign I saw in Houston warned, might result in your arrest; so nobody jokes.

Our rulers may not be alchemists, able to turn base metal into gold, but they know how to turn humans into sheep. Well might we ask about this remarkable trick; cui bono?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No-Knock Blackouts
...But the lack of follow-up coverage of the Noel shooting is disturbing for another reason: It's typical. With just a few exceptions in very high-profile cases, these shootings almost always trigger one or two pieces shortly after they happen, then the press falls silent. You'd think that when police storm a home in the early morning, then shoot and kill an occupant who is at best a nonviolent drug offender, and at worst completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, it'd be worth some extended media attention. If we've reached the point where it isn't, how very sad for us....

...I think a big part of the reason why the ubiquity of no-knock raids and the trend toward police militarization have gotten so out of hand is that the media has dropped the ball in its coverage of them. When the people in charge of protecting us start terrorizing, invading our homes, and killing us, that ought to be big news.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Banned in Boston
For a city with a reputation as being a bastion of liberal values, Boston has an equally rich history of censorship. In the latest crackdown, Boston mayor Thomas Menino has called for city Inspectional Services Division officials to seize all t-shirts bearing the message "Stop Snitchin'."

"It’s wrong," Menino said. "We are going into every retail store that sells the shirts and remove them." ...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Putting predictions to the test.

...It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton; $35), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones....

HARTFORD, Conn. - Bad words are costing Hartford Public and Bulkeley high schoolers $103 each.
Police officers assigned to the schools have fined about two dozen students for cursing in a new program to curtail unruly behavior. The joint effort by school and police officials targets students who swear while defying teachers and administrators....

Baghdad greets Kurds' oil deal with astonishment
Drilling begins in ethnic enclave without the central government's OK

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - A controversial oil exploration deal between Iraq's autonomy-minded Kurds and a Norwegian company got under way this week without the approval of the central government here, raising a potentially explosive issue at a time of heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions.

...In Baghdad, political leaders on Wednesday reacted to the deal with astonishment.

"We need to figure out if this is allowed in the constitution," said Adnan Ali Kadhimi, an adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "Nobody has mentioned it. It has not come up among the government ministers council. It has not been on their agenda."

The start of drilling is sure to send shivers down the spines of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. They fear a disintegration of Iraq into separate ethnic and religious cantons if regions begin to cut energy deals with foreign countries and governments. Sunnis are concentrated in Iraq's most oil-poor region.

Iraq's neighbors also fear the possibility of Iraqi Kurds using revenue generated by oil to fund an independent state that might lead the 30 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria to revolt....

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Where is the Iraq war headed next?

...Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose....

How the Pilgrims Made Progress
Behind the Pilgrims' bad harvest in 1621: a lack of property rights.

The textbooks don't explain why the Pilgrims had only a meager harvest in 1621, so we will. For their first two years in Plymouth, the settlers conducted an experiment in communalism. It wasn't until 1623 that they divided the land into private plots and could look forward to the kind of bounty that many of us enjoyed yesterday. In his "History of Plimoth Plantation," the colony's governor, William Bradford, wrote about how the settlers studied human nature and laid the foundation for true Thanksgiving:...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cafe Hayek roundup
Citgo Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, will supply oil at 40 percent below market prices.

It will be distributed by two nonprofit organizations, Citizens Energy Corp. and the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance.

The agreement gives President Hugo Chavez's government standing as a provider of heating assistance to poor U.S. residents at a time when U.S. oil companies have been reluctant to do so and Congress has failed to expand aid in response to rising oil prices....

...Yes, the people of Venezuela are lucky to have him. He's selling oil at a 40% discount to people in a country whose per-capita income is over SIX TIMES that of Venezuela's. That's a man who really knows how to take care of the little guy.

...I write, rather, to point out that that part of the "race to the bottom" argument that says that globalization forces western governments to reduce welfare-state activities (such as taxpayer-funded health care) is inconsistent with the argument that Wal-Mart and other U.S. employers are able to pay lower wages because the government provides workers with Medicaid and other welfare-state benefits.

If this argument were true -- that is, if it were true that taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart's and other American employers' hiring of workers, thus keeping wage rates lower than otherwise -- then welfare-state measures such as Medicaid would attract employers. Countries with the most generous welfare-state benefits would be magnets for employers. Governments would then compete amongst themselves to offer ever-greater welfare-state benefits....

...Wal-Mart's critics also paint the company as a parasite on taxpayers, because 5 percent of its workers are on Medicaid. Actually that's a typical level for large retail firms, and the national average for all firms is 4 percent. Moreover, it's ironic that Wal-Mart's enemies, who are mainly progressives, should even raise this issue. In the 1990s progressives argued loudly for the reform that allowed poor Americans to keep Medicaid benefits even if they had a job. Now that this policy is helping workers at Wal-Mart, progressives shouldn't blame the company. Besides, many progressives favor a national health system. In other words, they attack Wal-Mart for having 5 percent of its workers receive health care courtesy of taxpayers when the policy that they support would increase that share to 100 percent....

Miami police take new tack against terror
MIAMI --Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant.

Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.

"This is an in-your-face type of strategy....

Monday, November 28, 2005

Allawi: Iraq Abuses As Bad As Under Saddam
Iraq's Former Interim Prime Minister Claims Rights Abuses Now As Bad As They Were Under Saddam

BAGHDAD, Iraq Nov 27, 2005 — Iraq's former interim prime minister complained Sunday that human rights abuses by some in the new government are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein.

Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim, told the London newspaper The Observer that fellow Shiites are responsible for death squads and secret torture centers and said brutality by elements of Iraqi security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police.

"People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same thing," the newspaper quoted Allawi as saying....

I say I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch. I'm a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I've got. And I hate the language of pacifism because it's too passive....
-- Stanley Hauerwas

Friday, November 25, 2005

The State acquires power... and because of its insatiable lust for power it is incapable of giving up any of it. The State never abdicates.
-- Frank Chodorov

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel
Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The information was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the "President's Daily Brief," a 30- to 45-minute early-morning national security briefing. Information for PDBs has routinely been derived from electronic intercepts, human agents, and reports from foreign intelligence services, as well as more mundane sources such as news reports and public statements by foreign leaders.

One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources. ...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Murtha Is Right
..."Fearful" – that about sums up the Pelosi Democrats, who stanched all debate until a rising tide of public outrage forced their hand. These, after all, are the same Democrats who voted for the war and supported an administration – the Clinton administration – that was responsible for an equally unjustified, albeit far less bloody, war of aggression in the Balkans. There, too, we invaded a country that had never been any threat to us, without UN authorization, moved by the same sort of arrogance that prompted then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to complain to Gen. Colin Powell:

"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

And it's not as if any of these characters have any moral objections to our decade-long assault on the people of Iraq. Not many lifted so much as an eyebrow when Madame Albright, asked by Leslie Stahl if the death of half a million children – killed by sanctions – was "worth it," answered:

"I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it."

Now that Americans are dying, however, suddenly the price is too high. I guess it all depends on who's paying...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Food, Education, and Health Care
...Suppose, however, that during the Great Depression, the U.S. Department of Food had been established to protect the American people against starvation and the vicissitudes of the market. Suppose that from the 1930s on, all grocery stores in the United States were government-owned and that no one had been permitted to own a private grocery store. There would, of course, be less variety and fewer choices with respect to groceries, but everyone would undoubtedly feel a sense of comfort and security over the fact that the government was in charge of the “public grocery stores.”

Now suppose I came along and said, “I believe we ought to separate food and the state. Let’s fire all the government food workers, sell off the state grocery stores, and turn the entire process over to the free market.”

What would be the reaction of most people? “We can’t do that. Food is too important an item to be left to the free market. How could we be sure that there would be enough food for everyone? What if one city didn’t receive any food and another received all of it? What if grocery stores forgot to order food one day? For that matter, what if no one opened grocery stores in our community? What about the poor? How would they eat, especially when the rich would be buying everything? You place too much faith in the free market. This program favors the rich. The burden of buying groceries falls most heavily on the poor.”..

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iraq Begins Inquiry Into Alleged Torture
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 16 - As Iraqi investigators began searching through a secret underground prison run by police in the heart of the capital, Sunni Arab leaders today furiously denounced the Shiite-led government for supporting the torture of Sunni detainees there and called for an international inquiry.

The discovery of the prison by the American military in a raid on Sunday has galvanized Sunni Arab anger and widened the country's sectarian divide just a month before elections for a full, four-year government.

The American general charged with securing Baghdad said today that Sunni Arab leaders were supportive of the operation, which ended this afternoon. The commander, Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr. of the Third Infantry Division, said American officers would help scrutinize the evidence seized from the prison, and that his troops were prepared to investigate other credible complaints of secret detentions by Iraqi security forces.

The American raid forced Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, to announce Tuesday that the government would investigate accusations of torture at the detention center. Many of the 173 prisoners there were found in weakened, malnourished states.

A former prisoner said in a telephone interview today that he and other inmates, mostly Sunni Arabs, were regularly beaten and electrocuted, and he was left blindfolded for the duration of his stay, more than three months. The Interior Ministry acknowledged in a terse statement Tuesday that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture" had been found.

The prison was in the basement of a bomb shelter built by Saddam Hussein's government and converted into a major operations center for the Interior Ministry after the American invasion....

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Crisis In France
How welfare state economics failed a generation

For years, France was warned that economic and social neglect of its large ethnic-minority population would produce an explosion. The surprise was that it didn't happen sooner. On Oct. 27 two teenagers were accidentally killed during a police sweep in an impoverished Paris suburb. The deaths set off a wave of violence that spread to dozens of cities and even reached briefly into neighboring Belgium and Germany. Night after night a stunned France watched on television as rioters -- mostly teenagers and young adults from Arab and African families -- injured dozens of police officers with rocks and bullets, killed at least one bystander, and torched schools, community centers, and thousands of cars.

Much as Hurricane Katrina did in the U.S. two months ago, the violence has laid bare the ugly underside of a wealthy nation. "Violence, unemployment, discrimination," says Mounir, a 21-year-old of Moroccan origin, summing up his life in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois where he took part in the rioting. (He declined to give his last name.) Many French are frightened by the government's seeming powerlessness. "They were out defying us in terrific numbers," says one police officer. "The dialogue has completely broken down."

On Nov. 8, France's center-right government declared a state of emergency. It has clamped curfews on dozens of troubled neighborhoods and ordered the expulsion of foreigners convicted in the rioting. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced a package of measures aimed at fighting discrimination and poverty, including increased spending on housing and social programs in disadvantaged areas as well as expanded job-training opportunities for young people.

But without more sweeping economic change, it won't be long before unrest flares anew. The riots in France underscore just how untenable Europe's economic model has become. For decades government policies across much of the Old World have put a higher value on social protections and job security than on growth and job creation.

"They're Humiliated"
Those policies had the laudable goal of guaranteeing everyone a decent standard of living. But instead, in today's globalized economy, they are helping to create a vast underclass of jobless youths, many from immigrant backgrounds. "These young people have no dreams. They're humiliated and excluded," says Yazid Sabeg, an Algerian-born French businessman who has called for affirmative action programs.

Economic growth won't end racism, of course. But minorities are more likely to encounter discrimination when unemployment is high and applicants are competing for scarce jobs. That's the situation now. For at least five years, economic growth across most of the Continent has been far too feeble to create jobs that could lift have-nots into the mainstream. France's economy has grown an average 1.5% annually for the past four years and is set to grow only 1.2% this year. Unemployment is nearly 10%, and among those under 25 it is nearly 22%, about twice the U.S. rate. Youth joblessness runs over 50% in the suburbs that are home to many of France's more than 5 million first- and second-generation African and Arab immigrants.

Many of the French rioters have been students who figure they probably won't find jobs. Good jobs "are reserved for certain people, and usually it's white French people," says Abdel Karim, a son of North African immigrants who lives in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the rioting began. French-born Karim, 26, finished high school but has never held a steady job. He lives on welfare and rent subsidies totaling about $980 a month.

High unemployment among immigrants and young people isn't limited to France. Joblessness in Germany's Turkish immigrant community is an estimated 25%, and 14% of British Muslims are unemployed. Youth unemployment tops 20% in Italy, Spain, and Belgium. Mix in racial discrimination, crumbling education systems, and scant representation of ethnic minorities among the political and business elite, and it's easy to see why young immigrants are alienated....

GOP memo touts new terror attack as way to reverse party's decline
Capitol Hill Blue | November 10, 2005

A confidential memo circulating among senior Republican leaders suggests that a new attack by terrorists on U.S. soil could reverse the sagging fortunes of President George W. Bush as well as the GOP and "restore his image as a leader of the American people."

The closely-guarded memo lays out a list of scenarios to bring the Republican party back from the political brink, including a devastating attack by terrorists that could “validate” the President’s war on terror and allow Bush to “unite the country” in a “time of national shock and sorrow.”

The memo says such a reversal in the President's fortunes could keep the party from losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.

GOP insiders who have seen the memo admit it’s a risky strategy and point out that such scenarios are “blue sky thinking” that often occurs in political planning sessions.

“The President’s popularity was at an all-time high following the 9/11 attacks,” admits one aide. “Americans band together at a time of crisis.”

Other Republicans, however, worry that such a scenario carries high risk, pointing out that an attack might suggest the President has not done enough to protect the country.

“We also have to face the fact that many Americans no longer trust the President,” says a longtime GOP strategist. “That makes it harder for him to become a rallying point.”

The memo outlines other scenarios, including:

--Capture of Osama bin Laden (or proof that he is dead);

--A drastic turnaround in the economy;

--A "successful resolution" of the Iraq war.

GOP memos no longer talk of “victory” in Iraq but use the term “successful resolution.”...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Group Counters Christian Zionist Influence on U.S. Policy Toward Israel
The strongest opposition in the United States to President Bush’s “roadmap for peace” in Israel comes, ironically, from some of his strongest supporters--the religious right.

Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil, said he first heard it when Bush unveiled the plan, and he heard it again last week, channel surfing to a TV sermon by San Antonio pastor John Hagee.

“If you work for peace, you could be working for the Antichrist,” Kimball summarized the message. While conceding that Hagee probably is sincere in his views, Kimball said he believes they are misguided and dangerous, because they spill over into political advocacy.

“I wonder what happened to the Sermon on the Mount and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’” ...

CIA allegedly hid evidence of detainee torture
WASHINGTON (AFX) - CIA interrogators apparently tried to cover up the death of an Iraqi 'ghost detainee' who died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib prison, Time magazine reported today, after obtaining hundreds of pages of documents, including an autopsy report, about the case.

The death of secret detainee Manadel al-Jamadi was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy, Time reported, adding that documents it recently obtained included photographs of his battered body, which had been kept on ice to keep it from decomposing, apparently to conceal the circumstances of his death.

The details about his death emerge as US officials continue to debate congressional legislation to ban torture of foreign detainees by US troops overseas, and efforts by the George W. Bush administration to obtain an exemption for the CIA from any future torture ban. ...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It's Getting Really Weird Out There
In many charismatic ministries today, basic Christian morality has been hijacked.

How would you feel if your pastor announced from the pulpit that he had uncovered a “new revelation” in the Bible? His discovery: That a church leader can have more than one wife.

Hopefully, you and everyone in the building would run, not walk, out of that church and never come back until the pastor had been replaced. But I am afraid too many of us gullible charismatics might stay in the pews—and eventually give the guy a standing ovation plus a $10,000 love offering.

National Christian leaders didn't want to get involved in what they viewed as a local problem.

That’s how strange it is getting out there. Something has gone terribly wrong in our movement. Everywhere I turn I find that leaders of so-called Spirit-filled churches are making bizarre choices that compromise basic Christian integrity. Some examples:

* At one charismatic megachurch, staff pastors successfully convinced all their wives and female staff members to get breast implants. (I wonder: Was this discussed at a staff meeting?)

* A church in California (known for its revival meetings and prophetic ministry) recently imploded after members learned that several men in the church had been having homosexual affairs with the pastor, who was married.

* A leader with an international following (who wears the label of “apostle”) recently informed his leaders that men of God who reach his level of anointing are allowed to have more than one sexual partner. Then his own son offered his wife to his father out of a sense of spiritual obligation.

We can all say together: “Eeeuuuwww!”...

Where Are Evangelicals Against Torture?
...While there has been no specific statement on the most recent developments, the liberal Protestant National Council of churches has had pretty consistent denunciations of torture over the past few years, including a condemnation of the Abu Ghraib abuses last year.

The Council on American Islamic Relations was part of a coalition that earlier this year condemned torture and "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment."

At least two coalitions of rabbis have issued declarations that torture is repugnant, not surprising given Jewish experiences at the hands of the Nazis.

For an unequivocal condemnation of torture, it's hard to beat the late John Paul II, who said in his encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" that it can never be justified, no matter what the reason. The pope placed it on the moral level of abortion and euthanasia. U.S. bishops have followed that lead. Who does that leave? Evangelical Christians. I've done a couple of Google searches, plus a search of the excellent Christianity Today Web log, and I can't find one statement by any evangelical leader or organization condemning the use of harsh techniques by American forces. Where are the voices -- so otherwise outspoken on policy matters -- from the National Association of Evangelicals, from the Family Research Council, from the Southern Baptist Convention?

It gets worse. One thing that did turn up in Christianity Today was a portion of an article last year by Tony Carnes that found evangelical complicity among both administration and military personnel justifying the kind of treatment uncovered at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Carnes wrote: "(E)vangelicals were significantly involved in drafting policy memos that created the permissive climate in which the abuse of prisoners occurred. Asking not to be named, Christians who serve in federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies told Christianity Today that aggressive interrogation of suspected terrorists was no-holds-barred."

I write as a Christian to say that this is beyond scandalous. It is willing participation in evil by Christians, otherwise known as sin. It is a return to the Dark Ages, to the Inquisition. It's a short step from "no-holds-barred" to the auto da fe, the "act of faith" in which the rebellious were burned at the stake.

You would think that after evangelical fervor for "The Passion of the Christ" last year, they would have learned something about what torture looks like. Apparently when it's done to Christ by Romans, it's one thing, but another when done by Americans to Muslims.

Perhaps evangelicals should ask Jesus his views on that, and when they get an answer, let them push it on their close friends in the administration with as much zeal as they've used in the push for a Supreme Court nominee. Dick Cheney certainly needs a Sunday school lesson from someone.

Che Kolasinski
84-year-old Marie Kolasinski could be California's angriest revolutionary

Don't let her fluffy white hair, compact size and disarming smile fool you. Marie Kolasinski isn't your typical granny. The 84-year-old Costa Mesan could be California's angriest revolutionary.

Leader of a Christian-anarchist-capitalist commune called the Piecemakers, Kolasinski is a cross between Andrew Dice Clay, a Golden Girl and Timothy McVeigh. Or maybe just an angrier Ayn Rand. She mixes anti-government sentiments with biblical passages and, if upset, shamelessly punctuates her remarks with profanities such as "fuck" and "asshole." Columbine, 9/11, hurricanes, fires and the Oklahoma City bombing? These, she says, are examples of "God's wrath toward a godless country. Either repent and come unto God or perish."

Kolasinski isn't an idle, elderly woman knitting sweaters and spewing philosophy in an empty room. Her politics recently got her arrested for blocking a court-ordered health inspection of her Costa Mesa restaurant following complaints of unsanitary conditions.

But her ambitions go beyond Costa Mesa. She's got a plan to destroy not just the federal government but also democracy itself. She calls for massive, "active disobedience" to build what she says is a "theocracy."

We know all this because Kolasinski has published an "If I were president" wish list. Here's a sampling:

*** To become a cop, lawyer or judge, a person would first have to spend "three months or more" in jail "to understand how awesome is his job."

*** No more taxpayer-funded inaugural parties for incoming presidents.

*** The U.S. must apologize to the world for its "arrogance."

*** No more pampering of the handicapped with choice parking spaces -- "walking is one form of therapy."

*** No more welfare programs.

*** Open national borders because "it isn't the Mexicans or the Asians screwing up the country but the offspring of the Caucasians who founded this country -- white-skinned, empty-headed with an evil heart."

*** Only one religion allowed -- "all others would have to leave the country."

*** A ban on aid to Israel.

*** No more "foolish" government AIDS research.

*** All government agencies would be taken over by private businesses or churches -- "to hell with the state."

But Kolasinski fires her angriest shots at government employees, whom she calls "roaches," "pests," "bastards," "monsters," "freeloaders," "rapists," "snoopy henchmen," "arrogant jackasses" and "Martian reptiles" enforcing "Gestapo rules." She is "appalled at the bold audacity of the roaches' encroachment on our right to freedom . . . Trust me, unless we put a stop to this bullshit, they will be in our houses next, telling us when we can eat, what we can eat and when we can go to the bathroom." She darkly warns government workers to fear retaliation "like Oklahoma [City], for instance."

"It is time we rid ourselves of all the government as we know it and start over," she says....

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

US Army Admits Use of White Phosphorus as Weapon
..."WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it 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. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."...

...there is no way you can use white phosphorus like that without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature....

The real windfall
...since the CEO and CFO signed these documents and that under Sarbannes-Oxley they are subject to severe criminal and civil penalties if these figures are in any way false, I assume that they are substantially correct. They reinforce the research that contends that oil companies make 10 cents per gallon on gasoline while Federal, State and Local Government make a combined total of 45 cents.

“Windfall” Profits Tax on Oil Would Slow Flow
...Despite the industry’s above-average risk exposure, Big Oil is not extraordinarily profitable. According to Business Week and Oil Daily, average industry earnings were 7.7 cents per dollar of sales in the second quarter of 2005, also a time of relatively high gas prices. During that same quarter, by comparison, banks earned 19.6 cents; pharmaceuticals 18.6; software and related services 17; semiconductors 14.6; household and personal products 11.3; insurance 10.7; telecommunications 9.6; food, beverage and tobacco 9.4; and real estate 8.9. The corresponding figure for U.S. industry as a whole was 7.9 cents per dollar of sales.

Oil company revenues may be running at record levels, but so is the cost of the industry’s most important input, crude oil, selling on global commodity markets nowadays for about $60 a barrel. Only a few years ago, during Asia’s economic crisis, it was going for $9.40 a barrel....

Inherit the Windfall
The defense of oil profits we'll probably never see

...We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to address this august body, but, frankly, being summoned for a Grand Inquisition and threatened with the confiscation of our so-called windfall profits is not our idea of fun.

Yes, we all made record profits this past quarter. We are proud of this achievement and, indeed, in the future hope to surpass it. Our survival and success depends on producing value for our investors, most of whom are ordinary, middle-class Americans—your constituents, as a matter of fact—who invest in our stocks through their pension funds or 401K accounts.

Our aggregate profits are so large because we have huge sales. But our profit margins—the more relevant measure—are below the overall Standards and Poor industry average. Exxon Mobil, the most profitable company among us, posted $100 billion in sales last quarter —the first American company to hit that mark ever. But its profits were $10 billion—hardly a margin that suggests the "price gouging" that some of you have accused us of.

In fact, the oil industry's margins are well below those of Gannett, the largest newspaper corporation—and no doubt far, far below those of Fox News, whose pandering populist anchor, Bill O'Reilly, maximizes his company's profits by questioning our right to maximize ours. If you really want a reliable revenue stream, why not tax windbags instead of windfalls? ...

Earthly Powers: religion and politics in Europe from the French revolution to the Great War

If Christianity had a mission in the 19th century, it was to restrain the leviathan of the nation state. This book tells the story of its failure. Across Europe, churches were expropriated, corrupted and exploited by more powerful civic structures, and ended the century weaker and smaller than they began it. The stage was set for the horrors of the next hundred years, the godless age par excellence.

Michael Burleigh has another, more complex story to tell. What the churches had to combat between 1789 and 1918 was not just unbelief, but something more insidious, designated here as "political" or "secular" religion. All the great ideologies of the modern world - republicanism, nationalism, socialism - first made their appearance in the guise of religious or quasi-religious cults. Their adherents fabricated rituals, devised catechisms and proclaimed creeds. Their rhetoric was one of martyrdom and redemption, election and damnation. "Thou shall not fornicate," ran the sixth Italian "patriotic" commandment, "unless it be to harm the enemies of Italy." The religious impulse was not quashed, but deflected on to more worldly objects.

The Bible has a language for all this. The prophets rail incessantly at those unfaithful Israelites who bend the knee before Moloch and Baal; Christ proclaims a kingdom "not of this world". A few astute thinkers recognised in the biblical prohi-bition of idolatry an indictment of modern nationalism, with its apotheosis of worldly power, its fusion of God and Caesar. Yet the churches as institutions remained supine in the face of this visibly pagan trend. Earthly Powers explains why.

The Catholic Church, to which Burleigh is clearly partial, was best placed to combat the new religion of nationalism. It was, after all, a supranational corporation, a successor to the Roman empire, laying claim to a universal and timeless truth. Despite their reputation as grim reactionaries, the 19th-century popes had a better appreciation of the moral limits of state power than most liberals. Article 39 of Pius IX's much-derided 1864 Syllabus of Errors denounces the doctrine that "the State, as being the origin and source of all rights, is endowed with a certain right not circumscribed by any limits". His successor, Leo XIII, spoke presciently of the "idolatry of the State". During the First World War, the Vatican remained scrupulously neutral, striving where it could to hasten the end of what it regarded as "the collective suicide of a great Christian civilisation"....

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Ambassador de Sade
Bush rewarded one of his loyalists with the ambassadorship to Italy -- despite his past as the founder of an cult-like teen rehab

Among our president's appointments of GOP activists to important posts, we've done worse than Melvin Sembler, the Ambassador to Italy who couldn't speak Italian. Unlike the FEMA chief, who had real responsibilities, Sembler sometimes found himself a fifth wheel around his own embassy. As the Washington Monthly has reported, the scandal that claimed Scooter Libby's job last month may have sprung from secret Rome meetings between neocons, an Iran-Contra figure and an Italian intelligence boss who later pushed phony WMD documents -- all behind Sembler's back.

But where Melvin Sembler, 74, demands attention is as an object lesson in how cruelty can be redeemed by the transformative power of political donations. For 16 years, Sembler, with his wife Betty, directed the leading juvenile rehab business in America, STRAIGHT, Inc., before seeing it dismantled by a breathtaking array of institutional abuse claims by mid-1993. Just one of many survivors is Samantha Monroe, now a travel agent in Pennsylvania, who told The Montel Williams show this year about overcoming beatings, rape by a counselor, forced hunger, and the confinement to a janitor's closet in "humble pants" -- which contained weeks of her own urine, feces and menstrual blood. During this "timeout," she gnawed her cheek and spat blood at her overseers. "I refused to let them take my mind," she says of the program. The abuse took years to overcome.

"It sticks inside you," she told Williams, "it eats at your soul." She told AlterNet that she was committed at 12, in 1980, for nothing more than being caught with a mini-bar-sized liquor bottle, handed out by a classmate whose mother was a flight attendant. Samantha's mother suspected more, and a STRAIGHT expert reassured her fears. The small blonde junior high-schooler was tricked into being taken to the warehouse-like STRAIGHT building. Her mother, told by counselors that her daughter was a liar, was encouraged to trick the girl for her own good.

Overcome by dread in the lobby, Samantha tried to run but was hauled into the back by older girls. Inside, as was standard operating procedure, she began the atonement process that cost over $12,000 a year: all-day re-education rituals in which flapping the arms ("motivating") and chanting signaled submission to "staying straight." She was coerced, she says, into confessing to being a "druggie whore" who went down on truckers for drugs. "You're forced to confess crimes you never committed." (Some survivors call it extortion.)...