War Porn

Hollywood and War from World War II to American Sniper
By Peter Van Buren

In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand).American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.

There’s Only One War Movie

Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda. It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks. Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us.

Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains.
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Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by NSA documents

Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by secret NSA documents

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vehemently denied aWall Street Journal report, leaked by the Obama White House, that Israel spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran and then fed the intelligence to Congressional Republicans. His office’s denial was categorical and absolute, extending beyond this specific story to U.S.-targeted spying generally, claiming: “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”

Israel’s claim is not only incredible on its face. It is also squarely contradicted by top-secret NSA documents, which state that Israel targets the U.S. government for invasive electronic surveillance, and does so more aggressively and threateningly than almost any other country in the world. Indeed, so concerted and aggressive are Israeli efforts against the U.S. that some key U.S. government documents — including the top secret 2013 intelligence budget — list Israel among the U.S.’s most threatening cyber-adversaries and as a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.

One top-secret 2008 document features an interview with the NSA’s Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence, entitled “Which Foreign Intelligence Service Is the Biggest Threat to the US?” He repeatedly names Israel as one of the key threats.

While noting that Russia and China do the most effective spying on U.S., he says that “Israel also targets us.” He explains that “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked [Israel] as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.” While praising the surveillance relationship with Israel as highly valuable, he added: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Specifically, the Israelis “target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems.”
Continue reading Netanyahu’s spying denials contradicted by NSA documents

The proper definition of a skeptic


conspiracyPropagandists everywhere misappropriate words to use in manners that benefit them and their agendas. For me, looking out at the natural world in a scientific manner, the most misappropriated word is skeptic (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). I previously disliked the word, actually quite a bit, because it had a negative connotation. But I’ve embraced it over the past few years, and I now get offended when it’s misused.

The problem with the word “skeptic” is that it is used differently in different circumstances, much like the word “theory” has a different meaning in a formal scientific context than it does in common vernacular. To the average person, a skeptic is  a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. In other words, this type of skeptic just doubts everything, whether or not that doubt is backed by any type of evidence. It’s not very meaningful in terms of scientific discussion, and it it carries little weight in a debate about the scientific merits of an idea or a scientific hypothesis. In ordinary usage, this type of skepticism has one of three meanings:

  1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  2. the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  3. the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics.

So global warming “skeptics” use this form of the word, in that they doubt that global warming is real, without being very scientific about it. Another, more annoying, misappropriation of “skeptic” is from a group called the Real Australian Sceptics, which is merely a front organization for the Australian anti-vaccination lunatic group called the Australian Vaccine Network. In both cases, they are misusing skepticism to try to invest some scientific legitimacy to their cause. This is actually the opposite of true scientific skepticism and is often called denialism, which is a culture of denying an established fact,scientific theory, scientific law or any of evidence supporting a well-established discipline. More often than not, this denialism occurs in spite of overwhelming evidence, and is almost always associated with motives of convenience to the denier. Denialism is often subject to and powered by confirmation bias.

On the other hand, scientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to  question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examination of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give  more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.

In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published as a meta-review in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence in the form of anecdotes or confirmation bias that cherry picks data. Moreover, reproducibility, the hallmark of a good meta-review, and empirical research are valued above all other evidence. Finally, all claims that are to be advanced must be“scrutinized, tested, tortured to see if it really holds up.”

Now, a true scientific skeptic cannot be an expert on all fields, it’s just impossible, especially as the sciences have become more specialized and more complex as we answer more questions about the universe. However, a true skeptic can accept an expert’s conclusion, as long as that expert has long subjected themselves to scrutiny and have credentials that indicate that they themselves have gone through the torture of gaining an education and authority in a particular field. These individuals need not have degrees from Harvard or may be researchers at a small state university. It’s only that their research was done scientifically and holds up to the critical analysis of others.
Continue reading The proper definition of a skeptic

A Christian Nation? Since When?

A Christian Nation? Since When?

via N.Y. Times OpEd – by Kevin M. Kruse – March 14, 2015
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AMERICA may be a nation of believers, but when it comes to this country’s identity as a “Christian nation,” our beliefs are all over the map.

Just a few weeks ago, Public Policy Polling reported that 57 percent of Republicans favored officially making the United States a Christian nation. But in 2007, a surveyby the First Amendment Center showed that 55 percent of Americans believed it already was one.

The confusion is understandable. For all our talk about separation of church and state, religious language has been written into our political culture in countless ways. It is inscribed in our pledge of patriotism, marked on our money, carved into the walls of our courts and our Capitol. Perhaps because it is everywhere, we assume it has been from the beginning.

But the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.

The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the “creeping socialism” of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans’ thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.

In a shrewd decision, these executives made clergymen their spokesmen. As Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew noted, polls proved that ministers could mold public opinion more than any other profession. And so these businessmen worked to recruit clergy through private meetings and public appeals. Many answered the call, but three deserve special attention.

Continue reading A Christian Nation? Since When?

18 Israeli Families Control 60% of Nation’s Corporate Equity

Kleptocracy in Israel


Israeli economist Shir Hever, a researcher for the Alternative Information Center, was recently interviewed by RealNews TV about the relationship between economic issues and social control in Israel.  One astonishing fact he noted was that 18 Israeli families control fully 60% of the equity value of all Israeli companies.  Their wealth is concentrated in the four largest industries in Israel: banking and insurance, chemicals, high tech, and military/homeland security.

This 2007 Ynetnews article provides more specific background on the families:

The Dankner, Tshuva, Azrieli, Weisman, Saban, Arison, Bino, Federman, Borovich, Leviev, Hamburger, Fishman, Strauss, Wertheim, and Alovich families are among the 19 families who control the bulk of Israeli business.

The Dankner family increased its stake in the income generated by Israel’s leading companies to 18.7 percent through the purchase of Koor Industries, higher than any other family.

The Azrieli family joined the club of powerful business lords last year with its purchase of stakes in Granite Ha-Carmel Investments Ltd, acquiring controlling shares in Tambour, Sonol and Supergas.

The Alovich family purchased Zahav lines from Eliezer Fishman and joined the top-19 club.

The Wertheimer family exited the club, which numbered 18 in 2005, with the sale of 80 percent of Iscar to American investment mogul Warren Buffet.

When you think about the once proud history of Israel as an egalitarian society which valued the work and skills of every individual (even if it didn’t do that for the Palestinian Israelis) and created a social safety net that was the envy of the Scandinavian countries–Israel has become what it once hated.  In 1965, it was rated one of the most equal nations in the world in terms of distribution of wealth.  Today, it is a corporate wild west in which a quarter to a third of all Israelis live below the poverty line.  An even larger percentage of all Israeli children live below it as well since the Israeli poor tend to be Israeli Palestinian and Haredi and have extremely large families.

There is hardly a safety net to speak of.  The poor are basically on their own.  Israel is the triumph of Hobbesianism thanks to free marketeers like Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky.  According to Hever, Israel is the second most unequal country in the world after the U.S.  Israel spends 75% less than the average western nation on redistributive programs like health care, unemployment, infrastructure and job creation.  The reason: it invests so much of its budget in security it can’t afford to properly fund these social programs.

Hever reveals that Israel spends 9% of its budget on maintaining the Occupation (military spending specifically related to the Territories and settler subsidies) making it a very costly drain on Israeli economic development.

Some of Israel’s wealth has been drawn to the country by laws allowing Jews to come to Israel no questions asked.  There may be outstanding lawsuits or arrest warrants, but they live comfortably in the knowledge that Israel will not extradite them to face their alleged crimes out of faux-Zionist solidarity.

This is not the Israel our grandparents fought for, the Israel for which Hebrew school children dropped millions of coins into their JNF boxes.

All five parts of Hever’s video interviews can be viewed here.

Who’s running for Pres in 2016?

There is a simple reason why only Cruz has announced.

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Over at Politico, the Campaign Legal Center’s Paul S. Ryan has a theory for why it’s taking so long:

Why do Bush, Clinton and nearly every other prospective 2016 candidate refuse to acknowledge that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign? Because money spent to test the waters of a federal campaign must be raised under the $2,700 candidate contribution limit — and nearly every prospective candidate is raising funds outside the limit, sometimes even far outside that limit. Any prospective presidential candidate who’s paying for testing-the-waters activities with funds raised outside the $2,700 per donor candidate limit is violating federal law.

If that’s right, we might be kept guessing for a while. In the meantime, we can all keep dreaming about a sensible campaign-finance system.

Income Inequality – Gini coefficient by OECD Country


Note: A recent study of Global Inequality shows that America is the second most economically unequal country in the World behind only Chile. The third most unequal country is Israel.

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Global inequality: How the U.S. compares

Global_InequalityWith more attention being paid to economic inequality in the United States, it’s also worth looking at how the nation compares globally. As it happens, the U.S. has one of the most unequal income distributions in the developed world, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — even after taxes and social-welfare policies are taken into account.

Income, of course, isn’t the only way to measure economic inequality, but it is the most common, especially when making cross-national comparisons. Income inequality often is expressed in terms of the Gini index, a summary statistic that measures the dispersion of incomes on a scale of zero (everyone has exactly the same income) to 1 (one person has all the income).

The OECD, a group of 34 mostly developed economies, calculates Gini coefficients for most of its member countries, both before and after taxes and transfer payments. That helps address criticism from some economists that income-based measures of inequality ignore the redistributive impact of such programs as Social Security, the earned income tax credit and unemployment insurance. (We looked at the 31 OECD countries that had both sets of Gini scores for a reasonably recent year, in most cases 2010.)

Before accounting for taxes and transfers, the U.S. ranked 10th in income inequality; among the countries with more unequal income distributions were France, the U.K. and Ireland. But after taking taxes and transfers into account, the U.S. had the second-highest level of inequality, behind only Chile. (Mexico and Brazil had higher after-tax/transfer Gini scores, but no “before” scores with which to compare them; including them would push the U.S. down to fourth place.)

It’s not that taxes and social-insurance policies in the U.S. have no redistributive effect. Before taxes and transfers, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report, the bottom 20% of Americans had 2.3% of all income, while the top 20% had 57.9%. After taxes and transfers, the bottom 20%’s share rose to 9.3%, while the top 20%’s share fell to 47.2%. (Thanks to The New York Times’Economix blog for the chart below).


However, the OECD data show that U.S. tax and spending policy does relatively little, compared with its peers in the developed world, to reduce inequality (a point made elsewhere using a similar dataset). Among the 31 OECD countries for which recent “before” and “after” Gini scores are available, the average differential was 0.163; for the U.S. the differential was 0.119. The country where tax and transfer policies do the most to reduce income inequality? Ireland, which ranked highest before taxes and transfers but 10th after.

How campaign finance works

Note: Campaign Finance before Citizens United

via HowStuffWorks – by  – 2009

Republican candidate Fred Thompson’s tour bus accounts for a portion of his campaign funds.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

In the United States, fundraising plays a large role in getting a candidate elected to public office. Without large sums of money, a candidate has virtually no chance of achieving his goal. This doesn’t mean that the person who raises and spends the most wins every time, but it’s close. In the 2004 general elections, 95 percent of House races and 91 percent of Senate races were won by the candidate who spent the most on his campaign. It’s also easier to stay in office than to get into office. Incumbents are generally able to raise more money than their opponents, which often results in elections with no financial opposition. In 2004, nearly one-third of the House races involved candidates with little or no opposition [source: Open Secrets].
Continue reading How campaign finance works

Enters un-noticed and departs quietly


NIE on Iraq 2002

The redacted ‘official’ NIE , created by the CIA, which was used as the basis for the 2003 invasion of Iraq – was inaccurate in several areas, and the only real question was whether the inaccuracies were deliberate, or simply technical errors of analysis or evaluation.

FB Meme Shared: “Share if you’re proud to be an American”

A Cross Section of Opinions by Americans

Intercessory prayer – does it work?

via NIH – Masters KS1, Spielmans GI, Goodson JTAnn Behav Med. 2006 Aug;32(1):21-6.  Author information


The use of alternative treatments for illness is common in the United States. Practitioners of these interventions find them compatible with personal philosophies. Consequently, distant intercessory prayer (IP) for healing is one of the most commonly practiced alternative interventions and has recently become the topic of scientific scrutiny.


This study was designed to provide a current meta-analytic review of the effects of IP and to assess the impact of potential moderator variables.


A random effects model was adopted. Outcomes across dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size. These were combined to generate the overall effect size. A test of homogeneity and examination of several potential moderator variables was conducted.


Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis yielding an overall effect size of g = .100 that did not differ from zero. When one controversial study was removed, the effect size reduced to g = .012. No moderator variables significantly influenced results.


There is no scientifically discernable effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.

[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Note: The studies at Duke University as reported in The Lancet and other publications in 2006, showed:

DURHAM, N.C. — Distant prayer and the bedside use of music, imagery and touch (MIT therapy) did not have a significant effect upon the primary clinical outcome observed in patients undergoing certain heart procedures, researchers at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), Duke University Medical Center, the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and seven other leading academic medical institutions across the U.S. have found. Therapeutic effects were noted, however, among secondary measures such as emotional distress of patients, re-hospitalization and death rates.

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Note2: An important finding of the study was described thusly:

“The most statistically significant finding of our analyses so far is the relief of pre-procedural distress with the use of music, imagery and touch administered by a trained practitioner at the patient’s bedside,” said Suzanne Crater, ANP-C, cardiology nurse practitioner at DUMC and Durham VAMC.” The researchers found no significant differences among the treatment groups in the primary composite endpoint. However, six-month mortality was lower in patients assigned bedside MIT, with the lowest absolute death rates observed in patients treated with both prayer and bedside MIT.

Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome

Jennifer A. Doudna, an inventor of a new genome-editing technique, in her office at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Doudna is the lead author of an article calling for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the new method, to give scientists, ethicists and the public time to fully understand the issues surrounding the breakthrough. 

A group of leading biologists on Thursday called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited.

The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.

Continue reading Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome

Florida & The Science That Must Not be Named


200184461-001Click to Open Overlay Gallery
Matthias Clamer/Getty Images

Sen. Isakson replies

Thank you for contacting me about the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS. I appreciate hearing from you and am grateful for the opportunity to respond.

As you know, ISIL is one of the greatest national security threats our country faces today.  The President has finally realized the gravity of the situation and I was pleased to see him take a firm stand in his State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015. However, I insist that his actions follow the strong words of his speech as we begin the tough and difficult job of carrying out the destruction of ISIL, including the use of military force.

On February 11, 2015, the President submitted to Congress draft text of an Authorization of the Use of Military Force to fight ISIL. I believe this draft places too many limitations on the President, and our military commanders who need flexibility to combat this militant group. In particular, I am concerned that the 3-year limitation in the President’s proposal sends the wrong message that we are not committed to see this mission through to the end. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I look forward to debating this authorization vigorously, as I believe defeating ISIL is important to both regional security in the Middle East as well as our own national security.

In the 113th Congress, I supported legislation that authorized equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels to fight against ISIL. Both H.J. Res. 124 and H.R. 835 were government funding bills that contained this authorization and became law. The United States cannot negotiate with ISIL, and their brutality must be stopped. Now is the time for swift and decisive action to send a bold message to all terrorist groups that we will not equivocate when it comes to protecting our homeland and our people.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please visit my webpage at http://isakson.senate.gov/ for more information on the issues important to you and to sign up for my e-newsletter.

Johnny Isakson
United States Senator

For future correspondence with my office, please visit my web site at http://www.isakson.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-me. You can also click here to sign up for the eNewsletter

Few Have Faced Consequences for Abuses at Abu Ghraib

Almost no one penalized – even after ten years

In this Sept. 2, 2006, file photo, an Iraqi army soldier closes the door of a cell, in Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON — Photos of Iraqi prisoners tethered to dog leashes and electrical wires dominated the news when they emerged in 2003 and 2004. The abuse scandal centered at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad aroused bipartisan shock at home and embarrassment abroad.

But more than a decade on, the images and the calls for accountability have faded.

What remains is a lawsuit against CACI Premier Technology, a private contractor that provided interrogation services at the prison, accusing its employees of torture. The suit, brought by four former prisoners, has withstood challenges in federal courts for nearly seven years and is now reaching another key juncture, as both sides await a ruling from a federal judge in Virginia over whether it can proceed to trial.

For plaintiffs and some critics of the government’s response, the suit and its labyrinthine path are a reminder that few have faced significant consequences for the documented abuse that Americans carried out after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

“The gap in liability for the post-9/11 counter-terrorism abuses is actually pretty alarming and pretty broad,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at Washington’s American University who has followed the case closely.

Vladeck says judges have been reluctant to let most cases against military contractors proceed, preventing plaintiffs from using the discovery process to gather more evidence that could directly implicate the contractors.

Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted in military trials of crimes related to the humiliation and abuse of the prisoners. A $5.3-million settlement two years ago with the parent company of L-3 Services Inc., which provided translation services at the prison, is the only known civil penalty imposed on a private firm.

Official reports documented the participation of contractors in several incidents in Abu Ghraib, but none has been prosecuted criminally, nor have any companies been barred publicly from subsequent government contracts, which have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“You had some of the low-level military folks held accountable, but not their leaders further up in their chain of command, and certainly not the private military contractors who were also there, who were involved in many of the very same incidents,” said P.W. Singer, author of “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry.” “It is now a decade since, and key players in one of the worst scandals in recent U.S. history have not faced any accountability.”
Continue reading Few Have Faced Consequences for Abuses at Abu Ghraib

A Pointed Letter to Gen. Petraeus

When Silencing Dissent Isn’t News

Exclusive: The criminal case against ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern for “resisting arrest” when he was denied entry to a public speech by retired Gen. David Petraeus appears to be nearly over, but the image of police brutally shielding the mighty from a citizen’s question remains troubling. As retired Gen. and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus was about to speak in New York City last Oct. 30, someone decided to spare the “great man” from impertinent questions, so ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern was barred, arrested and brought to trial, prompting McGovern to ask some questions now in an open letter.

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Dear Gen. David Petraeus,

As I prepare to appear in New York City Criminal Court on Wednesday facing charges of “criminal trespass” and “resisting arrest,” it struck me that we have something in common besides being former Army officers – and the fact that the charges against me resulted from my trying to attend a speech that you were giving, from which I was barred. As I understand it, you, too, may have to defend yourself in Court someday in the future.

You might call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one who believes there may be some substance to reports last month that Justice Department prosecutors are pressing to indict you for mishandling classified information by giving it to Paula Broadwell, your mistress/biographer.

Gen. David Petraeus in a photo with his biographer/mistress Paula Broadwell. (U.S. government photo)

No doubt, whatever indiscretions were involved there seemed minor at the time, but unauthorized leaks of this sort — to casual acquaintances — were strongly discouraged in the Army in which I served five decades ago. Remember the old saying: “Loose lips sink ships.” There were also rules in the Universal Code of Military Justice for punishing a married soldier who took up with a mistress, an offense for which many a trooper spent time in the brig.

Yet, I don’t imagine there is much sweat on your brow regarding legal consequences for either offense. And you may be correct in assuming that, just as the Army looked the other way about the mistress indiscretion, our timorous Attorney General Eric Holder or his successor will likely do the same on any disclosure of classified information. Some influential members of Congress and various Washington talking heads have already opined that you have suffered enough.

Still, I find myself wondering if it does not bother you to be assigned to the comfortable, “don’t-look-back” compartment for excusing one class of violators, including CIA torturers and reckless investment bankers who were “too big (or well-connected) to jail.” I still want to hold out hope for even-handed, blind justice rather than give up completely on the system of justice in our country.

You may not be surprised to know that, try as I might to feel some empathy for you, Schadenfreude at your misfortune is winning out, since I am convinced that you had a lot to do with other far-more-serious offenses, including aiding and abetting illegal “aggressive war.” And, I suspect you also many have aided and abetted the circumstances that gave rise to the bizarre charges against me.

I refer, of course, to my violent arrest, causing pain of my fractured shoulder, and my jailing in The Tombs, simply because I wanted to hear you speak last fall at New York’s 92nd Street Y and possibly pose a question from the audience.
Continue reading A Pointed Letter to Gen. Petraeus

Colin Powell’s Chief Of Staff On The Failings Of US Foreign Policy

“We’re Screwed” 

In a sweeping interview with MintPress News, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson explains why the U.S. needs to make resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a bigger priority and how partnering with Iran could be the key to achieving greater regional stability.
By  @seannevins | WILKERSON
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Now an outspoken critic of US foreign policy, Wilkerson told MintPress that you cannot have a strategy if you are constantly buffeted, and buffeted seriously, by the winds of domestic interest.

BEIRUT — One of the most important elections related to U.S. foreign policy is taking place on Tuesday, almost 6,000 miles away from Washington, in Israel/Palestine.

The Israeli election is being held on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scandalous visit to the U.S. Congress, and amid the fallout of a letter to the Iranian leadership that has been described as “treasonous.” The letter, signed by 47 Republican senators, locksteps neoconservative geopolitical strategy in the Middle East with that of the national security prerogatives of Israel’s current prime minister.

“The only positive thing I can see right now is the potential for Bibi Netanyahu to lose,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.

Speaking to MintPress News over the phone from his home in Virginia, Wilkerson added that the damage Netanyahu has done as prime minister has been “unprecedented,” and that Netanyahu and his predecessors, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, destroyed their own movement.

“Fifty-one percent of the [Israeli] land belongs to the security complex, either outright or leased. Sixty families in Israel own about 75 percent of the wealth, which is unbelievable,” he explained. “They’re the most predatory capitalist state in the eastern Mediterranean, and that’s saying something because we [the U.S.], China, and Russia have exemplified predatory capitalism in the last 20 years, but Israel outstrips us all.”

Wilkerson also asserts that Israel is a strategic liability for the U.S. government. Israel, he says, is helping Russia, one of America’s principal adversaries. He referenced an internal audit carried out by the Russian military in 2013 and 2014. Through that audit the Russians realized that their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were a major weakness on the battlefield. Israel responded by selling Russia state-of-the-art UAVs. “And of course, they sell weapons to the Chinese too!” quipped Wilkerson.

As long as the United States continues to support Israel in this way, explained Wilkerson, “It is impossible to say you have a sound strategic approach to the region.”
Continue reading Colin Powell’s Chief Of Staff On The Failings Of US Foreign Policy

Rep. B. Loudermilk’s reply on Netanyahu’s address

March 17th, 2015

Dear Mr. Pressl,


Thank you for reaching out to express your concerns about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress. As your Representative to the U.S. government, it is very important for me to know your thoughts on important issues such as this.

With the current turbulence in the Middle East, our nation must continue to strive for peaceful resolutions. Israel remains our most dependable ally in the region, and has been a longtime supporter and friend of the United States. Our relations with Israel must stay strong, especially as other nations are experiencing severe political unrest. We should be loyal supporters of allies who share the same desire for peace and stability, and who want to end the war on terrorism.

Speaker Boehner invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3, and I had the privilege to attend. Though there are differing opinions on the intention of the invitation and speech, the sitting Speaker of the House, regardless of party, had the right to invite foreign leaders to address Congress.  I respect that right, just as I respect an individual members’ right to decide whether or not to attend. I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear him speak on the House floor and show my support for Israel.

Again, thank you for taking time to contact me about this important issue.  As a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” your involvement is crucial and I appreciate your concern.   Please do not hesitate to contact me with any additional ideas and issues through my website at www.loudermilk.house.gov or by calling one of my offices located in Woodstock, Cartersville, and Washington, D.C.

Finances in the Georgia Senate Race 2014

On the surface the financial position of each candidate: Michelle Nunn (D), and David Perdue (R) appear roughly equivalent:

Michelle Nunn Campaign: Raised and Spent: $16,080,504

David Perdue Campaign: Raised and Spent: $13,842,966

However, there is a second side to this: Monies spent by PAC, SuperPACs, etc, to support and oppose candidates in the race:

Michelle Nunn: $6,932,824

David Perdue: $23,790,819

The vote totals were:

Michelle Nunn: 1,160,811

David Perdue: 1,358,088

Data via OpenSecrets.org – Mar. 2015

Note: So just between these two candidates a rough total of $60 Million Dollars was spent in the campaign for a Senate seat. This does not include monies raised and expended by all candidates in the primaries and general election. This to obtain a seat in the Senate which pays roughly $200k annually for a six year term.

The failures of American education

bored-students-in-lecture-hall-mp900443256Note: The statistics are in regarding the American educational system in the early years of the 21st Century, and the results are disheartening. This is my reply to one online article:

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“Progressive societies recognize that the majority of the population will not be suitable students at university levels of education, and incorporate that wisdom into public schools, where the curriculum is designed so that every graduate is capable of functioning effectively in society. Nations in the Scandinavian region, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and others make trades and skills an honorable, and rewarding area of study and future life’s work.

With the essential demise of unions, America no longer provides apprenticeships, nor trades development programs, except in very select circumstances. If a student in America recognizes they are not suitable for university study, they have to find something they can do, and finance the training necessary to get proficient in that field by themselves, or with their parents assistance. Then assume the student is black, poor, or handicapped in some manner, and the problems become acute.

Unless things change in our educational and social systems, within a few decades we will have millions upon millions of able-bodied citizens with no productive value to society, no prospects to attain sufficiency, no hope or prospect for systemic change, and we will have created an underclass which will become our undoing. Precisely as it has happened numerous times before in human history in other empires and dynasties. We urgently need to create an educational and social system that “works” for all who are capable, willing, and dedicated to succeed – not simply for those lucky enough to have been “born right”.

America dumbs down

via Macleans.ca – Jonathon Gatehouse – May 15, 2014


Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult. A national poll, conducted in March for the Associated Press, found that 42 per cent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution. Similarly, 51 per cent of people expressed skepticism that the universe started with a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago, and 36 per cent doubted the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years.

The American public’s bias against established science doesn’t stop where the Bible leaves off, however. The same poll found that just 53 per cent of respondents were “extremely” or “very confident” that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. (Worldwide, the measles killed 120,000 people in 2012. In the United States, where a vaccine has been available since 1963, the last recorded measles death was in 2003.) When it comes to global warming, only 33 per cent expressed a high degree of confidence that it is “man made,” something the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared is all but certain. (The good news, such as it was in the AP poll, was that 69 per cent actually believe in DNA, and 82 per cent now agree that smoking causes cancer.)

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.
Continue reading America dumbs down

The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers’ insane persecution fantasies

The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers' insane persecution fantasiesGlenn Beck, Phil Robertson, Michele Bachmann (Credit: Reuters/Chris Keane/A&E/Karolina Wojtasik/AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Certain words should not be tossed around lightly. Persecution is one of those words.

Religious right leaders and their followers often claim that they are being persecuted in the United States. They should watch their words carefully. Their claims are offensive; they don’t know the first thing about persecution.

One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of real religious persecution in the world. In some countries, people can be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed because of what they believe. Certain religious groups are illegal and denied the right to meet. This is real persecution. By contrast, being offended because a clerk in a discount store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” pales. Only the most confused mind would equate the two.

We have worked hard in the United States to find the right balance concerning religious-freedom matters. Despite what the religious right would have Americans believe, this is not an issue that our culture and legal systems take lightly. Claims of a violation of religious freedom are usually taken very seriously. An entire body of law has evolved in the courts to protect this right. The right of conscience is, appropriately, considered precious and inviolable to Americans.

Far from being persecuted, houses of worship and the religious denominations that sponsor them enjoy great liberty in America. Their activities are subjected to very little government regulation. They are often exempt from laws that other groups must follow. The government bends over backward to avoid interfering in the internal matters of religious groups and does so only in the most extreme cases.

What the religious right labels “persecution” is something else entirely: it is the natural pushback that occurs when any one sectarian group goes too far in trying to control the lives of others. Americans are more than happy to allow religious organizations to tend to their own matters and make their own decisions about internal governance. When those religious groups overstep their bounds and demand that people who don’t even subscribe to their beliefs follow their rigid theology, that is another matter entirely.

Before I delve into this a little more, it would be helpful to step back and take a look at the state of religious liberty in the United States today. Far from being persecuted, I would assert that religion’s position is one of extreme privilege.

Consider the following points:
Continue reading The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers’ insane persecution fantasies

Duke Mathematicians Investigate 2012 Election Results In North Carolina

Duke Mathematicians Investigate 2012 Election Results In North Carolina

Researchers at Duke have developed a mathematical model that shows how changes in North Carolina’s congressional voting districts could affect election outcomes.

Researchers at Duke have developed a mathematical model that shows how changes in North Carolina’s congressional voting districts could affect election outcomes.
Credit Duke University

Back in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina’s Congressional elections. But Republicans ended up winning nine out of the state’s 13 seats that year. Those numbers piqued the interest of researchers at Duke, who decided to seek a mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. They recently published a study with their results.

Executive Summary of the Study:

We introduce a non-partisan probability distribution on congressional redistricting of North Carolina which emphasizes the equal partition of the population and the compactness of districts. When random districts are drawn and the results of the 2012 election were re-tabulated under the drawn districtings, we find that an average of 7.6 democratic representatives are elected. 95% of the randomly sampled redistrictings produced between 6 and 9 Democrats. Both of these facts are in stark contrast with the 4 Democrats elected in the 2012 elections with the same vote counts. This brings into serious question the idea that such elections represent the “will of the people.” It underlines the ability of redistricting to undermine the democratic process, while on the face allowing democracy to proceed.

Continue reading Duke Mathematicians Investigate 2012 Election Results In North Carolina

Agnosticism & Atheism: What’s the difference – explained by Bertrand Russell in 1953

What Is an agnostic? (1953)
by Bertrand Russell


What Is an agnostic?

An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.
Continue reading Agnosticism & Atheism: What’s the difference – explained by Bertrand Russell in 1953

The Conundrum of Corporation and Nation

 Robert Reich Headshot

The Conundrum of Corporation and Nation

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The U.S. economy is picking up steam but most Americans aren’t feeling it. By contrast, most European economies are still in bad shape, but most Europeans are doing relatively well.

What’s behind this? Two big facts.

First, American corporations exert far more political influence in the United States than their counterparts exert in their own countries.

In fact, most Americans have no influence at all. That’s the conclusion of Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, whoanalyzed 1,799 policy issues and found that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Instead, American lawmakers respond to the demands of wealthy individuals (typically corporate executives and Wall Street moguls) and of big corporations — those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

The second fact is most big American corporations have no particular allegiance to America. They don’t want Americans to have better wages. Their only allegiance and responsibility to their shareholders — which often requires lower wages to fuel larger profits and higher share prices.

When GM went public again in 2010, it boasted of making 43 percent of its cars in place where labor is less than $15 an hour, while in North America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees.

American corporations shift their profits around the world wherever they pay the lowest taxes. Some are even morphing into foreign corporations.

As an Apple executive told The New York Times, “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

I’m not blaming American corporations. They’re in business to make profits and maximize their share prices, not to serve America.

But because of these two basic facts — their dominance on American politics, and their interest in share prices instead of the well-being of Americans — it’s folly to count on them to create good American jobs or improve American competitiveness, or represent the interests of the United States in global commerce.

By contrast, big corporations headquartered in other rich nations are more responsible for the well-being of the people who live in those nations.
Continue reading The Conundrum of Corporation and Nation

Solar power & the investment tax credit

Dear EarthTalk: What’s going to happen to the U.S. solar industry when the federal solar investment tax credit expires next year?— Victoria Chase, Washington, DC

via eMagazine’s EarthTalk Project – Mar. 10th, 2015

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In the U.S., a new solar project was installed every three minutes in 2014, and jobs in the solar industry rose from 15,000 employees in 2005 to nearly 174,000 today. This substantial growth is in large part thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems. In 2007, after only one year of implementation, the ITC led to the doubling of installed solar electric capacity. In 2008, Congress passed an eight-year extension of the ITC, allowing solar to become the fastest growing energy source in the U.S. Solar has also become much more affordable: The average installed cost per watt has dropped from around $7.50 in 2009 to $2.89 in 2013.

Solar array, San Luis Obispo, CA

After December 2016, the ITC solar credit will drop from 30 percent to 10 percent and the residential credit will drop to zero—unless Congress extends this deadline. Large companies are currently making significant solar investments before the solar tax credit deadline arrives. In February 2015, Apple announced that it would spend $848 million over 25 years to buy 130 megawatts of electricity from First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County. The project, which will occupy 2,900 acres of land in Cholame, California, is the solar industry’s largest-ever corporate power purchase agreement.

“Apple’s commitment was instrumental in making this project possible and will significantly increase the supply of solar power in California,” said Joe Kishkill, First Solar’s chief commercial officer. “Over time, the renewable energy from California Flats will provide cost savings over alternative sources of energy as well as substantially lower environmental impact.”

Two weeks after Apple’s announcement, Google announced that they would be making a $300 million investment with SolarCity, America’s largest solar provider, for residential solar projects across 14 states and the District of Columbia. The SolarCity fund, which totals $750 million, is the largest of its kind ever created for residential solar power. “We’re happy to support SolarCity’s mission to help families reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs,” said Sidd Mundra, Renewable Energy Principal at Google. “It’s good for the environment, good for families and also makes good business sense.”
Continue reading Solar power & the investment tax credit

Smackdown Shows Perfidy of CJS in Ferguson

Municipal judge in Ferguson resigns

via Wonkbook – Mar. 10th, 2015


In response to a report released last week by the federal Justice Department, the Missouri Supreme Court has assigned a state judge to take charge of all municipal cases in Ferguson. The municipal judge there, Ronald J. Brockmeyer, has resigned.

The report described the court — and Brockmeyer in particular — as being remarkably ingenious in finding ways to extract money from residents of St. Louis County through traffic fines and court fees, often violating the law themselves in doing so.

Some readers might have felt that there was nothing unusual about these practices. After all, don’t cops everywhere do what they can to issue traffic tickets? That was Bret Stephens’s question in his column in The Wall Street Journal. “Using ticket revenue and other fines to raise revenues is one of the oldest municipal tricks in the book,” he writes. “That turns out to be as true in Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington, D.C., as it is in Ferguson. So are we talking about institutional racism or just the usual government bloodsucking?”

Since there might be some lingering confusion on this point, it’s worth noting again that yes, indeed, we are talking about institutional racism. The report described a “focus on revenue” that “was almost wholly a focus on black people as revenue,” as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic. “Black people in Ferguson were twice as likely to be searched during a stop, twice as likely to receive a citation when stopped, and twice as likely to be arrested during the stop, and yet were 26 percent less likely to be found with contraband. Black people were more likely to see a single incident turn into multiple citations.”

As noted previously in this newsletter, Ferguson collects an average of $100 per person in fines and fees annually — and that’s just how much they collected. The court issued more than enough arrest warrants to serve one to every man, woman and child in the city in an attempt to force people to pay fines they can’t afford, as Wonkblog reported in November. More than 14 percent of the city’s budget is paid for this way, and the situation was even worse in other cities in St. Louis County:

In three jurisdictions — Calverton Park, Bella Villa and Vinita Terrace — more than 50 percent of municipal revenue is collected through the courts, according to the data from Better Together. Their populations are 1,293, 729, and 277 respectively.

The larger town of Webster Groves has sounder finances. The population of 22,995 is 89.9 percent white, and fines and fees account for only 7 percent of municipal revenue. For the city of St. Louis proper, which is not in the county of the same name, the figure is about 2 percent.

To take Stephens’s example of Washington, D.C., the city’s current budget states that officials expect to collect about $226 million in fines this year, accounting for 3 percent of the city’s general-fund revenue of $7.5 billion.

Stephens concludes that “there is no truth in statistics.” But putting them in context can be revealing.

Smackdown of 47 Republican Senators

Note: Two part post…the first is the reply to the letter sent to Iran by 47 Republican Senators on Mar. 9th, 2015, and the bottom part is a copy of the letter sent to the Iranian Embassy:

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Just now, I’ve come across the official response from Iran’s foreign minister to the letter from 47 Republican senators (aka Netanyahu’s fan club) that has immediately become infamous.

Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.  It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.  This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

I admit I felt quite a bit of schadenfreude as I read the words of this obviously intelligent and well read man lecturing these moronic Republicans about their own country’s constitution and international law.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

Here is the full text of the letter:
Dr. Zarif’s response to the letter of US senators

* * * * * * * and here is the letter sent by the 47 Republican Senators* * * * *


Addendum: The letter was signed by every Senate Republican except Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The Kochs

Continue reading The Kochs