Saturday, December 29, 2007

Navy JAG Resigns Over Torture Cover-up

It’s heartening to see an official in the government who is as horrified by the corruption and blatant dishonesty going on in the Bush administration as I am. Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Williams, a JAG officer with the U.S. Naval Reserve, resigned his commission after watching General Thomas W. Hartmann, legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly refused to call waterboarding torture.

I am reprinting his letter to the editor of The Pennsylvania Gateway in full. It speaks volumes as to his honor and integrity and the lack of it in our government.

It was with sadness that I signed my name this grey morning to a letter resigning my commission in the U.S. Navy.

There was a time when I served with pride, knowing that by serving with the finest men and women in the country, we were part of an organization whose core values required us to “do the right thing,” and that we were far different from the Soviet Union and its gulags, the Vietcong with their torture camps and a society of surveillance and informers like Nazi Germany.

We were part of the shining light on the hill who didn’t do those things. Sadly, no more.

The final straw for me was listening to General Hartmann, the highest-ranking military lawyer in charge of the military commissions, testify that he refused to say that waterboarding captured U.S. soldiers by Iranian operatives would be torture.

His testimony had just sold all the soldiers and sailors at risk of capture and subsequent torture down the river. Indeed, he would not rule out waterboarding as torture when done by the United States and indeed felt evidence obtained by such methods could be used in future trials.

Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition.

In the middle ages, the Inquisition called waterboarding “toca” and used it with great success. In colonial times, it was used by the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna Massacre of 1623.

Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor.

Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.

General Hartmann, following orders was not an excuse for anyone put on trial in Nuremberg, and it will not be an excuse for you or your superiors, either.

Despite the CIA and the administration attempting to cover up the practice by destroying interrogation tapes, in direct violation of a court order, and congressional requests, the truth about torture, illegal spying on Americans and secret renditions is coming out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Netscape Goes The Way Of he Dodo Bird!

Well all good things come to an end. Netscape, once the king of the browsers fades away for good. AOL who bought the company is ducking out of the browser market and leaving it to IE, Firefox and Opera. What killed it? Well OS with a browser built in is the culprit and Microsoft, the leader of predatory marketing, drove the stake in the heart of Netscape with IE being bundled with Windows. Apple has done the same with its browser Safari and so independent browsers like Netscape just can’t get traction.

Feels like saying goodbye to an old friend. When I was doing web development full time, I always tried to design for both Netscape and IE, but in the end the differences in the two made it cumbersome, and with Netscape’s dwindling market share it finally was a moot point.

The Golden Compass - Anti-Religion or Anti-Dogma?

After watching the Golden Compass I have to wonder what all the brouhaha was all about. I heard stories of fundamentalists condemning the movie as atheistic propaganda. I saw an article that the Catholic League was furious with the picture and even a few friends asked me if it wasn’t anti-religion.

Personally, I liked the Golden Compass, and not just because it had really nifty animated Polar Bears. The theme seemed to be anti-dogma and pro free thought. When you look at it that way it’s understandable that the Catholic League and fundamentalists find its message threatening. Any message that encourages people to think for themselves goes against most heavy duty church dogma. But here is the caveat, it depends on the church.

Religion itself is not a bad thing. It can be a source of inspiration, hope, comfort and do a lot of good things. Dogmatic religions are the problem. Religious dogma that restricts our ability to see the world as it is limits the very God they seek to serve. How can we as mortal ever fully know and understand the divine? Those religions that neatly package God in a few hundred pages of a book have a very tiny God indeed.

For me, I prefer a religion that not only accepts the world as it is, but encourages us to explore and grow with it. More importantly, I prefer a religion that seeks not only a continuing deepening understanding of God, but one that seeks to act to change the world for the better in harmony with divine guidance. How do we know what God is telling us to do? It is a process of trial and error. Those actions that enrich the lives and existence of others would seem to be on the side of God’s will. Those actions that enslave others or seek to hinder their lives would seem to be absent of God’s will.

Now, did I like the movie? Sure did. It was beautiful, enchanting thought provoking and they had the cutest animated Polar Bears!

Huckabee Warns of Pakistani Activity in US - Time for Xenophobia!

Mike Huckabee, eager to play the terrorist card, has warned of “unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country.” He obviously saw the recent Iowa polls that show the GOP loosing on all fronts except “terrorism”. So now he is focusing on border security and is starting to sound like Mitt Romney.

In a press conference in Des Moines he cautioned, “We just need to be very, very thorough in looking at every aspect of our own security internally because, again, we live in a very, very dangerous time.” The only thing he didn’t say was “9/11” but I guess that is Giuliani’s trademark phrase?

Priests Brawl at Church of the Nativity - Silent Night?

What better way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace than to fight? Apparently the priests who watch over the Church of the Nativity, built on the traditional location of Jesus birth, began attacking each other with brooms. Two factions, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolics who share the duties of caring for the centuries old church along with Roman Catholics began fighting while cleaning the church on Thursday. Apparently someone stepped inside the other sects area while cleaning the church in advance of the Armenian celebration of Christmas in January.

Personally I think the kind of thing is what happens with any extreme orthodoxy in religions. Look at Muslim countries in the Middle East, where Muslims are fighting Muslims because they are either not orthodox enough, or happen to follow the wrong Imam. Now the Christians of the area have shown that fundamentalism is dangerous no matter what religious tradition it follows. The fight was broken up by Palestinian Police. No irony there, eh?

Tiger Found Shot In Dallas

Sanitation workers were surprised when the pulled back the blue tarp and found the body of a full grown Bengal tiger underneath. The big cat was taken to animal control experts here in Dallas where they performed an autopsy and determined that the tiger was shot to death. Additionally the cat had been declawed and was on a makeshift leash.

Having had experience raising big cats, I can say from experience they are not house pets. Though they are often gregarious and fun to have they are very large wild animals. Ask Siegfried & Roy if you don’t believe that. I was privileged to help raise a female lion back in the early 1970’s and even as cubs they can be very powerful and unpredictable. I always had scratches and my apartment often suffered from the effects of Sasha, the lion my friends and I were raising. Today that would be not only illegal, but unthinkable.

Authorities suspect that the Tiger in this story just become too big and powerful for the owner to handle and so it was killed. The sad thing is it didn’t have to die. There are numerous big cat rescue organizations around who can take would be house pets and raise them in a safe environment If you have a big cat and it’s getting unmanageable, I suggest contacting They are a group in Tampa, Florida who provide a habitat for abandoned and unwanted big cats.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Already Spoken of as Martyr

Just watched this Video from Al Jazeera. Notice that the person announcing her death says Mrs. Bhutto was "martyred at 6:16pm". Political unrest is building in Pakistan and what happens next is anyone's guess.

Assassin Kills Bhutto!

Benazir Bhutto returning to Pakistan to face the government of General Pervez Musharraf in upcoming elections seemed far too cinematic for my taste. I have to wonder if I was not the only one who expected the events of today or was everyone so blind. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally. Late reports say she was first shot and then the shooter blew himself up.

Already her party is calling her a martyr and crowds are shouting in the streets, "dog, Musharraf, dog!" I suspect it will be only a mater of time before the entire country erupts in a blood bath. The tragedy will probably be compounded by some in our country who will undoubtedly call for the US to intervene on behalf of our ally, the "dog".

I pray that Pakistan can recover from these events peacefully, but if history is any indication we can expect another Muslim country to be in turmoil for the foreseeable future. What makes this situation worse is that Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a hostile neighbor, India who is also armed to the teeth. Maybe I should be praying for us all?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy Recession!

The day after Christmas is traditionally observed as Boxing Day in Canada and England, but here in the USA its "Return Day". Store brace for shoppers eager to return gifts of the wrong size, color or just plain wrong! This Boxing Day retailers are also hoping for a rush of buyers. The season was low, even for those analysts who expected it to be an off year. Slow retail sales will undoubtedly add to the economic indicators that show our country sliding into a recession and that is not good news for anyone.

I was listening to the radio this morning and heard a business pundit talking about "Brand China" and how it may be suffering because of the numerous product recalls and the general perception of Chinese made goods being poor quality. No sh*t Sherlock? Brand China in my book already means "piece of crap" and unfortunately it’s impossible to get away from. So what does this have to do with recession? Well, since the US no longer has many manufacturing jobs, we are more vulnerable than ever to economic swings affecting the lower Middle Class. Service jobs, which is about all the lower Middle Class has left, are volatile and can be slashed at the drop of a balance sheet. The old manufacturing jobs were more difficult to eliminate, both because of unions and the major investment in infrastructure they represented. Companies might cut back, but they were very unlikely to just shut down a factory, since that would mean a major asset would be idle. Not so for the cash register at Burger Barn. Besides, you can always install self-service and drop a few more warm bodies from the payroll.

If I sound cynical, then I have succeeded. I am cynical, especially when it comes to our economy. We have been living in a fools paradise for the past 7 years and perhaps longer. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting mired in the refuse left behind by the rich. Big business has been gutting the economy at the expense of the future in quest of the "good quarter". Why? CEOs get astronomical sums for heading a company that has a good quarter and sees its stock price rise. The problem is it’s all short term stuff. I would venture to say few if any CEOs or boards for that matter have any sort of long term plan for their businesses. They are concerned only with get in, make a bundle and get the heck out before the stock slides. That kind of thinking is what tanked Enron, and it is still happening in board rooms across America.

What’s the point of the rant? Well it’s a combination of letting off steam and sending a warning. The warning is something that would be better headed from an economist with lots of letters after his name, however, they seem content to watch from the sidelines and comment, so here goes.

Our country is headed down the sewer pipe. We have successfully crippled our once great manufacturing might and we are outsourcing not only our manufacturing but our inventiveness. Unless we intend to be a nation of poor burger flippers we must begin brining jobs and manufacturing back home. We cannot count on the wealthy class to trickle any of their wealth down to us, they will just move to Dubai or whatever new trust fund playground appears in the world and leave us with the refuse of their looting. We must reinstate progressive taxation and even the playing field, provide universal health care and reexamine out policies toward foreign investment and trade. We cannot become isolationist, but we should not just sell off our country to the highest bidder.

So as you prepare to return that defective DVD player you received, or think about why the seams in your new shirt unraveled before you washed it the first time, remember the old addage. "The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the sweet aroma of low price." In other words, bargains come at a price, and for us, that price may be our economy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas - May Your Light Shine Bright!

December 25 was not the date Jesus was born. That is a tradition that was started by the church. Does it matter? I don’t think so. And though some right wing pundits try to frame a “War on Christmas” the stores and malls gleam with Christmas sales and specials. Television is awash in Christmas Specials and houses are ablaze with thousands of electric lights, warming the cockles of the power company’s hearts. It is impossible to not know it is Christmas, no matter what Rush Limbaugh and the others say.

But the real importance of Christmas is not the date or the gifts or the celebrations. Christmas is about something meek and small, not grandiose and shiny. Christmas is about a single candle burning in the darkness, not a million electric bulbs. Yet that single flame, the light born into our world to dispel the darkness of our lives, has the power to change everything.

During this Christmas season, may you find that light in your life and amplify it into a beacon so bright it will be impossible to hide. May that beam of light illuminate the dark corners of our world and bring peace, hope joy and love to the world.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bush Cuts $700 From School Medicaid For Kids - Merry Christmas Again!

In another Merry F*#king Christmas move from our glorious leader, the White House has eliminated $700 million in Medicaid reimbursements for public schools. The new ruling will restrict schools from using Medicaid funds for clerical work associated with providing the medical care and other expenses such as transporting students to physical therapy and speech lessons. In other words, we’ll pay for the treatment, but how you account for it and get the people who need it there is up to you!

Now that’s Christian charity ain’t it?