Monthly Archives: February 2005

On Skepticism

Today on our very special tour of all things that make Athenae say oh fer chrissakes:

Readers routinely call or write to cite stories they’ve seen blazing the Web but that are missing or downplayed on the newspaper’s news pages. Many of those readers blame a right-wing or left-wing conspiracy. But whether those stories gain traction in the news pages of The Oregonian often depends on whether wire services, including those of the major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post or Los Angeles Times, report on them.

The gap goes to the heart of what is journalism. Opinions, commentary or simply rumors dominate many of the blogs. Yet blogs also can break legitimate stories, such as the one that led to the downfall of Dan Rather. Newspaper and wire-service journalists grapple with distinguishing between the rants and the real news, and must confirm the information using standards of accuracy and verification rarely applied to blogs.

It’s actually not a bad piece, a lot less clueless and hysterical than most of the press carping aboug Gannon, Jordan, blogs and journalists. But what I take issue with is the notion that blogs in particular and the Internet in general require a sort of special skepticism that nothing else does.

I don’t tar all journalists with the same brush. I don’t think everything that appears in the Times and the Post has an agenda. If they tell me a house caught fire at Such and Such Street, I believe them. If they tell me that Bob Dylan is going to be playing at a club, I show up (and fawn shamelessly).

But analysis, commentary, color … all those things are indeed subjective, and I feel free to disagree with a reporter’s interpretation or a columnist’s assertion. And I read those pages, those pieces, that coverage, with a critical eye, same as I apply to everything else I read, see or hear. I develop an idea of who is and is not a reputable source, based on how much of what they told me later turned out to be true.

A particular medium shouldn’t be subject to a presumption of belief; just because it’s newsprint doesn’t mean it isn’t crap. The free press is open to all who can pay for it; that includes some pretty sorry characters. Rupert Murdoch comes to mind. Neither should a medium be subject to a presumption of disbelief. James Guckert solicited clients for sex; online or on a street corner, doesn’t make the act any less real.

A.

Holden’s Obsession With The Gaggle Expanded

From Holden:

I feel the need to blow off more steam built up while thinking of the two questions I mentioned below. First, let’s look at Terry Moran’s question again.

Q Scott, these are remarkable scenes we’re witnessing in Beirut. Is this a domino falling? Does this show the President’s strategy is vindicated and confirmed and right?

He could easily have asked Scottie for the president’s opinion, an open-ended question is not necessarily bad. Something like, “Scott, these are remarkable scenes we’re witnessing in Beirut. What does the president think of the developments in Lebanon?”

Then if Scott wants to tip the dominoes over (nice metaphor there, Terry), he is free to do so. But a real journalist would not supply Scottie with the president’s opinion.

Now here’s Helen Thomas. Follow her questioning (Note: it’s never One-and-Done with Helen) and keep in mind the idea of an adversarial press corps.

Q Has the President ever issued an order against torture of prisoners? And do we still send prisoners to Syria to be tortured?

There you have two questions of fact, posed to allow a simple yes or no answer and based on a current topic of discussion.

Scottie’s answer – not a smple yes or no, or even an answer at all.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has stated publicly that we do not condone torture and that he would never authorize the use of torture. He has made that —

Scottie did not answer the question, so Helen repeats it.

Q But has he issued an order?

MR. McCLELLAN: — statement very publicly, and he’s made it clear to everybody in the government that we do not torture.

Scottie still won’t address the question of a specific order from the president, clinging to the “public statements” and dreaming of Bulldogs.

Helen has the grace to accept Scottie’s answer at face value, but wonders why the president’s clear statements seem to have no effect.

Q Well, why do we still hear these stories then?

MR. McCLELLAN: If there are allegations of wrongdoing, then the President expects those allegations to be fully investigated and if there is actual wrongdoing that occurs, then people need to be held to account. The President has made that very clear.

The Law-n-Oder President answer riles her, so Helen goes back to the yes-or-no question about a specific fact.

Q Well, do you deny that we still send prisoners to other countries to be tortured? Is that a denial?

MR. McCLELLAN: Judge Gonzales testified previously that we have an obligation not to render people to countries that we know would torture them.

Scottie makes the mistake of citing Abu Gonzales’ testimony, which Helen can recite from memory.

Q He did not rule out torture.

And it’s Good-bye Scottie.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, David.

There. Relations between the press and our government should be adversarial, it’s really not that hard. Democracy cannot survive without it.

Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Compare the fawning Terry Moran’s question

Q Scott, these are remarkable scenes we’re witnessing in Beirut. Is this a domino falling? Does this show the President’s strategy is vindicated and confirmed and right?

With the incisive questioning of Helen Thomas.

Q Has the President ever issued an order against torture of prisoners? And do we still send prisoners to Syria to be tortured?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has stated publicly that we do not condone torture and that he would never authorize the use of torture. He has made that —

Q But has he issued an order?

MR. McCLELLAN: — statement very publicly, and he’s made it clear to everybody in the government that we do not torture.

Q Well, why do we still hear these stories then?

MR. McCLELLAN: If there are allegations of wrongdoing, then the President expects those allegations to be fully investigated and if there is actual wrongdoing that occurs, then people need to be held to account. The President has made that very clear.

Q Well, do you deny that we still send prisoners to other countries to be tortured? Is that a denial?

MR. McCLELLAN: Judge Gonzales testified previously that we have an obligation not to render people to countries that we know would torture them.

Q He did not rule out torture.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, David.

I know these words will fall on deaf ears, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. Here’s the deal, wingers. The role of the press in a healthy democracy is to question authority. This is particularly true of the White House press corps. They are supposed to question what the administration says, rather than elbow each other out of the way to be Scottie’s next buttboy.

“Jeff Gannon” and today ABC’s Terry Moran are symptoms – they are symptoms of a sick democracy. Helen Thomas is doing her job. Call her an “old Arab” if you like, she won’t read your drivel anyway. Nor will she stop doing her job.

Innovations in Killing

From Holden:

Need a new way to kill people? Count on the good ol’ EweEssufEh.

Human Rights Watch raised a red flag on Monday over US plans to deploy a new system of remote-controlled anti-personnel mines in Iraq.

The New York-based rights watchdog said the US Army had failed to answer critical questions regarding the potential harm the mines might pose to civilians.

The new system, called Matrix, allows a soldier with a laptop computer to detonate Claymore mines remotely via radio signal from several kilometers away.

While Claymores normally propel lethal fragments from 40 to 60 metres across a 60-degree arc, Human Right Watch said US Army tests indicated that the hazard range for the new system was as far as 300 metres.

“A faraway blip on a laptop screen is hardly a surefire method of determining if you are about to kill an enemy combatant or an unsuspecting civilian,” said Steve Goose, executive director of the watchdog’s arms division.

Great Moments in Winger Journalism

From Holden:

F-list winger “columnist” Ken Hughes rises to Jeff Gannon’s defense in his masterpiece of unedited prose, Is Jeff Gannon, The New Matt Drudge, in The Conservative Voice. Oh, the humanity.

What’s this? Did the high school boys’ senior basketball team go after Jeff Gannon? If they did, would he protest?

When the media goes after someone with the varsity they’ve targeted Jeff Gannon it makes us all take a second look.

I’m sure Jeff Gannon hope Ken Hughes does not write any letters of recommendation to any of his prospective employers.

Will the same fate befall Jeff Gannon, I’m sure he hope it will.

The name “White House” consists of two words, say me.

A reporter must pay his dues to be assigned to the Whitehouse, say who?

The media is convinced it’s a they.

The media is convinced it’s they’re mandated to paint the president in a bad light at all times. [good isn’t news, only bad is news.]

Finally, we reach the point of Ken’s piece:

Me big internet blogger, more important than are you journalismists!

I live in a large county with two [physical] divisions of the Republican Party, North and South. Several months age a friend invited me to attend a meeting of the local chapter of the party. When we arrived the chapter leader was having a conversation with a gentleman I was introduced to as the political reporter for the local newspaper. My friend introduced me as an Internet Columnist. My credentials were immediately dismissed as irrelevant. The local reporter was seated up front I on the other hand was seated in back of the back of the room. What the people running the meeting didn’t realize, My columns reaches a hundred times the audience of the local reporter.

The meeting was to gain support for President George Bush’s reelection. They were concentrating on the local population, Had they been a little more courteous I may have given them a few words in an article giving them broader recognition than what they were getting between the local Used-Car Dealer and a Food Store.

Bill Safire’s Buyer’s Remorse

From Holden:

Either Bill Safire has lost faith or his check from Karl Rove did not come this month.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Safire, let me start with you. Busy week for the president, went to Europe, met with Russian President Putin. Give him a grade.

MR. SAFIRE: I was disheartened and dismayed by the way he went eyeball to eyeball with President Putin and Bush blinked. Here is a president who has been talking eloquently about extending freedom and fighting for democracy around the world in his inaugural address and the State of the Union. And as soon as he comes up against the man who is doing more to stop the extension of freedom than anybody else, he wimps out all of a sudden. I think this was as big a blunder as his father made when he gave the chicken Kiev speech, saying, “Stay within the Soviet Union.”

I think most accommodationists and certainly everybody in the State Department is delighted with the way Bush poured praise on Putin, and I think it’s terrible. This was the time to stand up to him and say, “Hey, you’re providing arms to Syria. You just sent 100,000 Kalashnikovs to Castro’s friend who runs Venezuela. You’re helping Iran develop nuclear bombs, and you ought to stop it. And worst of all, you’re rolling back democracy in Russia.” And so what does he do? He talks about my friend, Vladimir.

And how can I let a link to yesterday’s Meet the Press go by without highlighting this bit o’snark from MoDo?

The administration is trying to throw journalists in jail and basically trying to replace the whole press crew with ringers, including male escorts.

The Increasingly Unpopular President

From Holden:

Zogby reports only 46% of respondents say Chimpy is doing an excellent or good job while a mandateliscious 54% rate him as fair or poor, matching the Pew poll’s 46% approval rate from last week.

Switching the Military Machine Off

From Holden:

Unnending casualties in an increasingly unpopular, illegal war prompt parrents and school administrators to say no to military aptitude tests.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, military recruiters had no trouble getting New England high schools to offer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which is used to screen promising candidates. But three years later, in the midst of a controversial war in Iraq, things have changed dramatically.

“It’s much more difficult right now to get into schools,” said Petty Officer Jason Lowe, ASVAB testing coordinator at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Boston, which handles enlistment processing for Rhode Island, much of New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts.

“People aren’t happy, I guess,” he said. “They just don’t like the military in there right now with everything going on in the world. It makes it real tough.”

Administrators at Nashua High School North this year reversed a long-standing policy of giving the three-hour test to the entire junior class, which usually numbers around 500.

Principal R. Patrick Corbin said an increasing number of students were opting not to take the test; 60 parents last year sent in letters to exempt their children from taking the test. And another 100 students schoolwide were absent on testing day, he estimated.

“I know the recruiters are under great pressure and I know there’s a war going on, and they’re trying to recruit people, but you can see the attitude of many parents and students has dramatically changed towards this thing,” he said.

[snip]

Lowe said his office has changed its approach in selling the program to schools. “Really, we try to leave the military everything out of it,” he said. “We pretty much focus on that it’s a career exploration program that we’re doing for the schools. Which is what it is.”

But that approach makes some uneasy.

Corbin believes some of those promoting the test to New Hampshire schools “have probably been disingenuous about the test.”

“They clearly gave the impression they weren’t doing this to recruit people into the armed forces, that that wasn’t the motivation behind the test.”

But he said, “I believe they obviously were.”

Military officials say they do use the test results in recruiting calls. Lowe said information from the test is entered into a database, where it is kept for two years, and used by recruiters to discuss possible military occupations with students who’ve taken the test.

Master Sgt. Blake Trimarco, the Army liaison at the Boston military station, said the scores are used to generate “leads” for recruiters. He said students who score at the 50th percentile or above on the qualifying section of the test, will be the “priority” calls.

News from the War on Women

Shameless in Colorado
by Sharon Lerner
Cella Roberts was 23 weeks pregnant when she discovered her fetus had a heart defect that would make it unable to survive outside the womb. Roberts herself was suffering from a blood sugar problem she had developed during the pregnancy and, as it wore on, she was getting sicker and sicker, facing the potentially fatal complication of toxemia. Though an abortion seemed the most logical choice–her doctor counseled it, and everyone from her neighbors to her in-laws urged her to follow his advice–Roberts wasn’t sure what to do. So she brought her rabbi along to a doctor’s appointment to help her make the wrenching decision.
“We asked all the questions we could,” remembers Roberts. “Then I cried, and cried, and cried.” Rather than risk her life to deliver a dead baby, Roberts decided to end the pregnancy. She was referred to Warren Hern in Boulder, Colorado, virtually the only physician in a six-state area who could perform an abortion at that stage. The four-day procedure was excruciating. But Roberts, who already had a four-year-old daughter at the time, eventually managed to put it behind her. “I had responsibilities to people who were already living. I was a mother and a wife and a sister and a friend and a neighbor,” she says. Roberts had to move on–and she did, adopting a baby last year.
But the trauma of that terrible period, already more than two years in the past, has resurfaced recently, since Roberts learned that, unbeknownst to her, the ashes from her cremated fetus had been buried in a secret ceremony at the Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Boulder. The church had gotten the ashes from Crist Mortuary, which had contracted with Hern in 2001 to dispose of medical waste. Though their contract specified that the material would not be part of a religious ceremony, the mortuary company had given each of seven shipments of ashes received under the contract to the church, which had placed them near a “memorial wall for the unborn,” while a church bell tolled to the rhythm of a beating heart. Crist also gave the church ashes from fetuses that were miscarried at Avista Adventist Hospital in nearby Louisville, Colorado.
On January 23, one day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to abortion, the church went public, inviting press to its ritual service involving the ashes of these miscarried and aborted fetuses, and beginning one of the most bizarre and unsettling chapters in the struggle over abortion. Much of the media attention has focused on the intentions of the church (“We want to give dignity to the short lives of these babies,” the Boulder County Daily Camera quoted the organizer of the services as saying), and the no-hard-feelings stance of the hospital (“It’s a neat thing what they’re doing in Boulder,” Avista CEO John Sackett said in an AP story.) But few have asked how the women directly affected by this gruesome theft feel about it.
While she had cried in sadness many times over the loss of her pregnancy, Robert’s response was pure anger. “This time, I cried out of fury,” says Roberts. “That was my fetus! I had worked out a situation to take care of that fetus in a way that was appropriate for me and my family and our religious views.” Roberts knew she had to respond to the indignity. But what is the appropriate reaction to such a bizarre and personal affront? “I can’t imagine going to a Catholic grave and digging it up and saying I don’t think this should be here, I’m going to put it in my Jewish graveyard,” she says. Once again, she turned to her rabbi for advice. “When I asked him if this was worth pursuing, he said, ‘Sue the bastards,'” says Roberts, who took his advice and is now consulting lawyers.
Hern, too, is mulling over his legal options. Though outraged about this latest turn in local abortion politics, he does not seem terribly surprised by it. Perhaps the doctor, who runs the Boulder Abortion Clinic and specializes in second-trimester abortions, has gotten used to being a target. Indeed, this wasn’t the first time fetal remains from his clinic had ended up the Sacred Heart church. In 1999, when another company had the contract to dispose of fetuses from the clinic, an employee at that mortuary passed the ashes along to the church, according to a piece that ran in the Boulder Weekly at the time. (That employee was subsequently fired and hired by Crist.)
The violation of his mortuary contract–and his patients–is far from the worst thing that’s happened to Hern since he began performing abortions in 1973. In 1985, someone threw a brick through the window of his office. Three years later, five bullets were shot into the same window. He’s been stalked, received obscene death threats and, fearing for his life, slept with a shotgun beside his bed. Most days, when Hern pulls into the clinic parking lot, he stays inside his car for a moment scanning nearby rooftops for snipers. “The anti-abortion folks are trying to ruin my life, and they’re succeeding,” is how he sums up his situation.
Indeed, Hern has lately spent much of his time testifying against local anti-abortion legislation and taking calls from distraught patients. One of them, a 24-year-old construction manager named Jennifer Rogers, has been fantasizing about revenge. When Rogers learned that the Catholic church had gotten hold of the remains from her abortion, “My original response was wanting to take a bat and smash every window in the church,” she says. A friend suggested throwing eggs at it, while another friend, who had had a miscarriage at Avista Hospital during the same period, suffered in silence.
But after the initial wave of shock and anger ebbed, Rogers had a different idea. She thought she might start volunteering at the clinic that performed her abortion in 2001. At the time, her relationship with her boyfriend was ending and Rogers didn’t feel ready to have a child on her own. Though she was clear about what she wanted to do, the experience of walking past rows of protesters on her way into the clinic was terrifying. Some screamed that she was killing her baby, others that she would regret her decision for the rest of her life. “These people who are supposed to be God-fearing and loving, the same ones who took my ashes, were yelling hateful things at me,” she remembers. “For a year or two, I could still hear these same people screaming at me in my nightmares.”
Rogers hasn’t regretted her decision, which is part of what she’d like to share with others who brave the gauntlet into the clinic. “I want to let them know that there are people who come out of it who aren’t raging basket cases for the next ten years,” she says. Part of why she was able to come to peace with her abortion, she thinks, is that she performed her own rituals of grief, writing a detailed account of her feelings at the time, something a therapist had suggested.
[snip]

Yet another of Hern’s patients, Povy Atchison, and her husband Lloyd Athearn devised their own elaborate rituals. Because of a malformation of their fetus’ lungs that made it unable to live outside the womb, Atchison had an abortion about five and a half months into her pregnancy. At the time, she didn’t think much about what would become of her fetus. “You’re going through the most emotional thing you’ve ever gone through–you’re not thinking about that,” she says. But when Hern offered her the ashes, she agreed to take them.
The two planted a tree in their back yard and sprinkled some of the ashes around it. Athearn dusted some over Mt. McKinley. And they put some of them in one of their favorite hiking spots and held a ceremony to say goodbye. Then they took some ashes to the North Oregon coast, where Athearn grew up. “It was our desire to show what we hoped had been our child many places that were special to us,” says Atchison, who fumes when she thinks of how she would have felt had her ashes been included in the church’s mass burial. “I would have felt that this baby’s been taken away from me again,” she says. “I would be so incredibly angry.”
It’s hard to know, though, exactly what you’d do in a situation unless it happens to you. Most of Hern’s patients already appreciate that. None I spoke with was without sadness about what happened. One even saw the appeal for a healing, religious ceremony and considered going to Sacred Heart’s, before realizing that the Church was holding “a political show,” not a religious ceremony. When it gradually dawned on her that her fetus had been used as part of that political show, she got angry. “Sacred Heart should not take it upon themselves to assume what a woman wants, they don’t know me,” she says.
Nor do they know the story of a woman who had been 22-weeks pregnant when she found her way to Dr. Hern. She had been married just a few weeks at the time, and her new husband had recently thrown her into a wall. During their short marriage, his violence escalated and he eventually threatened to hire someone to kill her and her 11-year-old daughter. “I knew I could not be tied to this man for the rest of my life,” she says.
“It was just a whole devastating thing that you can’t talk to anybody about,” she now says of her abortion. She fell sick, spending days in bed, when she first heard that her fetus had been part of the church’s ceremony. Perhaps, she offers generously, the church didn’t realize the pain it would cause by conducting services for fetuses without the consent of the individual women who had carried them. “I don’t think they understand how we all have our own wacky story of what led us to have that experience.”

link here.
This story reveals exactly how the anti-choice movement views women – as nonentities. How else could these people be so cruel as to dispose of their fetuses without their permission or even their knowledge? It just staggers the imagination that anyone would think that he or she has the right to completely disregard the feelings and wishes of a woman who’s pregnancy did not result in a live birth to this extent.
It also clearly illustrates one of the chief problems with making abortion illegal – each woman and each pregnancy is unique. There are as many reasons for ending a pregnancy as there are women and pregnancies. There is no way that lawmakes can legislate a ban that would provide sufficient options for women and their doctors that would cover every situation. The anti-choice movement’s leaders know that. They just don’t give a damn.

Who Will Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Senator?

From Holden:

Who can we get to run against Connecticut’s Joe Liebfraumilch? The Prospect’s Garance Franke-Ruta says, why not Howard Dean’s Connecticut brother Jim?

A Tale of Two Cases

From Holden:

Much attention will be paid this week to arguments before the Supreme Court regarding the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. Of more importance to me will be opening arguments in a civil case here in Travis County, Texas, in which Democrats who lost to Republican candidates who received illegal corporate donations funnelled to them by Tom DeLay’s TRM-PAC seek redress.

The Democrats allege Bill Ceverha, a former state House Republican who is now treasurer of the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, or TRMPAC, conspired to illegally collect and spend about $600,000 in corporate contributions that targeted them in their races.

Texas law bans the use of corporate money to influence the outcome of an election but allows its use for administrative costs for political committees, such as rent or utility bills.

The Democrats also allege that corporate contributions were not properly reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.

“The question in this case is whether secret, undisclosed corporations are going to control the political process through large campaign contributions,” said Cris Feldman, one of the attorneys for the five Democrats.

Evidence that may emerge in this week’s civil trial could affect an ongoing criminal investigation into 2002 legislative election spending. That investigation has resulted in indictments against three top fund-raisers for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Look for evidence offered in this civil suit to find its way into Travic County DA Ronnie Earle’s prosecution of DeLay’s cronies, and hopefully an indictment of the Bugman himself.

Bill Gates is Fucking With My Bush Boom

From Holden:

Personal incomes were hit with the biggest drop in more than a decade in January, a decrease the AP attributes to Microsoft divdends (or the lack tereof).

Personal incomes which had been bolstered by a large stock dividend payment in December plunged 2.3 percent in January, the sharpest decline in more than a decade.

[snip]

The Commerce Department said Monday that the sharp January drop in incomes followed a record 3.7 percent jump in incomes in December with both months heavily influenced by a $3 per share dividend payment that computer software giant Microsoft made on Dec. 2. Without that $32 billion payment, personal incomes would have shown steadier gains of 0.6 percent in December and 0.5 percent in January.

All of this leads me to wonder just how much the U.S. economy depends on what Bill Gates and a few of his cronies stuff into their mattresses.

Oh, and it looks like Bill did not spend much in January, either.

Personal spending was unchanged in January after having risen by 0.8 percent in December. This reflected the fact that demand for autos sagged last month as dealers removed attractive incentive offers they had used to spur end-of-the-year sales.

Adding to My Bush Boom woes, consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in January, the fastest rate in more than three years.

Freeway Blogger Marks 1500th Notch on Chimpy’s Gun

From Holden:

The Freeway Blogger plans to post 150 signs in the San Francisco Bay area over the next two days to mark the 1,500th U.S. soldier killed in the War on Iraq.

Link.

Hey, I bet your community has a couple of freeways that could use a sign or two. Why not join the fun?

Progress

From Holden:

A car-bombing in Hilla kills more than a hundred people.

But we got Saddam’s half-brother. That’s something, huh. Huh?

Shorter Frank Rich To the World:

Have a nice big cup of shut the fuck up!

At least President Bush is now on tape saying he won’t “kick gays.” He leaves that to surrogates. It’s gay people and teenagers being denied potentially life-saving sex education who ultimately are the real victims of the larger agenda of the decency crusaders, which is not to clean up show business, a doomed mission, but to realize the more attainable goal of enlisting the government to marginalize and punish those who don’t adhere to their “moral values.” For its part, show business will have no problem fending for itself. My favorite moment in the whole faux Oscar controversy came on a “Today” show segment weighing the Drudge Report blast of Chris Rock. “Still ahead this morning on ‘Today,’ ” said Katie Couric without missing a beat as that report ended, “former teacher Mary Kay Letourneau is planning to marry the student who fathered two of her children.” America just can’t stop itself from staying tuned.

A.

May you find the peace you tried to create in this life

Before Bush and his cabal of ten-a-penny fascisti decided to weep in public over the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, before Nick Kristof asked us all to praise his new awareness of child prostitution, before Bay Buchanan and Beverly LaHaye discovered the Taliban were unkind to women and claimed the mantle of female champions for themselves, one man spoke up for those in darkness.

It was the students’ toast to freedom in Antonio Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal, leading to their arrest and sentencing to seven years in jail, that first fired Benenson into action.

He wondered how to get them released, hitting on the idea of bombarding the authorities with letters demanding they be freed.

“Peter Benenson’s life was a courageous testament to his visionary commitment to fight injustice around the world,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan said in a statement.

“He brought light into the darkness of prisons, the horror of torture chambers and tragedy of death camps around the world,” she added.

Benenson founded Amnesty first as a one-year campaign for the release of six prisoners of conscience before it grew into a worldwide movement for human rights.

The approach was simple — local Amnesty groups adopted “prisoners of conscience” and pestered governments to release them while also writing letters of support to the prisoners themselves.

People like to think that revolutions, movements, great moments in history come when a mass of people act. It’s almost never like that. Almost always, it’s one person, one person alone who has had enough, who cannot stay silent any longer.

Long before we began to use the suffering of others to justify inflicting suffering, Peter Benenson sat down and wrote a letter, asking for freedom. His life brought hope to millions. I hope with all my heart that the place where he is now is a world like the one he envisioned for us all.

A.

When the Rule of Law is shattered, we’re all victims

Thrown to the Wolves
Published Friday, February 25, in the NYT; link (note: the link goes to the story as reproduced at CommonDreams. org, and not the original NYT source)
by Bob Herbert
In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.
Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.
He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.
Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.
He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured.
“I used to ask God to help them,” he said.
The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda. If that’s so, how can the administration possibly allow him to roam free? The Syrians, who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism.
Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a terror investigation there. One former Canadian official, commenting on the Arar case, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying “accidents will happen” in the war on terror.
[…snip…]

Whatever may have happened in Canada, nothing can excuse the behavior of the United States in this episode. Mr. Arar was deliberately dispatched by U.S. officials to Syria, a country that – as they knew – practices torture. And if Canadian officials hadn’t intervened, he most likely would not have been heard from again.
Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible U.S. policy known as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture. The fact that some of the people swallowed up by this policy may in fact have been hard-core terrorists does not make it any less repugnant.

I remember when the United States at least ostensibly stood for human rights and the rule of law. I remember when the country claimed the moral high ground and used it to promote those values in the rest of the world. Maybe all along the U.S. had no right to that position, but I think that most people were willing to cede that ground to the country because I think most people believed that our system of government was truly designed to promote justice for everyone, and that we were sincere. America got the benefit of the doubt more often than not.
That’s no longer true, of course. There’s no longer any doubt that America has turned away from the rule of law and has embraced an “ends justify the means” position that has resulted in a spectacle of sordid abuses of both human rights and our own ideas of justice. And many Americans seem all too willing to accept this position. In the end, it will be Americans who will suffer for it. Without the rule of law, there is nothing that the average American will have to protect his own rights from his own government should it turn on him. And history shows us that it is far more likely than not that it will turn on him.
I forgot to give credit where it’s due when I posted this. Thanks to Prior Aelred for the head’s up on this story.

Speaking of music

These ladies make some unimaginably lovely art.

A.

Department of They Did WHAT On A Clear Channel Station?

True confessions time: I have a thing for bad hip-hop, Kelly Clarkson, peppy morning DJs who watch American Idol so I don’t have to, and generally listening to pointless trash in the A.M. these days before turning on the world’s horror on NPR. Go ahead, make fun, you bunch of liberal elitists, you. You just don’t understand my Real American soul.

So I often tune in to these guys first thing, because listening to them is like sitting around a dorm room at 2 a.m. listneing to your shitfaced floormates talking about who did what to who for how many cookies last weekend, and it’s amusing. But every once in a while their shows take a really wild turn. Once, they solicited calls from men whose girlfriends or wives tried to trap them into marriage by becoming pregnant. Instead they got about two dozen calls from women saying their significant others were the ones who wanted children and wanted to stay home with them, while the girls wanted to keep working and go out with friends and had no interest in babies. It was a fascinating reversal of the usual stereotype, and what I loved was that the hosts went with it and talked about changing roles and income pressures and other things that affected who works and who stays home. Say what you like about goofball morning pop-radio DJs, their opinions are heard by more people than talk screamers or newspaper editorial boards ever will be.

Last Wednesday when I tuned them in, sitting in the kitchen waiting for the coffee, the lunatics were talking about this story. And then Drex, who’s said a number of times that he’s a liberal and has no love for Bush, did something that had to have his producer clawing for his eyeballs. He asked veterans and anti-war people, both, to call in. And he patched them through to each other and let them talk about the war.

Keep in mind, the audience for this morning show is like David Brooks’ wet dreams: young white suburbanites and wannabe-hipsters, people who live in communities where crime means a really big bike got stolen, people who give their kids breast implants for Christmas. The deepest thoughts they usually voice on this show have to do with what synonyms for penis are in vogue this week. These are people who listen to Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier” and don’t think about the irony of young dumb kids rapping about getting symbolic purple hearts while actual kids are getting them pinned on empty sleeves. These are the people for whom the war barely exists.

It was uncomfortable. It was raw. Nobody spoke in talking points; hell, hardly anybody spoke in complete sentences. Real people spoke about their opinions and actually listened to one another and responded. The callers argued with each other, the hosts argued amongst themselves. Everybody agreed: we should be doing more for veterans. One Iraq vet called in and said he couldn’t get health benefits and knew his buddies were getting their arms and legs shot off. Drex ranted about the lack of money available for care while Enron gets rich and the vet agreed, but said that an anti-war listener who called Bush a moron should respect the office of the president. Mel T asked if this war was so great, when the Bush girls were going to enlist and Joann said sarcastically that they were “too precious” to do that. They used the word “lying.” They used the word “betrayal.” And they let people call in and tell them to shut up if that’s what people wanted to say.

It was one of the the most extraordinary things I’ve ever heard on radio, all the more so because it came from the most unlikely place. If I could find audio of it, I would post it everywhere I could, because it was a conversation in the way the whole country should be having one: spontaneous, in an environment where people spend their ordinary days. It was people who specialize in the trivial rising above that triviality, and it was thrilling to hear America talking to itself, about what was really going on.

I sent the DJs a note, because I’m sure they’re going to get shit for this; this is a Clear Channel station. I told them while I enjoyed listening to them mock J. Lo on a regular basis and they always made me laugh, I was incredibly impressed at the way they made me think that morning, and let their audience talk back, and I appreciated the limb they went out on to do that. I said I hoped they’d do more of it, because we need it, and not just from supposedly “serious” news sources. We need to talk about what matters everywhere.

If you heard that show, if you know what I’m talking about, drop them a line at drex@kiss1035.com. The wingers are good at sending letters of protest and faux-outrage. Let’s get good at sending letters of encouragement.

A.

Anti-Terrorism Law Actually Used to Convict Terrorist!

From Holden:

I’m shocked to read that a post-9/11 anti-terror law was actually used to convict a terrorist, White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader David Wayne Hull (News of the Wierd fans take note of that middle name).

The leader of a Ku Klux Klan splinter group was sentenced to 12 years in prison Friday in what prosecutors said was the nation’s first conviction under a new anti-terror law.

David Wayne Hull, 42, was convicted of teaching a government informant posing as an anti-abortion activist how to use a pipe bomb at a November 2002 white supremacist gathering on Hull’s property south of Pittsburgh.

Federal prosecutors said Hull also gave the informant parts to make a bomb.

The 2002 anti-terror statute bans instructing others how to use pipe bombs or other dangerous weapons to commit a crime. It carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.