Saturday, April 29, 2006

'Literacy Rose ... To Between 91 And 97 Percent'
by Vin Suprynowicz

Last time, one Carol A. Davis wrote in: "Since Mr. Suprynowicz is allowed to take almost a half of a page making, just one more time, the RJ’s constant point that ‘public schools just ain’t no damn good,’" (March 26) "why doesn’t he enlighten us some more. I want to hear all about the educated populace at the time of our Founding Fathers which he refers to in his closing paragraph. Who was educated and who wasn’t? To use this argument, Mr. V., you should be willing to back it up with facts. Prove you are correct, please, I want to learn."

Last week, we began by citing some of the findings of New York City and State (government school) Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, from his book The Underground History of American Education (available free online – and I heartily recommend you peruse the original).

Ms. Davis will doubtless object that this is only one source – though Mr. Gatto has impeccable credentials and his research is well documented.

OK, here’s more. Matthew Brouillette, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, writes: "According to author Barry Poulson, ‘Private education was widely demanded in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Great Britain and America. The private supply of education was highly responsive to that demand, with the consequence that large numbers of children from all classes of society received several years of education.’ (Barry W. Poulson, "Education and the Family During the Industrial Revolution," in Joseph R. Peden and Fred R. Glahe, eds., The American Family and the State, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1986, p. 138.)

"Not only was private education in demand, but it was quite successful. Literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent between 1800 and 1840, the years prior to compulsory schooling and governmental provision and operation of education. In the South during the same time period, the rate grew among the white population from between 50 and 60 percent to 81 percent. (Sheldon Richman, Separating School & State, p. 38.) ..."

This year, by comparison, a study by the American Institutes for Research found that more than 75 percent of students at 2-year colleges and more than 50 percent of students at 4-year colleges in 2006 "lack the skills to perform complex literacy tasks, such as comparing credit card offers with different interest rates or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials." These are today’s college kids, mind you – supposedly the cream of the American crop, youths on whose schooling our unionized government propaganda camps have squandered more treasure per pupil than any other society in history. Any other project of this size that failed so badly would be dynamited. Unless, of course ... the schooling institution is doing precisely what it was designed to do.

After the 1840s, Mr. Brouillette reports, "Government control of schooling was intended to bring education to a larger segment of the population, but the result was that it simply pushed aside existing private schools without substantially increasing overall enrollment rates....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Heinlein's Crystal Ball
Science fiction ia a genre well-known for its cutting edge thought, speculation on far flung civilizations, and incredible technology that takes us to the stars.
But science fiction also has 'close to home' elements, too- alternative history, day-after-tomorrow scenarios, and all sorts of 'what if?' elements.

So, it should not be a surprise when an author as well known and respected as the late Robert A. Heinlein peers into the future of America- and does not like what he sees....

...Here's a quote from the story which is chilling in its application today:

"Secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... [sic] censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,' the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything —you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him."

Who Profits at the Pump?
Over the past quarter century, oil companies directly sent more than $2.2 trillion in taxes, adjusted for inflation, to state and federal governments — three times what they collectively earned in profits over the same time period. Yet some politicians say this is not enough and are proposing a new “windfall profits” tax to raise billions more for federal coffers.

...Today, Americans pay an average of 45.9 cents in taxes per gallon of gas. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon while the average state and local tax is 27.5 cents. ...

Exxon Mobil president says they make only nickel a gallon profit
DALLAS _ Exxon Mobil Corp. Chairman Lee Raymond said that no matter how high gasoline prices may be at the pump, oil companies like his take no more than 3 to 5 cents per gallon in profit.

"Most of the cost of the price of gasoline at the pump is for taxes and the purchase of crude oil...

What do oil companies make on a gallon of gasoline?
An industry-wide study in the late 1990s showed that oil industry profits amounted to an estimated 7.3 cents on each gallon sold. More recently, ConocoPhillips reported that during the third quarter of 2005 earnings from its U.S. refining and marketing operations amounted to 9 cents per gallon....

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The deep unpopularity of an unpopular president
Bob Geiger, looking at state-by state-approvals of Bush, finds that his slide may actually be deeper than any one poll shows. In just the 18 months since his reelection, the map has gone from 31 red states to just four: Utah (55%), Wyoming (54%), Idaho (53%), and Nebraska (51%), which collectively comprise "barely two percent of the 296.5 million people in the United States based on a July 2005 Census Bureau estimate."...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Offenders' anger control classes help make some more dangerous
Anger management courses for convicted armed robbers, wife beaters and stalkers are being axed by the prison and probation services following an official inquiry into the murder of the city financier John Monckton.

Home Office instructions sent to the probation service say that anger management courses are counterproductive and actually help violent offenders who make premeditated attacks to manipulate the situation to their advantage....

Friday, April 21, 2006

SBC Baptisms Decline
Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch's plan to "rev up a rundown romance with reaching people" may be in need of a jumpstart, with statistics released Wednesday showing a decline in baptisms for the fifth time in the last six years.

According to LifeWay Christian Resources, Southern Baptist churches reported 371,850 baptisms in 2005. That is 16,097 fewer than in 2004 and the lowest figure since 1993....

...For years Southern Baptist leaders though the denomination was immune from numerical decline. That is in part because of a popular but controversial 1972 book by Dean Kelley called Why Conservative Churches are Growing that linked decline in mainline denominations to secularization and liberal clergy.

Many conservatives assumed that the "conservative resurgence" of the 1980s and early 1990s would stop Southern Baptists from following the same path.

Freddie Gage, a Texas evangelist, told the audience at the 2002 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis that he remembered being in an all-night prayer meeting at the launch of the conservative movement in 1979 in Houston. "I felt we were going to experience a revival, a revival of souls," Gage said. "It has not happened."

Before coming to LifeWay, Rainer wrote while teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that the SBC's baptism statistics had not improved since 1979 and were essentially unchanged since the 1950s.

"An honest evaluation of the data leads us to but one conclusion," Rainer wrote in the Spring 2005 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. "The conservative resurgence has not resulted in a more evangelistic denomination."

The SBC's high-water mark for baptisms was in 1972, when they numbered 445,725. And that was with a much smaller church base. In 1950 Southern Baptists recorded one baptism for every 19 church members. Today the ratio of baptisms to total membership is 1:44.

More recently Rainer wondered in an article in Baptist Press is the church is America "is headed down the path of many European congregations: decline and death."...

...The 2005 SBC statistics show miniscule growth in total church membership of 0.02 percent, to 16,270,315. The number of churches grew by 234 (0.5 percent) to 43,699.

Another traditional strong indicator of church health, Sunday school enrollment, declined by 137,660, to a total of 8,068,780....

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Confronting the New Misanthropy
The big question today is not whether humans will survive the twenty-first century, but whether our faith in humanity will survive it.

More and more books predict there will be an unavoidable global catastrophe; there is James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, and Eugene Linden's The Winds of Change: Weather and the Destruction of Civilisations. Kunstler's book warns that 'this is a much darker time than 1938, the eve of World War II' (2). In the media there are alarming stories about a mass 'die-off' in the near future and of cities engulfed by rising oceans as a consequence of climate change.

Today we don't just have Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but an entire cavalry regiment of doom-mongers. It is like a secular version of St John's Revelations, except it is even worse - apparently there is no future for humanity after this predicted apocalypse. Instead of being redeemed, human beings will, it seems, disappear without a trace.

Anxieties about human survival are as old as human history itself. Through catastrophes such as the Deluge or Sodom and Gomorrah, the religious imagination fantasised about the end of the world. More recently, apocalyptic ideas once rooted in magic and theology have been recast as allegedly scientific statements about human destructiveness and irresponsibility....

...The Malthusian objective of reducing populations is alive and kicking. For deep ecologists, the issue is straightforward - their starting point, as spelled out by leading ecologists Arne Naess and George Sessions in 1984, is that a 'substantial reduction in human population is needed for the flourishing of non-human life'. Numerous commentators embrace these Malthusian sentiments. 'The current world population of 6.5 billion has no hope whatsoever of sustaining itself at current levels, and the fundamental conditions of life on Earth are about to force the issue', warns Kunstler (8). The Australian academic David McNight has tried to reconcile neo-Malthusianism with his version of 'new humanism', arguing that 'creating a sustainable society based on human values will necessitate stopping the growth of human population and accepting limits on human material desire' (9).

If anything, today's neo-Malthusian thinking is far more dismal and misanthropic than the original thing....

...Our declining faith in humanity might be most clearly expressed in apocalyptic thinking about the environment, but it pervades everyday life. So it is frequently assumed that people have emotional deficits. We are described as having addictive personalities, or we're seen as 'damaged' or 'scarred for life'. Human relations come with health warnings. We don't simply pollute the environment, it seems, but also one another. We talk about 'toxic relationships', 'toxic parents' and 'toxic families'. Indeed, scare stories about the risks of human relationships are often very similar to discussions about the environment...

...Misanthropy has a profound influence on public policy and political debate. Back in the Fifties sociological research found that there was a clear correlation between how society viewed people and the prevailing political attitudes. One study of individuals' views of human nature suggested they were shaped by political attitudes in general (14). So attitudes towards the democratic ideal of free speech are directly influenced by whether we believe people are capable of making an intelligent choice between competing views. 'The advocate of freedom of speech is likely to believe that most men are not easily deceived, are not swayed by uncontrolled emotions, and are capable of sound judgement', noted this 1950s study. This implied a high level of faith in humanity. In contrast, 'the individual with low faith in people tends to believe in suppression of weak, deviant, or dangerous groups'. The study concluded that the 'individual's view of human nature would appear to have significant implications for the doctrine of political liberty' (15). People who viewed human nature positively tended to be more tolerant towards free speech and social experimentation. People who saw humans as being driven by narrow self-interest, greed and other destructive passions were inclined to support measures that curbed freedom.

Today, the growth of censorship, the criminalisation of thought by the enactment of so-called hate crimes legislation and speech codes, and the widespread frowning upon causing offence to individuals and groups is underpinned by the idea that people cannot be trusted to make up their minds about controversial subjects. Today's censorious imperative is driven by a paternalistic and negative view of human nature, and by a lack of faith in people's capacity to discriminate between right and wrong.

Not since the Dark Ages has there been so much concern about the malevolent passions that afflict humanity. Panics about Satanic abuse have erupted on both sides of the Atlantic, and throughout the Western world there is a morbid expectation that virtually every home contains a potential abuser....

Monday, April 17, 2006

Christianity, the Brand
It was around noon on a sunny Tuesday last winter at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and Larry Ross, arguably the top public relations man for Christian clients in America, was presiding over a media briefing on behalf of the church, its pastor, Rick Warren, and his wife, Kay. The occasion was the Warrens' three-day H.I.V./AIDS conference, "Disturbing Voices." When Jim Towey, the director of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, walked in, Ross acknowledged him and noted that Towey had been the longtime lawyer for Mother Teresa. Then Ross opened the floor to questions.

"Yeah," Warren said into his mike. "I'd like to know why Mother Teresa needed a lawyer." The crowd cracked up. No one answered, but it was the kind of question that might have been asked about Warren himself: Why does Rick Warren need a public relations man?

Of course, in his case, there's an easy explanation. Warren's book "The Purpose-Driven Life" has sold more than 25 million copies, making it the best-selling hardcover book of nonfiction ever published in the United States, and some say Saddleback has more in common with Google or Starbucks, at least in scope, than the typical church. Warren has a public and a brand to manage.

But when you speak to Ross for even a short length of time, it becomes clear that he sees himself as serving more than Rick Warren — or Billy Graham, or the men's ministry Promise Keepers, or films like "The Passion of the Christ" (he has represented them all). The Kingdom of God itself is a client of sorts. Publicity, marketing and branding are his ministry. So the real question becomes, Why does God need someone to sell him?...

From the beginning, there was purpose behind forced schooling, purpose which had nothing to do with what parents, kids, or communities wanted. Instead, it was forged out of what a highly centralized corporate economy and system of finance bent on internationalizing itself was thought to need; that, and what a strong, centralized political State needed, too. School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against immigrants in the greatest displacement of people known to history, social managers of schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. This candor can be heard clearly in a speech Woodrow Wilson made to businessmen before the First World War:
We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

...At the start of WWII, millions of men showed up at registration offices to take low-level academic tests before being inducted. 3 The years of maximum mobilization were 1942 to 1944; the fighting force - both those inducted and those turned away - had been mostly schooled in the 1930s. Eighteen million men were tested; 17,280,000 of them were judged to have the minimum competence in reading required to be a soldier-a 96 percent literacy rate. Although this was a 2 percent fall-off from the 98 percent rate among voluntary military applicants ten years before, the dip was so small it didn't worry anybody.

WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men were tested for military service, but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as literate was fourth-grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War group received most of its schooling in the 1940s; it had more years in school with more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less-schooled contingent.

A third American war began in the mid-1960s, By its end in 1973, the number of men found non-inductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, decipher orders, and so on - the number found illiterate, in other words - had reached 27 percent of the total pool. Vietnam-era young men had been schooled in the 1950s and the 1960s-much better schooled than either of the two earlier groups-but the 4 percent illiteracy of 1941, which had transmuted into the 19 percent illiteracy of 1952, now had grown into the 27 percent illiteracy of 1970. Not only had the fraction of competent readers dropped to 73 percent, but a substantial chunk of even those were only barely adequate; they could not keep abreast of developments by reading a newspaper; they could not read for pleasure; they could not sustain a thought or an argument; they could not write well enough to manage their own affairs without assistance.

Consider how much more compelling this steady progression of intellectual blindness is when we track it through Army admissions tests rather than college admissions scores and standardized reading tests, which inflate apparent proficiency by frequently changing the way the tests are scored.

Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered. According to the Connecticut census of 1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate, and you probably don't want to know, not really, what people in those days con sidered literate; it's too embarrassing. Popular novels of the period give a clue: Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If you pick up an uncut version, you find your self in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, astute analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable that only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays. Yet in 1818, the US was a small-farm nation without colleges or universities to speak of. Could those sinple folk have had more complex minds than our own?

By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were still literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent blacks and 17 percent of whites can't read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, and white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did 60 years ago, but 60 years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read. ...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Setting Iran Straight
The precedents are somewhat discouraging.

So, after more than half a century of active meddling—protecting our interests, promoting our values, encouraging democracy, fighting terrorism, seeking stability, defending human rights, pushing peace—it's come to this. In Iraq we find ourselves unwilling regents of a society splitting into a gangland of warring militias and death squads, with our side (labeled "the government") outperforming the other side (labeled "the terrorists") in both the quantity and gruesome quality of its daily atrocities. In Iran, an irrational government that hates us with special passion is closer to getting the bomb than Iraq—the country we went to war with to keep from getting the bomb—ever was.

And in Afghanistan—site of the Iraq war prequel that actually followed the script (invade, topple brutal regime, wipe out terrorists, establish democracy, accept grateful thanks, get out)—the good guys we put in power came close, a couple weeks ago, to executing a man for the crime of converting to Christianity. Meanwhile, the bad guys (the Taliban and al-Qaida) keep a low news profile by concentrating on killing children and other Afghan civilians rather than too many American soldiers.

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on this record, it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?...

...On the "enemy of my enemy" principle, the United States all but officially backed Iraq. We overlooked Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers (many of them children), and against his own people. Many of the human rights abuses President Bush and others have invoked two decades later to justify the decision to topple and try Saddam were well publicized in the '80s. But in the '80s, we didn't care. President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, then a drug-company executive, as his "special envoy" to tell Saddam that we didn't care.

Meanwhile, of course, Reagan was also secretly selling weapons to Iran.

The big event in Afghanistan this past half-century was the Soviet occupation of 1979, often described as the last gasp of the Cold War and as Russia's Vietnam. Recent governments had been pro-Soviet, but apparently not pro-Soviet enough. After the occupation, some of the deposed thugs and others formed militias that roamed the countryside killing people and whatnot. These were called "guerillas," because we were for them. During the 1980s, we spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year on weapons and other support.

The war we sustained in Afghanistan destroyed the country, turned half the population into refugees, and killed perhaps a million people. In 1989, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan (along with everywhere else, including Russia). But disappointingly, our guerrillas, also called the "mujahideen," kept on fighting—using our weapons—against the government and among themselves. In 1996, one particularly extreme group, the Taliban, took power. It was even more disappointing when the Taliban established an Islamic state more extreme than the one in Iran and invited Osama Bin Laden to make himself at home, which he did.

So, we marched in and got rid of the Taliban. Then we marched into Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. Now we're—well, we haven't figured out what, but we're hopping mad and gonna do something, dammit, about Iran.

And they lived happily ever after.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Herceptin ruling will stop patients getting potentially lifesaving drugs
PATIENTS will be denied access to drugs at the forefront of medical research after a landmark judgment on the breast cancer treatment Herceptin.
The Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that it was illegal for health trusts to discriminate against patients by funding expensive unlicensed drugs case by case.

The ruling means that trusts will now either have to agree to pay for a new drug for any patient whose doctor recommends it — with serious implications for NHS budgets — or refuse the treatment for the entire population it serves.

Dozens of drugs that do not yet have a licence for certain uses — including treatments for life-threatening conditions — which are prescribed by doctors could be affected.

The decision came as Tony Blair and Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, held an emergency meeting at No 10 to address concerns about spiralling health service deficits, which are expected to pass £800 million for the past financial year.

The hearing at the Court of Appeal came after a lengthy legal battle between Ann Marie Rogers, a grandmother from Swindon, and her primary care trust (PCT). The PCT had decided not to pay for Mrs Rogers’s treatment with Herceptin on the ground that she was not an exceptional case. Ruling in favour of Mrs Rogers, the court said that the trust’s policy of judging patients case by case was “irrational and unlawful”. ...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lacking Biolabs, Trailers Carried Case for War
Administration Pushed Notion of Banned Iraqi Weapons Despite Evidence to Contrary

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.

The authors of the reports were nine U.S. and British civilian experts -- scientists and engineers with extensive experience in all the technical fields involved in making bioweapons -- who were dispatched to Baghdad by the Defense Intelligence Agency for an analysis of the trailers. Their actions and findings were described to a Washington Post reporter in interviews with six government officials and weapons experts who participated in the mission or had direct knowledge of it.

None would consent to being identified by name because of fear that their jobs would be jeopardized. Their accounts were verified by other current and former government officials knowledgeable about the mission. The contents of the final report, "Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers," remain classified. But interviews reveal that the technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons. Those interviewed took care not to discuss the classified portions of their work.

"There was no connection to anything biological," said one expert who studied the trailers. Another recalled an epithet that came to be associated with the trailers: "the biggest sand toilets in the world."

The story of the technical team and its reports adds a new dimension to the debate over the U.S. government's handling of intelligence related to banned Iraqi weapons programs. The trailers -- along with aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq for what was claimed to be a nuclear weapons program -- were primary pieces of evidence offered by the Bush administration before the war to support its contention that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction....

Monday, April 10, 2006

Society in Jail
"What are you in for?" the inmate of Lee County jail asked the new prisoner.

"Rolling through a stop sign in my subdivision," answered the new inmate, to gales of laughter from others languishing in the same cell....

...The saga began last October, when he rolled through the same stop sign in front of a private swimming pool that he and fifty others roll through several times per day. He thought he had paid the ticket but he hadn't, and the court date came and went. He received no other notices.

But something interesting was brewing in local politics after he received the ticket. The local newspapers ran a series that claimed to unearth ticket-fixing going on in the Auburn city government. It seems that some friends of powerful people were getting their tickets dismissed. Auburn was already known for its lax enforcement but this had the whiff of corruption.

The papers lacked details but there were hints that the whole story was a result of a dispute between an elected official and an appointed city manager. The city manager later resigned or was kicked out.

The suggestion of corruption was enough to attract the attention of the FBI, which made some inquiries. The combination of the media pressure and FBI curiosity was enough to force a change in city policy. The new policy in Auburn would be total crackdown on ticket violators, particularly those that didn't pay and didn't show up to their court dates....

...We tend to think of the law as some sort of oiled machine that works according to the regulations. The truth is that the law is administered by people with a great deal of discretion over how others are treated. The wardens and correctional officials can choose to humiliate a person in whatever way they want. They can put you in prison clothes that fit or in some that are way too tight. They can tell you the time or not. Leave you to languish or make a call for you. They can insult you and lie about your status or be kind.

The only sure way to elicit something approaching humane behavior from them is to crawl and beg like a dog. You are worse than a slave, because you have nothing of value to offer your new owners. You are worse than an animal in a zoo because you are of no value to your captors. They really don't care if you live or die. Those who do care cannot help.

No one has more discretion than the judge, who holds your life in his hands. You are dependent on his mood of the moment. If he lets you off easy, he considers himself benevolent. If he sentences you to 10 years or a life in prison, he is only doing his job. It's always your fault for not having been sufficiently subservient at the outset.

The dramatic change in Inmate 501's life occurred in the course of minutes. All it took was a knock on the door. It mattered not at all that the supposed crime was completely innocuous. Once you are on the wrong side of the law, your life is officially worth nothing to anyone but those who can do little or nothing to help you.

People talk of government compassion. But there is no compassion in jail, which is where anyone who resists the state — even in the smallest way — ultimately ends up. People talk of social justice but to implement it means requiring everyone to make a choice: obey or face humiliation and servitude.

Yes, people can "file grievances" or "sue," and that is always the first thought of anyone who finds himself in the hands of captors. But to whom do you appeal? Whom do you sue? You are here again appealing to the same class of people, the same group of coercive agents, who have robbed you of your freedom. Your rights extend only as far as your masters allow them to extend.

People who criticize government as nothing but beating, killing, and hanging — to use Mises's phrase — are sometime accused of using exaggerated and hyperbolic language. Surely government is more than that and is not always that. Something as simple as a stop sign doesn't beat you or kill you!

And yet, what the critics of government mean is that all law, even that which appears to be a mere guideline and a help, must ultimately be enforced at the point of a gun. It represents a threat to obey or lose all freedom.

This insight applies to all law, whether it results from a Constitution, legislation, or appears out of nothing more than a regulatory body. Every regulation, no matter how small is enforced at the point of the gun. Every tax can result in handcuffing and jailing and even killing those who fail to fork over. Hidden behind each mandate is an armed tough in jackboots and a bulletproof vest who is prepared to beat and kill to serve the state and its laws.

As legislation extends, so does the coercive arm of the state, its police powers, its jails, and its reach over society. It is like a poisonous fog that descends and grows more by the day, seeping into every nook and cranny of life: schools, businesses, homes, churches. Nowhere is exempt. The sound of the jailer's key rattling grows louder and more ear-piercing. The culture of the jail, where people are treated worse than animals, proliferates. You can't move without risking life or limb....

...Their power is not always overt but it always lies in waiting. This was triggered by a zealous cop looking to fill a ticket quota, and an attempt to clean up government from corruption — prompted by a media-driven non-scandal that attracted the attention of the Feds. It resulted in personal catastrophe. We really don't get all the government we pay for, and thank goodness. Lord protect us on the day that we do.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it. Iran insists that its research is for peaceful use only, in keeping with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it will not be delayed or deterred.

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ” ...

...One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete....

...The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”...

...The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” ...

...The Administration’s case against Iran is compromised by its history of promoting false intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In a recent essay on the Foreign Policy Web site, entitled “Fool Me Twice,” Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote, “The unfolding administration strategy appears to be an effort to repeat its successful campaign for the Iraq war.”...

...The adviser went on, “If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.” The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, “the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.”...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

CHERRY PICKING THE TRUTH....It turns out Andrew Sullivan had already written my previous post about presidential leaking an hour before I did. That's what I get for being on West Coast time. Here's his version:
In this case, we're...talking about the following set of circumstances. A president is challenged in his public account of pre-war intelligence. The president authorizes a selective leak of classified information to rebut the challenge. He selects only those parts of the classified information that supports his case, and omits the rest that actually show parts of the government disputing his case. He authorizes the veep to authorize Libby to give the selected information to a pliant reporter for the New York Times. Meanwhile, his public statements reiterate an abhorrence of all unauthorized disclosure of classified information....

Scott McClellan, it turns out, not only agrees, but thinks this is just fine:
The unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to a program like the terrorist surveillance program is harmful to our nation's security....So there's a distinction...between declassifying information that is in the public interest and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security.

Whistle-Blower Outs NSA Spy Room
AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants.

On Wednesday, the EFF asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting AT&T from continuing the alleged wiretapping, and filed a number of documents under seal, including three AT&T documents that purportedly explain how the wiretapping system works.

According to a statement released by Klein's attorney, an NSA agent showed up at the San Francisco switching center in 2002 to interview a management-level technician for a special job. In January 2003, Klein observed a new room being built adjacent to the room housing AT&T's #4ESS switching equipment, which is responsible for routing long distance and international calls.

"I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room," Klein wrote. "The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room."

Klein's job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room. During the course of that work, he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

"While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T's internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal," Klein wrote.

The split circuits included traffic from peering links connecting to other internet backbone providers, meaning that AT&T was also diverting traffic routed from its network to or from other domestic and international providers, according to Klein's statement.

The secret room also included data-mining equipment called a Narus STA 6400, "known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets," according to Klein's statement....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Notes from the War Room
A historian of Christian martyrdom attends a Christian Right strategy session in the "War on Christians.”

...Speakers repeatedly juxtaposed “Christianity under assault worldwide” and the American political and cultural situation. For example, Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a Navy chaplain who has been disciplined for praying in Jesus’ name (in violation of Navy protocols) at public Navy-sponsored events, was a panelist in the first session of the conference, “Christian Persecution: Reports from the Front Lines.” Klingenschmitt made a striking and explicit argument from analogy by opening and closing his PowerPoint presentation with two paired photographs: a photograph of himself and one of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert who had recently been on trial in Afghanistan for having abandoned Islam. In Klingenschmitt’s analysis, he and Rahman are the same in every way that matters: both persecuted Christians, both equal victims of the suppression of religious freedom, both casualties in the war on Christianity.

Other speakers were more modest in their efforts to connect the situation of American conservative Christians to the circumstances of Christians in other parts of the world, reminding the audience that Christians in China, North Korea, or “the deepest, darkest recesses of the Middle East” are, indeed, worse off. But such admissions also became the ground for dire prophecies: “Things aren’t so bad here…yet,” Tristan Emmanuel, a Canadian activist and author of Christophobia: The Real Reason Behind Hate Crime Legislation, commented from his post as the moderator of the Christian persecution panel. Yet, when Tom DeLay, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives who is currently under indictment for violations of campaign-finance laws, arrived on the second day of the conference to a standing ovation, Scarborough asserted that DeLay’s criminal indictment was simply the result of his being “the target of all who despise the cause of Christ” -- in short, DeLay is clearly another persecuted Christian. (Scarborough punctuated DeLay’s speech with the comment, “God always does his best work just after a crucifixion,” implying that DeLay’s prosecution is just such an act of imperial violence and judicial activism.)...

...Beginning with the premise that there is a war on Christianity, conference organizers and participants were eager to issue calls to arms in response. “We are under spiritual invasion!” intoned Rod Parsley, an evangelist from Ohio. “Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! LOCK AND LOAD!” (The audience responded to these imperatives with a raucous and exuberant standing ovation.) Parsley also claimed that those Christian churches not sharing the perspective of the Christians represented at the conference constitute “the devil’s demilitarized zone,” na├»vely and fatally embracing “peace at any price.” Meanwhile, Laurence Wright, a Lutheran pastor and co-president of Vision America, announced that the time of a peaceful and contemplative Christianity is over; that Christians have been AWOL (“absent without Lord”) in the battle; and that “We must attack the evil now where it is strongest” in order to restore America, the city high on a hill....

...Perhaps the most explicit call to arms came from Ron Luce, the president and founder of Teen Mania, a Christian revivalist youth ministry, and the author of Battle Cry for a Generation, a multimedia campaign that deploys military images and language to recruit soldiers in Christ’s army. Toward the end of his speech, Luce invoked the biblical story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. (In the story, the Levite’s concubine is gang-raped by men who wanted to do sexual violence to the Levite. When the Levite’s host refuses to deliver the Levite to the assailants, he offers them his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine instead. When the assailants reject such an exchange, the Levite simply expels the concubine from his house, leaving her to be raped repeatedly throughout the night. The following morning, upon finding the concubine’s dead body on his host’s doorstep, the Levite dismembers her and sends her body parts out to the twelve tribes of Israel as a provocation to revenge.) “I kind of feel like the Levite,” Ron Luce confessed. And then he uttered a battle cry of his own: “CUT UP THE CONCUBINE! CUT UP THE CONCUBINE! CUT UP THE CONCUBINE!” ...

...Critics of the conference and the individuals and groups that promote its point of view have suggested that “The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006” is simply a right-wing political project cynically framed as a project to protect a persecuted religious group. Such an analysis fails to recognize the sincerity of the 400 people who were gathered in that ballroom in Washington -- not that sincerity ought to serve as a bulwark against challenge and critique, to be sure. The menacing part of this project is not that it is political rather than religious, but that it is unapologetically a form of political religion. Which is what makes the calls for Christian militarization, for putting on the armor of God, for rising up in righteous revolution against “the culture” -- however metaphorical at this point in time -- particularly alarming. Students of Christian history will be well attuned to this kind of rhetoric and its materialization and embodiment in the actions of the righteous. Early Christian historian Michael Gaddis, for example, offers a brilliant and textured analysis of these dynamics in late ancient Christianity in his recent book, There Is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ”: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire. As Gaddis illustrates, righteous Christian violence in the fourth and fifth centuries -- violence against non-Christians and “heretics” -- was justified in the first instance by reference to the persecution of Christians. With God on their side, everything is permitted. ...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Growth in federal spending unchecked
WASHINGTON — Federal spending is outstripping economic growth at a rate unseen in more than half a century, provoking some conservatives to complain that government under Republican control has gotten too big.

The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001, White House budget documents show. That's the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt. ...

Kyoto and a climate of moralism
The debate about global warming has become a moral crusade against our allegedly 'excessive' lifestyles.

'Climate change means that business as usual is dead. It means that economic growth as usual is dead. But the politics of economic growth and business as usual live on.... Our economic model is not so different in the cold light of day to that of the Third Reich - which knew it could only expand by grabbing what it needed from its neighbours. Genocide followed. (1)'

Comparing Britain's failure to miss its carbon emission targets with the Nazi attempt to conquer Europe seems melodramatic, bordering on distasteful. But this crankish quote isn't from some member of the lunatic green fringe; it was uttered by backbench Labour MP Colin Challen, who is also chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group....

...None the less, we should be grateful for Britain's failure on this one. Environment secretary Margaret Beckett, presenting the report's findings, blamed economic growth for missing the target. If even government ministers are now guiltily confessing that the UK's anaemic growth rates are too high, we should all be concerned. It is the increased productivity of our society which holds open the potential for solving many of the problems we will face in the future, including environmental ones. Restricting growth will do little to affect the climate but a lot to reduce our capacity to respond to change, whatever form it takes.

The truth about climate change is that the world is likely to get a bit warmer in the future but whether things will get a lot warmer is really not known - and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can be made of the way the science has been distorted to present a particular political message....

...Still, such a discussion of human adaptability is at odds with the spirit of the age. The environment debate has become increasingly moralistic: restraint is good, production and consumption are bad. At a time when the decision to live a 'green' lifestyle is recast as 'ethical living', the ability to debate alternatives is closed down. As long as the debate about climate change is cast in such terms, we can expect more attacks on the notion of economic growth - and we will all be, literally, poorer for it.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says
LONDON — In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Bush arriving for a White House news conference on Jan. 31, 2003, after a meeting about Iraq that would be summarized in a memorandum by an adviser to Mr. Blair.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."...

... Since then, The New York Times has reviewed the five-page memo in its entirety. While the president's sentiments about invading Iraq were known at the time, the previously unreported material offers an unfiltered view of two leaders on the brink of war, yet supremely confident.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein....

Study challenges prayers for the sick
...Each night of the trial, the team faxed a list of the patients to be prayed for to three Christian groups, whose members prayed for successful surgery and a quick recovery. Each of these patients was on the prayer list for two weeks. The doctors then monitored all the patients for medical complications in the 30 days following surgery.

The investigators found that praying made no difference to the health of patients who didn't know whether they were being prayed for or not. But the group who knew that they were being prayed for was approximately 14% more at risk of complications, mainly abnormal heart rhythms. Perhaps, the investigators suggest, this was because it made them more anxious.

The study, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation, an organization that sponsors research examining science and religion, is published in the American Heart Journal....