Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bush Skewered; press downplays it

From Crooks and Liars: (by the way, the video is long (15 minutes) but very, very funny and to the point. One remark: Colbert poked fun at Jessie Jackson. He said something to the effect that, when asked a question, Jackson says what he wants to say, at the pace he wants to say it. He remarked "it is like boxing a glacier; and when you tell this to your grandkids, be prepared to explain what a glacier is because they won't know." (a paraphrase from me; not an exact quote).

Colbert Does the White House Correspondents' dinner:

Was he snubbed? Stephen Colbert spoke tonight at the dinner and lampooned pretty much everything he could think of and Helen Thomas. I used the second half of his performance because it included the Generals, Scalia, the Faux press briefing and as E&P reported:
"As he walked from the podium the president and First Lady gave Colbert quick nods, unsmiling, and left. E&P's Joe Strupp, in the crowd, observed that quite a few felt the material was, perhaps, uncomfortably biting."
Video-WMP (low res) Video QT (it's a big file)
"Colbert complained that he was "surrounded by the liberal media who are destroying this country, except for Fox News. Fox believes in presenting both sides-the president's side and the vice president's side."
He noted former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in the crowd, as well as " Valerie Plame." Then, pretending to be worried that he had named her, he corrected himself, as Bush aides might do, "Uh, I mean... Joseph Wilson's wife." He asserted that it might be okay, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was probably not there.
Colbert's show on Comedy Central, is "Must See TV" at this point already and these types of performances are the toughest in the business to pull off when he's tackling issues that obviously made most of the crowd nervous.
C-Span is running it again in its entirety.

Peter Daou has an excellent piece at the Huffington Post which discusses the mainstream media's reaction to Bush's reaction to his being roasted.

He says, in part:

Mash at dKos says, "Standing at the podium only a few feet from President Bush, Colbert launched an all out assault on the policies of this Administration. It was remarkable, though painful at times, to watch. It may also have been the first time that anyone has been this blunt with this President. By the end of Colbert's routine, Bush was visibly uncomfortable. Colbert ended with a video featuring Helen Thomas repeatedly asking why we invaded Iraq. That is a question President Bush has yet to answer to the American public. I am not sure what kind of review Stephen Colbert's performance will get in the press. One thing is however certain - his performance was important and will reverberate."
It appears Mash's misgivings about press coverage are well-placed. The AP's first stab at it and pieces from Reuters and the Chicago Tribune tell us everything we need to know: Colbert's performance is sidestepped and marginalized while Bush is treated as light-hearted, humble, and funny. Expect nothing less from the cowardly American media. The story could just as well have been Bush and Laura's discomfort and the crowd's semi-hostile reaction to Colbert's razor-sharp barbs. In fact, I would guess that from the perspective of newsworthiness and public interest, Bush-the-playful-president is far less compelling than a comedy sketch gone awry, a pissed-off prez, and a shell-shocked audience.
This is the power of the media to choose the news, to decide when and how to shield Bush from negative publicity. Sins of omission can be just as bad as sins of commission. And speaking of a sycophantic media establishment bending over backwards to accommodate this White House and to regurgitate pro-GOP and anti-Dem spin, I urge readers to pick up a copy of Eric Boehlert's new book, Lapdogs. It's a powerful indictment of the media's timidity during the Bush presidency. Boehlert rips away the facade of a "liberal media" and exposes the invertebrates masquerading as journalists who have allowed and enabled the Bush administration's many transgressions to go unchecked, under-reported, or unquestioned.
A final thought: Bush's clownish banter with reporters - which is on constant display during press conferences - stands in such stark contrast to his administration's destructive policies and to the gravity of the bloodbath in Iraq that it is deeply unsettling to watch. This may be impolitic, but wouldn't refraining from frat-style horseplay be appropriate for this man? Or at the least, can't reporters suppress their raucous laughter every time he blurts out another jibe... the way they did when Colbert put them in their place?

I think that he is right. Remember how the press covered the reaction of the crowd at the Washington Nationals home opener to Cheney throwing out the first pitch? Cheney was very strongly booed, but the press downplayed it.

Post Quietly Alters Story on Cheney Boos
The Washington Post story before:
The first pitch of the Washington Nationals’ second season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was low and away, bouncing in the dirt before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider. For that, Vice President Cheney received a round of boos from the home crowd this afternoon.
Actually, as the video documents, the booing started from the moment Cheney hit the field and continued until he left. After protests by Americablog and Firedoglake, The Washington Post has changed their copy:
Vice President Cheney threw out the ceremonial first pitch, a right-handed toss that bounced in the dirt to the outside of the plate before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider. Cheney, booed by some as he walked to the mound, got even more catcalls after his throw — a far cry from President Bush’s fastball at last year’s home opener.
The new version is more accurate, but still clings to the notion that a significant amount of the booing was in response to the quality of Cheney’s throw. It’s contradicted by the Post’s own Reliable Source column which reports Cheney “drew boisterous boos from the moment he stepped on the field until he jogged off.”

Smirking Chimp is "on" today

Today saw many good articles from the Smirking Chimp and one from the New Republic

A rogue president: Bush has claimed authority to disobey over 750 laws since taking office
Posted on Sunday, April 30 @ 09:17:19 EDT (1278 reads)

President cites powers of his office

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

To see the rest of this article:

Colbert lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner — President does not seem amused
Posted on Sunday, April 30 @ 09:14:08 EDT (2010 reads)

WASHINGTON A blistering comedy "tribute" to President Bush by Comedy Central's faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close.

Earlier, the president had delivered his talk to the 2700 attendees, including many celebrities and top officials, with the help of a Bush impersonator.

Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, "and reality has a well-known liberal bias."

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. "This administration is soaring, not sinking," he said. "They are re-arranging the deck chairs--on the Hindenburg."

Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire. He compared Bush to Rocky Balboa in the "Rocky" movies, always getting punched in the face--"and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world."

To see the rest of this story:

David Vaida: 'Divine mission shouldn't dictate war with Iran'
Posted on Sunday, April 30 @ 09:11:49 EDT
This article has been read 299 times.

The march toward a military confrontation with Iran is eerily reminiscent of what happened with Iraq. One key difference, however, is that the leaders of both countries are religious fundamentalists with a messianic view of history. President Bush believes in the Second Coming of Jesus, while Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes in the Second Coming of the Twelfth Imam, also known as the Mahdi or "rightly guided one."

As I mentioned a previous article, the Mahdi, who will save humankind, was born in 868 but has been hidden by God since age 6 in an event known as the "occultation." His divine re-emergence will bring, after horrible warfare and chaos, absolute peace and justice throughout the world by establishing Islam as the global religion.

"Our revolution's main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi," Ahmadinejad said Nov. 16, 2004, in a speech to religious leaders from across the country. "Therefore, Iran should become a powerful, developed and model Islamic society. Today, we should define our economic, cultural and political policies based on the policy of Imam Mahdi's return."

President Bush, who has called Iran part of an "axis of evil," also sees history in apocalyptic terms. He believes in the American obligation to spread democracy throughout the world as a God-given edict. He believes that he has been personally selected by the Almighty to carry out this project. And he believes in a final conflagration where good will triumph over evil.

To see the rest

David Benjamin: 'Ashamed of the stars and stripes? It could happen'
Posted on Sunday, April 30 @ 09:10:54 EDT
This article has been read 417 times.

PARIS -- Recently in Japan, traveling to and fro around Tokyo, I was surprised by the sight -- through a train window -- of the Japanese "rising sun" flag, or hinomaru. The moment was remarkable because, all that day, it was the only flag I saw. If I had covered as much ground in the U.S.A., in an area as densely settled as greater Tokyo, I probably would have spotted the Stars and Stripes displayed in hundreds of places -- over post offices, on car antennas, lapels, policemen's sleeves, on warehouses, bridges, front-lawn flagpoles, t-shirts, halter tops and Coca-Cola cups.

The difference lies in history. But a parallel looms, perhaps, in the future.

In Japan, the end of World War II marked the eclipse of a period of ultra-nationalist militarism that dated to the 1880's -- when a demimonde of violent right-wing "societies" began to quietly, ruthlessly subvert Japanese government and culture. Even in the Empire's death throes in 1945, Japan's militarists -- defeated everywhere but on the home front -- dug in their heels and forestalled surrender, contributing to the national horror that took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today these discredited elements linger stubbornly in Japan's body politic, preventing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party from becoming either liberal or democratic, and poisoning foreign relations with China, Korea and Taiwan, among others.

One lamentable legacy of Japan's imperial militarists is that they brought shame onto the national flag. Today, flying the hinomaru is a bitter provocation, suggesting fierce xenophobia and racist aggression. To be caught in Japan with your flag open is mildly embarrassing, and totally uncool.

To see the rest of the story:

From the New Republic: (written by a Harvard Law School professor)
I recommend going to
to see a counter argument by a Stanford Law professor. Then Stuntz responded to the counter argument in yet another article

The first article in this series:


Secret Service

by William J. Stuntz

Post date: 04.07.06
Issue date: 04.17.06

Politics in the age of information is often about secrets: who has them, who can keep them, who must tell them to whom. Can the NSA listen to my phone conversations? Can the police find out what books I buy or what movies I rent? Can I find out whether they know those things? As that set of questions suggests, secrets tend to pit individuals against the state. In the United States today, the left usually lines up with individuals; the right (though not always, and not unanimously) lines up with the state. Privacy and transparency--the twin concepts that government should know as little as possible about individual citizens, while those citizens should know as much as possible about the government--seem like quintessentially liberal ideas.

But one might think about the politics of secret information very differently. In order to govern wisely, the government should know as much as possible about those it governs. And the citizenry should know a lot less about government officials--otherwise, those officials will spend too much time and energy hiding from reporters and too little time and energy governing. In these terms, individual privacy and government transparency are deeply conservative ideas, because they keep government ignorant and inactive, and thereby prevent it from acting aggressively to right social wrongs.

That second view sounds upside-down--even crazy--but, until recently, it was the conventional wisdom. Fifty years ago, legally protected privacy barely existed. In most places, police officers searched when, where, and whom they wished, without fear of legal consequence. To a degree that would astonish Americans today, individual lives were as open--as transparent--as the windows in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 hit movie Rear Window. Jimmy Stewart played a photographer who solves a murder while sitting in his apartment nursing a broken leg and spying on the people in the building next door--all of whom live their private lives next to open windows. Only the killer kept the lights out and the blinds drawn. Today, no one would buy the story, because everyone's blinds would be drawn.

While individual lives were more transparent, government was much less so. Enlightened opinion favored secrecy, not openness. That is how Joe McCarthy was brought to heel: Dwight Eisenhower created a broad doctrine of executive privilege and used it to shut off McCarthy's information flow. Everyone but right-wing kooks thought Eisenhower got that one right. Robert Caro's book on Lyndon Johnson's Senate years describes '50s floor debates in which senators were actually trying to persuade one another, apparently without fear that the public was listening in--since it wasn't. Those scenes are unimaginable today. Floor debates are televised; anyone can hear them and anything interesting will prompt substantial news coverage. But no one says anything interesting. Funny coincidence, that.

Secret government snooping sounds Orwellian. But Orwell guessed wrong about some things. Today, the danger that American democracy faces is not that rulers will know too much about those they rule, nor that too many decisions will be made without public scrutiny. Another danger looms larger: that effective, active government--government that innovates, that protects people who need protecting, that acts aggressively when action is needed--is dying. Privacy and transparency are the diseases. We need to find a vaccine, and soon.

Begin with some history. James Madison placed both privacy and transparency (though neither term) in the Bill of Rights, where they mostly lay dormant until the Supreme Court resurrected them during the '60s. Before that, the relevant provisions of the Bill applied only to the federal government--and, for most of that time, the federal government didn't do much. In the midst of that long hibernation, each of these legal concepts had a brief but telling moment in the sun.

Privacy's moment came in the late nineteenth century, when the Interstate Commerce and Sherman Acts seemed to herald the rise of federal regulation of big business. Privacy was code for laissez-faire constitutionalism, a legal club with which to beat back unwelcome economic regulation. For a time, the club worked. The Supreme Court concluded that ordinary subpoenas for financial records (regulating business without them is impossible) violated both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments because they interfered with "the privacies of life." Leading scholars believed that this privacy right belonged as much to corporations as to individuals. Until the justices renounced such claims (the key decision came in 1906), a full-scale collision between conservative federal judges and progressive elected officials--the kind that actually happened in the '30s in response to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, though on different legal grounds--looked imminent. The collision was avoided only because privacy yielded to government power.

Transparency's moment in the sun likewise flowed from pro-business conservatism. By 1946, FDR's political magic seemed to have died with him; that fall, Robert Taft's Republicans would score the party's biggest congressional victory between 1928 and 1994. During the run-up to the election, powered by the votes of conservative Republicans and ultra-conservative Southern Democrats, Congress passed the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA was called an "administrative bill of rights"--in other words, a bill of rights for regulated businesses. Its goal was to rein in the executive agencies through which New Dealers regulated the economy, chiefly by making those agencies more open. Under the APA, agencies could no longer simply issue rules and regulations. Instead, they had to provide public notice of all proposed rules and give regulated businesses a chance to respond before the rules took effect. Businesses could appeal unfavorable regulatory decisions to then-friendlier federal judges. The winners were those who didn't want government agencies to do much governing.

That was no mere coincidence. Conservatives embraced privacy and transparency because they were inherently conservative ideas. The right to keep information private helps those who own the most information, and those who own information tend to own other things as well. Current Fourth Amendment law captures this point depressingly well. The law protects "reasonable"--meaning ordinary--privacy expectations. Poor people live less-than-ordinarily-private lives. The poor tend to live in apartments rather than detached houses, spend more of their lives in public spaces than in private ones (because their homes and workplaces tend to be small and unpleasant), and travel more by bus or subway than by car. By contrast, the lives of the wealthy are lived in spacious houses, offices, and cars. Like a tax code that charges the highest rates to those who make the least money, Fourth Amendment law protects houses more than apartments, private spaces more than public ones, and passengers in cars more than those who ride buses and subways.

Transparency also acts like a tax--a tax on activist government. Anyone who has worked in a large institution understands why. For every good idea about how the institution might run better, employees generate ten bad ones. So the key to producing good ideas is encouraging ideas of all sorts. And the key means of encouragement is secrecy. Transparency, by contrast, is the ultimate status-quo rule: It punishes all suggested deviations from the norm. No wonder pro-business conservatives of the '40s liked it so much.

How did these conservative ideas come to be embraced by the political left? With respect to transparency, the story is simple. Vietnam and Watergate made the left suspicious of government power generally and executive power in particular. When liberals looked for a way to make Richard Nixon's imperial presidency a little less imperial, they stumbled on weaponry that Taft's Republicans had used against Harry Truman: force the president to disclose as much as possible, as often as possible. It was an odd historical moment, a time when making government smaller and less active seemed a reasonable goal for the left. (A young Jerry Brown, then governor of California, made a name for himself by telling the world that "small is beautiful.") A quarter-century later, the world turned around again, as the right used the same weapon against Bill Clinton. In one sense, it backfired: Voters disliked the Lewinsky investigation and punished Republicans for it. But, while the right lost the battle, it won the war. Today and for the foreseeable future, presidents' personal relationships are open to press and public scrutiny. Which makes it harder for creative, energetic presidents to get things done.

Privacy, once the right's favorite right, became the left's friend thanks to the civil rights movement. In a time when J. Edgar Hoover was spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and Southern sheriffs were enforcing America's own version of apartheid, police snooping had a decidedly right-wing cast. When a liberal Supreme Court decided the time had come to rein in out-of-control cops, the justices used the legal tools that seemed best suited for that job: the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and the Fifth Amendment's prohibition of compelled self-incrimination. Constitutional texts designed by rich slaveholders in the late eighteenth century--texts used by rich corporations to protect laissez-faire economics in the late nineteenth century--became, in the late twentieth century, the chief means of protecting black suspects from abusive white cops. There was only one problem: It didn't work.

To see why, you need to think like a police chief deciding where to put your officers. For violent felonies and thefts, the decision is easy: Go where the crimes are. Drug crimes are different--there are no immediate victims, no 911 calls. The police must decide where to look for them. And, since drugs are omnipresent, where the police look determines whom they catch.

Fourth Amendment law makes it more expensive to look in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Upscale drug transactions take place indoors, with individually arranged meetings in different locations. Markets like that are hard for the police to penetrate. Privacy-based search and seizure rules like the Fourth Amendment's probable cause and warrant requirements make the job substantially harder. Open-air drug markets in poor neighborhoods are a piece of cake by comparison. Roll up, do the buy-and-bust, and go back to the station. No need to worry about privacy rules, since everything is out in the open.

Inner-city drug policing is often violent and nearly always humiliating to the targets of police attention, the vast majority of whom are innocent. (The nypd arrests only one of every nine suspects its officers stop and frisk.) But the harms are not chiefly to privacy. So they don't count. We seem to have created the perfect system for policing the police--if the system's goals are to maximize protection for rich white kids from the suburbs and maximize police authority over poor black kids from central cities.

The results are predictable. As recently as 1980, just under half of all felony defendants were poor enough to receive a court-appointed lawyer. By 1992, the figure was 80 percent. According to the federal government's own data, white crack users outnumber black ones, but black crack defendants outnumber their white counterparts by twelve to one. The Fourth Amendment bears some responsibility for that sad reality. Not all responsibility, of course: Even the best imaginable search and seizure rules would leave police tempted to make too many drug arrests in poor areas and too few in rich ones. Still, instead of fighting that tendency, privacy-based search and seizure law reinforces it. In law as in medicine, that violates the cardinal rule of sound practice: First, do no harm.

That's not all. Most legal rights help the innocent and guilty alike, but they help the innocent more. Giving lawyers to all criminal defendants raises the odds of acquittal across the board, but the odds rise most for defendants who committed no crimes--because it will be easier for their lawyers to find evidence that exonerates them. A tougher burden of proof--beyond a reasonable doubt instead of more-likely-than-not--helps all criminal defendants, but it helps the innocent most, since it's easier to prove true propositions than false ones. The same is true of the requirement of unanimous jury votes to convict, the right to confront the government's witnesses, the right to appeal, and the list goes on.

But the point doesn't hold true for, say, limits on house searches or mandatory Miranda warnings as a prelude to police questioning. Those rules make it harder to gather evidence. That helps those against whom the evidence would be used. Innocent and guilty alike may enjoy the pleasure of knowing that the government isn't monitoring their phone calls. Only the guilty enjoy the added pleasure of knowing they won't be booking passage to the local penitentiary just yet.

Plus, in this context, anything that helps the guilty harms the innocent. Thanks to the rise of DNA testing, we are beginning to learn how many innocent men and women live in prison cells. The number is appallingly high. Some of them live in those cells because the police never learned who committed the crimes for which they were wrongly punished. Limits on evidence-gathering force courts to make decisions based on something less than the best evidence. That means less accurate trials. Some guilty criminals go unpunished. Worse, some innocent defendants are punished in their stead. Privacy's price is steep, and the bill is paid by society's most vulnerable members.

Now add terrorism to the mix, and remember that different forms of evidence-gathering are substitutes for one another. Anything that raises the cost of one lowers the cost of all others. The harder it is to tap our phones, the more government officials will seek out alternative means of getting information: greater use of informants and spies, or perhaps more Jose Padilla-style military detentions with long-term interrogation about which no court ever hears, or possibly some CIA "black ops," with suspected terrorists grabbed from their homes and handed over to the intelligence services of countries with fewer qualms about abusive questioning. In an age of terrorism, privacy rules are not simply unaffordable. They are perverse.

Transparent government may be perverse, too. Consider the recently disclosed tape in which Governor Kathleen Blanco, fema Director Michael Brown, and various other state and federal officials discussed the response to Hurricane Katrina just hours after the storm made landfall. As the conversation happened, the situation was spiraling out of control. But the participants spent most of their energy congratulating one another (and themselves) and repeatedly saying that they stood ready to do anything that needed doing--while not actually doing anything. It was as if everyone in the videoconference expected the tape to be on the evening news.

Behavior like that would get you fired in the corporate world. But government officials have different incentives. Suppose you work in an agency that monitors security in the nation's airports. You have an idea, a way to make airports safer. What should you do? The answer seems easy: push the idea, try to get higher-ups to take it seriously. But that course of action carries serious costs. Higher-ups in government agencies tend to like things the way they are--innovation is politically risky; those who have a stake in the existing system may cause trouble. Meanwhile, even if the benefits of your new idea are substantial, neither you nor your bosses internalize them. Government agencies aren't like profit-maximizing businesses: They don't make money off of new ideas. And if the idea works--terrorists who could have attacked some airport now can't, because security is better--odds are, no one will know, because we rarely find out about events that might have happened but didn't. Ideas have price tags; the price is often high and always visible. Benefits may be high, too, but they're usually invisible. Keeping your head down and your mouth shut tends to be the smart move.

That scenario illustrates a basic truth about government: For most officials most of the time, the key choice is not between doing right and doing wrong, but between doing something and doing nothing. Doing nothing is usually easier--less likely to generate bad headlines or critical blog posts. Publicity raises the cost of doing something. That makes inaction more attractive, and it is plenty attractive already. Taft's Republicans had it right: A transparent regulatory state regulates little. Roosevelt's New Dealers had it right, too: Opacity is essential to a government that moves, acts, makes things happen.

And there is a larger problem. Transparency makes politics a running argument about decision-making, not about decisions. A few years back, Washington spent more time discussing which lobbyists were in the room when Dick Cheney crafted energy policy than actually debating energy policy. That perfectly captures the politics of transparency: The key questions are always who knew what and when, who was in the loop and who was left out. The merits disappear, drowned in a sea of procedural detail.

Nowhere is the focus on government process more destructive than in the work of counterterrorism. Law enforcement is a game of cat and mouse. The government makes its move, criminals respond, government adapts, and the game goes on. Thankfully, most criminals are not too bright, so the game is easily won. Terrorists are different; the most dangerous ones are smart and well-motivated. Whatever information they have, they will use. There is something deeply crazy about publicly debating what law-enforcement tactics the government should use to catch people who are happily listening to the debate and planning their next moves.

A difficult governance problem lurks in the shadows here. On the one hand, it is clear that free people will not remain so if government officials can do whatever they want--which is why someone, somewhere must place limits on what the government can do. But transparency throws out the baby with the bathwater. We avoid bad government ideas by punishing all ideas, and we tell our enemies exactly how they can best evade our efforts to catch them. There must be a better way.

There is. Actually, there are several. The kinds of privacy people value most can be protected without disabling the government from gathering information. And, though transparency is a harder nut to crack, we can have a large measure of government secrecy without disabling key checks on the tendency of rulers to oppress those they rule.

Privacy first. Every year, tens of millions of Americans fill out their tax returns, giving the IRS a tremendous amount of information about their finances. The affront to privacy mostly goes unnoticed. Why? Because anonymity matters more than privacy. Two key propositions follow.

First, the more people whose lives the government invades, the better. When targets are few, anonymity disappears. If there were 100 tax forms filed instead of 100 million, the IRS might do more snooping than is healthy. The more phones are tapped, the less freedom is threatened.

Second, the initial invasion of privacy isn't the problem; subsequent disclosure is. The true image of privacy intrusion is not some NSA bureaucrat listening in on phone calls, but rather Kenneth Starr's leaky grand jury investigation, which splashed a young woman's social life across America's newspapers and TV screens. That is the nightmare worth protecting against. The best way to stop the nightmare from happening is to limit not what information officials can gather, but what they can do with the information they find. Leaks and press conferences are much bigger risks to privacy than wiretaps and satellite feeds. I have mixed feelings about the Valerie Plame affair, but one aspect of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation is salutary: It reinforces the idea that government officials are obliged not to trumpet secret information. That idea has more to do with genuine privacy protection than anything in Fourth Amendment law.

Another limit matters still more, and it is one we have lost over the last generation or two. U.S. criminal law once covered fairly serious crimes and not much else. There were, to be sure, busybody laws against minor vices and allegedly deviant sex acts. But, for the most part, the government couldn't send you to prison unless it proved you had done something that you clearly shouldn't have done. Not anymore. American criminal codes have metastasized. That may be why so many people find privacy rights so attractive: Giving the government information seems dangerous, since there are so many ways government can use information to punish ordinary citizens. But this gets causation backward. Legal codes are too broad in part because information is too hard to get. The courts make gathering evidence more difficult, so legislatures give police and prosecutors tougher laws to use against those they investigate--another kind of cat-and-mouse game. Better to end the game and make the following deal: The government can find out what it wants about me, but it can't call the local paper and turn over the juicy parts, and it can't prosecute me unless I've done something that was clearly wrong and harmful. I'd have more freedom under that deal than I enjoy now.

Transparency is a tougher problem. How can we restrain agencies like the NSA that make decisions and carry out investigations in secret? Two responses are key. First, require limited disclosure: say, to the key congressional committees and to any courts designed to supervise the relevant process. Second and more importantly, as decision-making procedure becomes less transparent, bottom lines should become more so. Today, the pros and cons of different surveillance plans are debated in the press. But, when the government arrests and prosecutes terrorists, it does so under the table, charging immigration fraud or some other small-potatoes crime and hiding the real reasons for punishment. Consequently, no one knows how many terrorists the government has caught or what has become of them.

Sometimes--campaign finance is a good example-- transparent procedure is valuable. As the rise and fall of Jack Abramoff illustrates, money often passes invisibly from lobbyists to politicians, with adverse consequences for democracy. Corruption aside, though, voters are generally better at judging bottom lines than at assessing government procedures. Twenty-first-century U.S. law and politics too often make bottom lines invisible, while leaving procedures open to public view. That may explain why our politics are both nastier and less productive than at any time in living memory.

Conservatives and liberals should be able to agree on these propositions. Getting privacy and transparency right is the key to making government work better. Conservatives should like that because, at least for now, they run the government. Liberals should want government to function better because they believe in it. America's greatest triumphs--fighting and winning the Civil War, battling the Great Depression, defeating first fascism and then communism, winning civil rights for African Americans--all happened because government worked. Today, it usually doesn't. The reasons sound surprising, but they would have made sense to Americans of generations past: We have too much privacy, and those who govern us have too little.

To search the TNR Archives for more articles on privacy issues click here.

William J. Stuntz is a professor at Harvard Law School.

Good Snark

Can you think of a good caption for this photo (of House Speaker Dennis Hastert)? (R-IL, 14'th district)

Here is one suggestion:

Hat tip to the Dependable Renegade, again!

off season...

I am at a stage where my next goal event hasn't been decided; therefore I am several months away from it.

I was going to go outside but it is very windy and rainy and I haven't the gumption to get out there. Hence, I'll do a couple of hours on the treadmill.

I've got a couple of "fun" races coming up; a trail 50K in two weeks and then a 24 hour three weeks after that. I won't do all that much in between, save a few technique walks here and there, some 10-12 milers (16 km-20 km) and then some cross training (swimming, yoga).

I haven't decided on whether to go all out to finish a judged 50K in October (which will mean not running at all in training, or perhaps 1 day a week) or to start building up my running so I can tackle a trail ultra next year (which means that I'll aim to finish that 50K as an unjudged walker).

For those who don't know: a "judged" racewalk requires that one have one point of contact with the ground at all times (unless one is fast enough to give the appearance of having it) and for one to keep the knee of the forward leg straight until it passes beneath the body. It is with the latter rule that I have trouble when I get tired or when I try to go too fast for my skill level.
Centruion walks (the 24 hour judged walks) relax the straight knee rule.

Anyway, here is a funny post about racewalking robots:

Robot Shatters Speed-Walking Record

Corey Binns
Special to LiveScience
Sun Apr 30, 3:00 AM ET

A simple-minded, two-legged robot named RunBot can't run. But boy, can it walk!

The 1-foot tall European speed demon moves at 3.5 leg-lengths per second [Video].

That's the equivalent of a human walking almost 10 feet per second; and more than twice as fast as its closest running mate, Spring Flamingo, who hails from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“There are a few principles which come together here which make this design more efficient than former ones,” said computational neuroscientist Florentin Worgotter of the University of Gottingen in Germany.

Small brain, big step

Like a speed-walking human, RunBot's knees remain relatively straight. Its winning clip comes from taking lots of long strides that swing from the hips, which bend more than the knees.

The research team also designed a simple neural network to mimic human neurons.

Two sensors act like neurons to control the robot's hip "muscles" or motors. The hip sensors tell the hip motors to make fast, long strides. Meanwhile, knee "neurons" keep the knee "muscles" stiff for most of the gait cycle, so they don't bend much at high velocities.

"When it walks slowly, the knees bend a lot, when it walks fast they don't," Worgotter said.

Sensors on the soles of RunBot's feet measure when they come into contact with the ground. As soon as one leg touches the ground, that foot sensor triggers a reflex to move the other leg, and the cycle continues.

The robot's small curved feet easily roll it forward, maintain its balance, and also facilitate the machine's hustle.


The automated ambler applies self-driven tactics to reach such top speeds.

Its motors are turned off for about a quarter of every gait cycle. At that time, the robot uses nothing but its own momentum to move. It falls forward, catching itself on its outstretched swinging leg, at which point the motors rev again.

At present the robot walks in circles, attached to a boom in the center of a round room, which only minimally helps balance the bot, according to Worgotter.

Despite RunBot's self-motivation, its gold-medal walk is also its major weakness.

"Literally, currently the guy is not 'running' but instead it walks very fast. This is because in any given gait cycle there is always the one or the other foot touching the ground. For true 'running' there must be moments when the robot is airborne and both feet are off the ground," Worgotter told LiveScience.

"This is a very difficult stability problem and that's what we are after at the moment."

The robot research team was made up of scientists from the University of Gottingen, as well as the University of Glasgow and the University of Stirling in Scotland. Their findings were published in the March issue of the International Journal of Robotics Research.

VIDEO: See the Speedy Robot New Robots Walk Like Humans Real Robots: Vote for Your Favorite The World’s Smallest Robot

Saturday, April 29, 2006

NFL Draft

Round 1 was interesting. Here are the schools that had more than 1 player drafted in round one:

  • No. 1 Texas: two players, 3 and 7
  • No. 2 USC: two players: 2 and 18.
  • North Carolina State three players: 1, 22, 26
  • (7-5, unranked, beat South Florida in the Meineke Bowl)

  • Florida State, four players (9, 13, 14, 19)
  • Ranked 23'rd, lost in 3 overtime periods to Penn State in the Orange Bowl

  • Ohio State, five players, 5, 8, 18, 25, 29
  • No. 4, Beat Notre Dame 34-20 in the Fiesta Bowl.
I suppose that means that having a few great players doesn't translate into being the best team.

That also means, to me, that Florida State and North Carolina State underachieved last season.


As of 29 April, 2006, 2400 Americans have been killed in action in Iraq. What is often unstated, as of 6 April 2006, 17469 have been wounded. (Source:

Folks, these "wounds" are not exactly bee stings and ankle sprains. Daily Kos diariest WhiskerBiscut alerted readers to the article: The Photos that the United States Doesn't Want You to See in the online magazine Voltaire Network . The article is in Spanish.

To see the Whiskerbiscut's diary:

Here is a sample of the photos from the Voltaire Network article:

This is why things like this make me livid:

"When no weapons of mass destruction surfaced in Iraq, President Bush insisted that all those WMD claims before the war were the result of faulty intelligence. But a former top CIA official, Tyler Drumheller — a 26-year veteran of the agency — has decided to do something CIA officials at his level almost never do: Speak out.

He tells correspondent Ed Bradley the real failure was not in the intelligence community but in the White House. He says he saw how the Bush administration, time and again, welcomed intelligence that fit the president's determination to go to war and turned a blind eye to intelligence that did not. "

(the rest of the article is reproduced below)

Basically, many of our young people were either killed or maimed for life so that one man could play "War President" and so that a few greedy bastards could get richer.

Yeah, many of those in the military believe in the war; perhaps even many in those photos. But let's be honest: who wants to admit that they are risking life, limb, mind and soul on a hoax?
Take a look at an interesting poll by Zogby:

Released: February 28, 2006

U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006

  • Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll shows just one in five troops want to heed Bush call to stay “as long as they are needed”
  • While 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy
  • Plurality believes Iraqi insurgents are mostly homegrown
  • Almost 90% think war is retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9/11, most don’t blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks
  • Majority of troops oppose use of harsh prisoner interrogation
  • Plurality of troops pleased with their armor and equipment
  • ----------------(see the link for the rest of the summary)-----

    CBS News article

    A Spy Speaks Out
    April 23, 2006
    (CBS) When no weapons of mass destruction surfaced in Iraq, President Bush insisted that all those WMD claims before the war were the result of faulty intelligence. But a former top CIA official, Tyler Drumheller — a 26-year veteran of the agency — has decided to do something CIA officials at his level almost never do: Speak out.

    He tells correspondent Ed Bradley the real failure was not in the intelligence community but in the White House. He says he saw how the Bush administration, time and again, welcomed intelligence that fit the president's determination to go to war and turned a blind eye to intelligence that did not.

    "It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure. It’s an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure," Drumheller tells Bradley.

    Drumheller was the CIA's top man in Europe, the head of covert operations there, until he retired a year ago. He says he saw firsthand how the White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn’t:

    "The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other," says Drumheller.

    Drumheller says he doesn't think it mattered very much to the administration what the intelligence community had to say. "I think it mattered it if verified. This basic belief that had taken hold in the U.S. government that now is the time, we had the means, all we needed was the will," he says.

    The road to war in Iraq took some strange turns — none stranger than a detour to the West African country of Niger. In late 2001, a month after 9/11, the United States got a report from the Italian intelligence service that Saddam Hussein had bought 500 tons of so-called yellowcake uranium in order to build a nuclear bomb.

    But Drumheller says many CIA analysts were skeptical. "Most people came to the opinion that there was something questionable about it," he says.

    Asked if that was his reaction, Drumheller says, "That was our reaction from the very beginning. The report didn't hold together."

    Drumheller says that was the "general feeling" in the agency at that time.

    However, Vice President Dick Cheney thought the story was worth investigating, and asked the CIA not to discount the story without first taking a closer look. So, in February 2002, the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.

    "If Saddam Hussein had acquired 500 tons of yellowcake uranium in violation of U.N. sanctions, that would be pretty serious, wouldn’t it?" Bradley asked Wilson.

    "Absolutely. Certainly. And the fact that there was an allegation out there that he was even attempting to purchase 500 tons of uranium was very serious, because it essentially meant that they were restarting their nuclear programs," Wilson replied.

    Wilson spent eight days in Niger looking for signs of a secret deal to send yellowcake to Iraq. He spoke to government officials who would have known about such a transaction. No one did. There had been a meeting between Iraqis and Nigerians in 1999, but Wilson was told uranium had never been discussed. He also found no evidence that Iraq had even been interested in buying uranium.

    "I concluded that it could not have happened," Wilson says. At the end of his eight-day stay in Niger, Wilson says he had no lingering doubts.

    When he returned, Wilson told the CIA what he had learned. Despite that, some intelligence analysts stood by the Italian report that Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium from Niger. But the director of the CIA and the deputy director didn’t buy it. In October, when the president’s speechwriters tried to put the Niger uranium story in a speech that President Bush was scheduled to deliver in Cincinnati, they intervened.

    In a phone call and two faxes to the White House, they warned “the Africa story is overblown” and “the evidence is weak.” The speechwriters took the uranium reference out of the speech.

    Meanwhile, the CIA had made a major intelligence breakthrough on Iraq’s nuclear program. Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, had made a deal to reveal Iraq’s military secrets to the CIA. Drumheller was in charge of the operation.

    "This was a very high inner circle of Saddam Hussein. Someone who would know what he was talking about," Drumheller says.

    "You knew you could trust this guy?" Bradley asked.

    "We continued to validate him the whole way through," Drumheller replied.

    According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high-level meeting at the White House, including the president, the vice president and Secretary of State Rice.

    At that meeting, Drumheller says, "They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis."

    What did this high-level source tell him?

    "He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program," says Drumheller.

    "So in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority from a source within Saddam's inner circle that he didn't have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?" Bradley asked.

    "Yes," Drumheller replied. He says there was doubt in his mind at all.

    "It directly contradicts, though, what the president and his staff were telling us," Bradley remarked.

    "The policy was set," Drumheller says. "The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy."

    Drumheller expected the White House to ask for more information from the Iraqi foreign minister.

    But he says he was taken aback by what happened. "The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they're no longer interested," Drumheller recalls. "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'"

    "And if I understand you correctly, when the White House learned that you had this source from the inner circle of Saddam Hussein, they were thrilled with that," Bradley asked.

    "The first we heard, they were. Yes," Drumheller replied.

    Once they learned what it was the source had to say — that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to wage nuclear war or have an active WMD program, Drumheller says, "They stopped being interested in the intelligence."

    The White House declined to respond to Drumheller's account of Naji Sabri’s role, but Secretary of State Rice has said that Sabri, the Iraqi foreign minister turned U.S. spy, was just one source, and therefore his information wasn’t reliable.

    "They certainly took information that came from single sources on uranium, on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all and so you can’t say you only listen to one source, because on many issues they only listened to one source," says Drumheller.

    "So you’re saying that if there was a single source and that information from that source backed up the case they were trying to build, then that single source was ok, but if it didn’t, then the single source was not ok, because he couldn’t be corroborated," Bradley asked.

    "Unfortunately, that’s what it looks like," Drumheller replied.

    "One panel after another found that agencies were giving conflicting information to the president," Bradley remarked.

    Drumheller admits they were. "And that's the problem. No. There was no one voice in coming out of the intelligence community and that allowed those people to pick and choose those bits of information that fit what they wanted to know."

    A few weeks after Sabri told the CIA that Iraq had no active nuclear program, the Niger uranium story seemed to get a new life: Documents that supposedly could prove that Saddam had purchased uranium from Africa suddenly surfaced in Rome. The documents came from Rocco Martino, a former spy for Italian military intelligence.

    For years, Martino operated in a shady intelligence underworld, buying government secrets and then selling them to the highest bidder. Martino told CBS News that a colonel in Italian military intelligence arranged for him to buy classified documents from a woman who worked in the embassy of Niger. One set of documents showed Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger.

    What did he think when he first looked at the documents?

    "I thought I had my hands on some important papers. And this same woman was telling me that they were very important," says Martino.

    In October 2002, Martino tried to sell the documents to Elisabeta Burba, a reporter for an Italian news magazine. She had purchased information from him in the past.

    "When you saw the documents, what did you think?" Bradley asked Burba.

    "I was puzzled because actually, if those documents were authentic, they would have been the 'smoking gun' that everybody was looking for in that moment," she replied.

    But Burba quickly suspected the documents had been forged. "The more I looked at them and then the more I found strange things or inconsistencies," she says.

    Burba says the documents looked like were bad forgeries. She gave copies of the papers to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. It was the first time the U.S. government had gotten its hands on the documents at the heart of the Niger story.

    Drumheller says the CIA station chief in Rome, who worked for him, told him he didn't believe it. "He said, 'It's not true. It's not; this isn't real,'" Drumheller recalls.

    When the documents arrived in Washington, State Department analysts quickly concluded they were suspect. One analyst wrote in an e-mail: "you’ll note that it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess)."

    The Washington Post recently reported that in early January 2003, the National Intelligence Council, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies, did a final assessment of the uranium rumor and submitted a report to the White House. Their conclusion: The story was baseless. That might have been the end of the Niger uranium story.

    But it wasn’t. Just weeks later, the president laid out his reasons for going to war in the State of the Union Address — and there it was again.

    "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," the president said.

    "I didn’t even remember all the details of it because it was such a low-level, unimportant thing. But once it was in that State of the Union address, it became huge," says Drumheller.

    "So, let me see if I have it correctly. The United States gets a report that Saddam is trying to buy uranium from Africa. But you and many others in our intelligence community quickly knock it down. And then the uranium story is removed from the speech that the President is to give in Cincinnati. Because the head of the CIA, George Tenet, doesn't believe in it?" Bradley asked.

    "Right," Drumheller appeared.

    It then appeared in the State of the Union address as a British report. Drumheller, who oversaw intelligence operations for the CIA in Europe doubts the British had something the U.S. didn't. "No. I don’t think they did," he says.

    The British maintain they have intelligence to support the story —but to this day, they have never shared it.

    The White House declined 60 Minutes' request for an interview for this story, but Dan Bartlett, Counselor to the President, wrote us:

    "The President’s convictions about Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD were based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community at that time. Bipartisan investigations … found no evidence of political pressure to influence the pre-war intelligence assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs." And he added: "Saddam Hussein never abandoned his plan to acquire WMD, and he posed a serious threat to the American people and to the region."

    On March 7, 2003, the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency announced that the Niger uranium documents were forgeries. The Bush administration went to war in Iraq 12 days later, without acknowledging that one of its main arguments for going to war was false.

    Four months later, Wilson, who had gone to Niger and found nothing to substantiate the uranium rumor, went public and wrote a piece for The New York Times claiming that the Bush Administration had "twisted" the intelligence on Iraq:

    "This was really an attempt to get the government to acknowledge that the 16 words should never have been in the State of the Union Address. It was as simple as that. If you are going to mislead the American people and you're caught at it, you ought to fess up to it," says Wilson.

    One day after Wilson's piece appeared, the White House acknowledged the president should not have used the uranium claim. But according to newly released court records, the vice president’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, leaked classified intelligence to reporters a day later in an effort to bolster the uranium story. What Scooter Libby didn’t tell reporters is that the White House had been warned before the State of the Union speech not to use the Niger uranium claim.

    "At the same time they were admitting the words should not have been in the State of the Union address, they were, we now know, sending Libby out to selectively leak only those pieces that continued to support this allegation that was baseless. In other words, they were furthering the disinformation campaign," says Wilson.

    "The American people want to believe the president. I have relatives who I've tried to talk to about this who say, 'Well, no, you can’t tell me the president had this information and just ignored it,'" says Drumheller. "But I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."

    Produced by David Gelber / Joel Bach
    © MMVI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    Texas Roundup: My sister's first 5K.

    My Sister did her first 5K walk this morning. My Mom did it too; Mom has done a couple of other organized walks before.

    The best I can tell, the Texas Round Up is a statewide fitness initiative. The 5K was today and Sis describes it here.

    One of the subgroups at the Round up; Mom is in the bright-yellow-green, Sis has on red pants and number 6264.
    There is mom at the ready. She is 79.

    What about the very top figure? It is something from Sis's sketch pad; she likes to make sketches of things that she sees during her practice walks.

    Anyway, it was good for me to read about this. I sometimes wonder if I am doing anyone any good when I volunteer to work with new walkers and runners at "Building Steam"; perhaps I am.

    Friday, April 28, 2006

    Back in the water

    I am trying to restart my swimming program; I had stayed out of the water (save one time) for several months.

    Right now, I've worked up to 1800 yds (pathetic) and hope to eventually reach 3000 yds again.

    This week I've done a series of drills, freestyle 50's and 100's, and then some 100 IM reps. When I can finally get established, I'll go back to using the programs in these books:

    Fitness Swimming by Hines (a friend of mine, Greg White, gave me a workout with Hines's group, The Houston H2O Masters Swimming group. This book has illustrations and drills, but the focus is only on the crawl stroke.

    The Fit Swimmer by Brems. This book has mostly workout ideas and uses all four strokes. There isn't much stroke instruction though.

    I also found the Total Immersion Butterfly video to be very useful; at least I can do a lap or two of fly semi-competently.

    No, I am not nor never have been a good swimmer; my best 1000 (practice) is 15:37 (years ago) and in a meet 15:59. I've done one openwater 5K swim; the Big Shoulders (Chicago) in 1:43. I did it during one of the correct course length years (2001).

    This morning I did a 500 yard warm up and then a 1000 yd time trial. It was ugly; 17:47, and the first half (8:57) was even uglier. But during the second half I seemed to improve and my stroke got a bit longer. At the end of 2005 I had worked down to 16:51.
    This cartoon tickled my funnybone. (Click for a larger version). Check out the sign announcing the opening of the "Crustwood Park" Bicycle and Jogging path, and Burl's ".5 km" marathon t-shirt.

    Julie Larson does a great job with this strip.

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Blowing off steam: fun and snarks

    This post will be a bit of everything:

    Consider the following three photos: one is of our Vice President, one is of a retiring CEO of Exxon oil, and the other is of Jabba the Hut. Which is which?

    Of course one of the photos is of our Vice President Dick Cheney during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit. Of course he claims that he wasn't sleeping; merely looking at his notes. Yeah, Uncle Dick has tons of credibility.

    One is of retiring Exxon CEO Lee Raymond. Yes, Mr. Raymond is a very rich man. Sort of.

    Gold-Plated Exit For Exxon CEO

    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 13, 2006; Page D03

    Exxon Mobil Corp.'s outgoing chief executive, Lee Raymond, received $48.5 million in salary, bonus, incentive payments and stock awards last year and retired Jan. 14 qualifying for a pension with a lump-sum value of $98.4 million, according to the company's latest proxy statement.

    By the end of 2005, Raymond had accumulated $183.1 million worth of Exxon Mobil stock and had options worth $69 million to buy additional company shares. The company also covered his expenses for items including club memberships and private use of corporate jets.


    Hat tip to Dependable Renegade for the photo; original post at

    Now, I have to disagree with Dependable Renegade on one point. They took President Bush to task for taking his bicycle with him on trips:

    I really think that this is ok; in fact, in this area, the President sets a good example for all of us.

    But, I certainly don't defend the job he has done in office and I really wonder what is wrong with the 32-36% of the public that approves of the job that he is doing.

    Jason Thomas: 'Sweeping down the IQ curve with Bush's remaining supporters'
    Posted on Thursday, April 27 @ 10:17:43 EDT
    This article has been read 4353 times.

    A different version of this essay first appeared on Jason Thomas' blog, Empires Fall.

    Those of you who have been around for a while may have noticed something about the conservative blowhards on the net. The Freepers. The right-wing-nutjob blogosphere. Guns-and-gear forums, which teem with the kind of person I'm talking about.

    The big secret: these people aren't much for the written word. They can't spell. They mangle grammar and syntax to varying degrees, sometimes to the point where they're almost unintelligible. And the worse the problem is, the more vociferous they are about supporting George Bush.

    What do I conclude from this?

    I conclude something we've always suspected. I conclude that Bush voters aren't very bright.

    There's political theory that holds that people tend to vote for candidates who are like them.

    When Gore talks, he makes a great deal of sense. The problem is, the ideas he expresses are complex; it's not easy to encapsulate him in a ten second soundbite. The same is true of John Kerry.

    Bush, on the other hand, just makes statements. Simple statements. He doesn't bother supporting them. He doesn't bother explaining why. He just pronounces.

    After all, why should he explain anything? He's the Decider.

    Bush is very reassuring to a lot of people who aren't very bright, and for whom the complexity of modern times is a little bit scary. They're reassured by strong authority figures. People like that would like to return to the halcyon Mayberry days of an idealized 1950s with black and white televisions, baseball on the radio and the good old Sovs to hate and fear.

    Nice and simple.

    As the poll numbers crash, as it dawns on more and more Americans what a worldwide laughingstock we've become, it's like a needle sweeping downwards along the IQ curve. As Bush's popularity ratings sink below 30, we're going to see more and more malapropisms, misspellings and misunderstandings of the English language.

    The blowhards are going to get louder and more belligerent, because now the needle is descending into serious bellicose obstinacy territory. Stubbornness, inflexibility, lack of ability to adapt to changing circumstances, inability to change one's mind even in the presence of overwhelming evidence-- these are characteristics associated with the state of being... well, being not very bright.

    Really, how smart do you have to be to notice that Bush is gutting the constitution, selling off our security and our national savings to foreign interests, and spending like a drunken sailor in a Bangkok whorehouse?

    As the needle sweeps lower, the voices coming from the shrinking Bush brigade will get shriller and more aggressive. Watch the chestbeating and nastiness reach a fever pitch. Don't forget the poorly-spelled death threats. Make sure to savor the true hallmark of that crowd: the complete inability to form a complete sentence. Oh yes, the needle is sweeping.

    And now we're getting down to the dregs.

    Jason Thomas blogs at Empires Fall.

    Finally, I listened some to the Mike Malloy Show via RadioPower. Today, he took a caller who talked about his pregnant wife being injected with plutonium by our government. Mike Malloy sounded very skeptical, at best.

    Unfortunately, this story is all too true:


    The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments During the Cold War
    By Eileen Welsome
    Delacorte Press, 1999
    592 pages; $26.95

    Subscribe today!

    rom April 1945 to July 1947, 18 men, women, and children were injected with plutonium by doctors working with the Manhattan Project. None of the subjects was told what was being done, and none gave informed consent. They were chosen because the doctors believed them to be mortally ill, although many lived for years, even decades, with the plutonium working its damage in their bodies.

    The experiments were covered up for 40 years: When they became public, the government apologized but not a single doctor or hospital was publicly blamed. The plutonium injections ended after 27 months, having achieved little.

    But other experiments, for the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), continued into the 1970s. In Nashville, scientists at Vanderbilt University gave pregnant women radioactive cocktails. Prisoners in Oregon and Washington had their testicles radiated with neutrons. At the University of Cincinnati, nearly 200 patients were irradiated over a 15-year period. In Massachusetts, 74 boys at a Dickensian state school for unwanted or homeless boys were fed oatmeal laced with radioactive iron or calcium. The University of Chicago, one of the three sites for the plutonium injections, also fed solutions of strontium and cesium to 102 subjects with the assistance of Argonne National Laboratory. Again, no one told the victims what was going on, nor did anyone ask their consent.

    The purpose of the experiments was to judge the effect of radioactivity on the human body. When they began, the Manhattan Project was close to exploding the first atomic bomb. Employees at Oak Ridge and Los Alamos worked with radioactive materials, yet no one knew the long-term effects of radiation on healthy people or on their genes and reproductive capacities. Experiments on animals were inconclusive and unsatisfactory. To protect the health of atomic workers, it was decided to begin human experiments.

    In pursuit of this goal, many American doctors violated not only the Hippocratic Oath but the Nuremberg Code, American Medical Association guidelines, and U.S. government regulations. Crimes were committed and, in the end, damages paid, mostly to survivors. As late as 1985, body parts were being severed from cadavers, usually without the knowledge of the next of kin, for shipment to Los Alamos where they were analyzed for plutonium content. More than 15,000 human bodies were raided for this project, which was called Operation Sunshine. At a 1954 conference in Washington D.C., Willard Libby, winner of the Nobel Prize, lamented the shortage of bodies of persons, especially children, who had been exposed to radioactivity. "If anybody knows how to do a good job of body snatching," Libby said, "they will really be serving their country."

    This is a horrifying story and it is told with quiet rage by Eileen Welsome, a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for her reporting on the plutonium experiments. News of these and other experiments had leaked out earlier, but they received little public attention. Welsome's achievement was to pierce the closed files and classified records that were part of the medical cover-up of the experiments. It is not possible to read The Plutonium Files without mounting fury, as Welsome tells of the violation of human bodies and spirits by scientists in whom this nation places its trust. Her book is a powerful indictment of an important part of the Manhattan Project and a warning of the evil that supposedly high-minded people can do when convinced of their own superiority and devoted to a goal that blinds them to simple humanity.

    Through some inspired sleuthing, Welsome gives real names and faces to subjects who were known to officialdom only as CHI-2 or HP-8. CHI-2 was Una Macke, the second Chicago subject, a cancer sufferer who died soon after the injection. HP-8, which stands for Human Product-8, was Janet Stadt, a scleroderma victim who received 1,000 rems of radiation during her lifetime. ("My mother," her son later told government investigators, "went in for scleroderma, which is a skin disorder, and a duodenal ulcer, and somehow she got pushed over into this lab where these monsters were.")

    Welsome melds the story of these experiments with the better-known cases of U.S. servicemen deliberately exposed to atomic bomb blasts, Utah ranch families who lived downwind from nuclear tests, Marshall Islanders exposed to radiation, and the luckless Japanese fishermen aboard the Lucky Dragon, the trawler caught in the fallout from the giant U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954. These stories are included because they reveal the same arrogance, willful ignorance, and total disregard for human lives that underlay the plutonium experiments.

    The doctors and scientists knew that radioactive materials were dangerous--"potentially extremely poisonous," as Arthur Compton said in 1944. They didn't know how dangerous they were, and they were determined to find out, and so, as Welsome writes, "they violated a fundamental right that belongs to all competent adults: the right to control one's own body."

    There is documentary evidence that Robert Oppenheimer and other Manhattan Project scientists approved the experiments (although Welsome found no signs that Gen. Leslie Groves, who told Congress in 1945 that radiation sickness is "a pleasant way to die," ever knew about them.)

    The government covered up the plutonium experiments until 1993 when then-Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, spurred by Welsome's stories, reversed this policy. President Bill Clinton then ordered federal agencies to open any records dealing with the plutonium experiments or any other human radiation experiments. The resulting investigation, undertaken by the president's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, turned up much of the information on other experiments that is included in this book.

    Most of the subjects, Welsome writes, "were the poor, the powerless, and the sick--the very people who count most on the government to protect them." Clarence Lushbaugh, a collaborator on the radiation project, told the author that the director of the project in Cincinnati, Eugene Saenger, picked his subjects from the "slums" because "these persons don't have any money and they're black and they're poorly washed. These persons were available in the University of Cincinnati to Dr. Saenger. . . . I did review what he was doing, and I thought it was actually well done." Welsome adds that, in Cincinnati, 62 percent of the subjects were African-American.

    So was the very first plutonium recipient, a construction worker named Ebb Cade, who was injured in a traffic accident on his way to work at Oak Ridge and ended up in the army hospital there. Scientists had decided to begin the plutonium experiments and Cade--there is no other way to put it--happened to be handy. A month after Cade was injected in 1945, Wright Langham, a Los Alamos chemist who was a driving force behind the experiments, told a meeting of Manhattan Project doctors in Chicago that "the subject was an elderly male whose age and general health was such that there is little or no possibility that the injection can have any effect on the normal course of his life." Cade, in fact, was 55 and, apart from partial blindness caused by a cataract, reasonably healthy. He died eight years later of a heart attack.

    The third subject, a house painter named Albert Stevens, was chosen to be injected at the University of California Hospital in San Francisco because he had terminal cancer. But the diagnosis was wrong and Stevens lived another 21 years. For the next two decades, scientists collected Stevens's urine and stool samples to check the amount of plutonium in his system. He knew he was part of an experiment, but assumed it was part of his treatment for his arrested cancer. Incredibly, Stevens lived out his life unaware that he did not have cancer and had never had it.

    This medical deception is of a piece with the story of one of the University of Rochester patients, Eda Schultz Charlton, a 49-year-old woman who went to the university hospital with minor ailments. As Welsome writes, "[Charlton] was not terminally ill, she was not even chronically ill, she may not have even been seriously ill." But she was injected with plutonium, according to government documents. Her 314 pages of medical records at the hospital, however, do not mention anything about plutonium. Over the years, she suffered from depression, fatigue, arthritis, nausea, spasms, and other illnesses that may or may not have been caused by the plutonium. She finally died in 1983, 37 years after the injections.

    But the most appalling part of Charlton's story is that her doctor, Christine Waterhouse, had been recruited as Charlton's primary physician by Dr. Samuel Bassett, one of the overseers of the plutonium experiment at Rochester. Apparently under Bassett's instructions, Waterhouse "cared" for Eda Charlton for 29 years without ever telling her that she had been injected with plutonium.

    Welsome says that even the Rochester scientists called their program "a production line." Unknowing patients were given an average of five micrograms of plutonium, which was five times the safe limit set by Manhattan Project scientists. Eleven patients were injected at Rochester and there probably would have been more had it not been for inconveniences like Christmas. "No one seems to want to be in the hospital on that particular day," Bassett groused. "I will do what I can, however, to keep the production line going."

    Three of the 11 Rochester patients, like Charlton, lived another 30 years with plutonium in their bodies. For most of those years, it was assumed that all the subjects had been terminally ill and had died quickly. It is one of the major merits of Welsome's work that she dug up the patients' names and found out what really happened to them. As a 1947 AEC document makes clear, the secrecy and cover-up were ordered because publicity "might have an adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits." Moreover, the doctors and scientists themselves knew they were doing something that, if not outright criminal, would look bad in the light of day. One assistant in the Chicago experiments, according to a classified 1946 report, was Leon Jacobson, who later became chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. Jacobson told investigators in 1974 that he was not involved in the experiment and "knew very little about it, next to nothing"--not a very convincing denial.

    The plundering of body parts of radiation victims reached ghoulish proportions. Cecil Kelley, who was killed in an accident at Los Alamos, was not so much buried as distributed. Bits of his corpse went to the army, to Oak Ridge, and to other researchers around the nation. His brain was shipped out in a wide-mouthed mayonnaise jar. What was left was eventually given a military burial by the government, which also promised to pay for his children's college education. The promise was never kept.

    The committee convened by President Clinton eventually issued a controversial 1995 report that blamed everyone--and, hence, no one. It found that bad things were done, but refused to condemn those who did them. "Wrongs were committed," it said, "by very decent people who were in a position to know that a specific aspect of their interactions with others should be improved."

    Clinton swept aside the report's mealy-mouthed language, proclaiming that the experiments "failed both the test of our national values and the test of humanity." But nobody heard him. Two hours after his statement, the O. J. Simpson verdict was announced and the media paid little attention to the fate of the hundreds of Americans who had been used as guinea pigs by their government.

    Welsome's book is a powerful attempt to give those victims their day in court. "Thousands of Americans were used as laboratory animals in radiation experiments funded by the federal government," she writes. They were not the victims of the military, nor of faceless, low-level bureaucrats who were "just doing their jobs." The experiments were threads woven uncomfortably tightly into the fabric of the Manhattan Project itself.

    "The Manhattan Project veterans and their protégés controlled the information," she says. "They sat on the boards that set radiation standards, consulted at meetings where further human experimentation was discussed, investigated nuclear accidents, and served as expert witnesses in radiation injury cases."

    In a sense, as Welsome notes, the verdict on the plutonium experiments was handed down 2,500 years ago by Hippocrates--"I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked"--and 52 years ago by James McHaney, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials: "It is the most fundamental tenet of medical ethics and human decency that the subjects volunteer for the experiment after being informed of its nature and hazards. This is the clear dividing line between the criminal and what may be non-criminal. If the experimental subjects cannot be said to have volunteered, then the inquiry need proceed no further."