Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bicycling and a break from blogging

Yesterday I took a wonderful bike ride with my friend and political ally, Janie Sheppard. It felt so good to be out of my self-imposed "prison," the room where I spend so many hours at my computer.

This afternoon I'm heading out to the ranch where my son and his family live and won't be back until late tomorrow. The last time I was there he and I took his infant twins in baby packs and hiked down to the creek that runs through the property. As you can see, it's beautiful in the spring. I hope we go again tomorrow.

I'm not likely to post anything until Tuesday. Blogging breaks are good for the spirit.

(photo of Janie in orange and me in pink)

Torture: Whom do you believe? Murat Kurnaz or Bryan Whitman?

This evening on CBS's "60 Minutes" Murat Kurnaz, a German resident held by the U.S. for almost five years, will describe the many ways Americans tortured him. When he was first captured, he claims he was hung from the ceiling for five days.

The March 29th Washington Post article, "Ex-Afghanistan Detainee Alleges Torture by U.S." reports that Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated, they are implausible and outlandish." [emphasis mine]

If you don’t know much about Bryan Whitman, go to this January 16th, 2008 article "Bogus Iran story was product of Pentagon spokesman.” Excerpt: “…[I]n an apparent slip-up, however, an Associated Press story that morning cited Whitman as the source for the statement that US ships were about to fire when the Iranian boats turned and moved away - a part of the story that other correspondents had attributed to an unnamed Pentagon official."

Since Kurnaz’s alleged torture occurred several years ago, you may conclude that the U.S. has changed its ways. Not according to Scott Horton, who blogs for Harper's Magazine at No Comment posted his remarks delivered on March 28th at the City [New York] University Law Review Symposium “Preventing Torture”here. It’s worth reading. The final paragraph: “The torture policy of the Bush Administration is a policy of, by and for torturers. It marks a radical departure from prior U.S. policies of honorable compliance with the Convention [against Torture]….”

I hope you’ll watch "60 Minutes" this evening and decide for yourself whether or not you think Kurnaz is telling the truth about what happened to him.

(photo of Kurnaz: CBS News)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

How to be a quiet crusader for Net Neutrality - meet Ben Scott

In January, my blogging buddy, Chris Borland, and I decided Net Neutrality is the most important issue and that we would collaborate on keeping it at the top of the heap of all the issues we both care about. It hasn’t been that easy because we both care about many, many issues.

But the time has come to focus on what we can do to keep the Net from a corporate takeover that leaves citizens with a greatly diminished opportunity to be active participants in the political process.

And it’s hard for the government to shut down Net news, unlike the print media. On March 27th, Dan Froomkin, who blogs for The Washington Post, commented on The New York Times’ December 2005 publication of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which the Bush administration tried to stop in after successfully delaying it for a year. In “The White House and the New York Times” section of the post (available by scrolling down here): “…[T]he White House ‘had considered seeking a Pentagon Papers-type injunction to block publication of the story’ led editors to ‘post it on the Internet the night before. . . . The administration might be able to stop the presses with an injunction, but they couldn't stop the Internet.’" [emphasis mine]

I’m motivated to DO SOMETHING to help save the Net.

Thank goodness, the path to effective citizen activism on this issue is already in place, thanks to Yesterday’s Washington Post article, "Net Neutrality's Quiet Crusader - Free Press's Ben Scott Faces Down Titans, Regulators in Battle Over Internet Control" has provided the inspiration and how-to: “Bearing video cameras, laptops and cellphones, a small army of young activists flooded into a recent federal meeting in protest….The tech-savvy hundreds came to the Federal Communication's hearing at Harvard Law School last month [where Comcast was caught packing the public seating with sleepy seat warmers] to push new rules for the Internet….

“A soft-spoken 30-year-old PhD candidate, Ben Scott has become an operator in multibillion-dollar battles involving corporate titans, regulators and consumers debating policies over who controls the media and the Internet….

“…Scott is no bombast. He doesn't interrupt people. When he speaks -- whether it's about media ownership or low-power radio -- he does so with a studied economy of words, and in a voice that makes people crane to hear him.”

What to do? On April 17th, there will be a FCC Public Hearing on Broadband Network Management at Stanford University, a mere two hours drive from my home. This is the West Coast version of the Harvard hearing, where the FCC will hear from expert panelists regarding broadband network management practices and Internet-related issues.

I’m going, hopefully with my blogging buddy, Chris. I will remain soft-spoken and not interrupt. I’ll work on “studied economy of words.” This should be easy because the public will not be given an opportunity to speak. I’m taking my laptop so I can live blog, my camcorder, and my cellphone so I can call John Nichols (my son and I met him on The Nation cruise in November of 05), co-founder of, in case I need help. Just kidding, John!

(photo of Ben Scott:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How important are newspapers?

Last night I read "Out of Print – The death and life of the American newspaper" in the March 31st issue of the New Yorker. It’s by Eric Alterman, who, among other things, is a columnist for The Nation, a fellow of the Nation Institute, and blogs at Altercation.

"Out of Print" is a great read. The bottom line:”Few believe that newspapers in their current printed form will survive. Newspaper companies are losing advertisers, readers, market value, and, in some cases, their sense of mission at a pace that would have been barely imaginable just four years ago.”

Do we need newspapers? Alterman thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree with him. With blogging in mind, each morning I check The New York Times and the The Washington Post. Then I check four well-known blogs, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Glenn Greenwald’s Unclaimed Territory. Scott Horton’s No Comment, and Steve Clemons’s The Washington Note. All of these bloggers are frequently “in the field,” and share what they learn first-hand. However, I’ve observed that they also rely on the newspapers to learn what’s going on. Often they don’t agree, but they use newspapers as a springboard for their posts. I, in turn, rely on these and other bloggers to help me understand what’s going on. Then I attempt to distill what I learn into a few paragraphs for my blog.

Virtually all of the actual reporting is done by reporters for newspapers, who have the financial and logistical support to cover the news where it’s happening. What if these reporters stopped reporting because the newspapers folded, as Alterman predicts? How will bloggers find out what’s going on?

As I think about this, I’m wondering if in fact there are plenty of people who are observing what’s going on and are reporting on it, but not in newspapers. For instance, there’s Nir Rosen, who wrote the excellent In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq and many articles, including "The Myth of the Surge." Rosen has spends time with the Sunnis, Shiites and our solders in Iraq.

Pepe Escobar also comes to mind. Described as an “extreme traveler,” he interviewed Masoud, the anti-Taliban leader of the Northern Alliance, shortly before he was assassinated (”Masoud: From warrior to statesman,” (Sept. 11, 2001). After visiting the tribal areas of Pakistan in August of 2001, he warned ”Get Osama! Now! Or else …”

And how are magazines doing? I’m consistently finding excellent articles in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, etc. Are they going under, too?

I don’t have an answer to how important newspapers are to our being an informed citizenry, I’m just thinking out loud.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It looks like the unthinkable has become thinkable: U.S. experts will stage a climate war game this summer

Yesterday, United Press International reported "U.S. experts will stage a climate war game." There’s a brief post about this today at Steve Clemons’s blog, The Washington Note, "Climate Wars: What to Do With the New Set of 'Climate Change Have-Nots'?"

The first thing that came to mind was the Pentagon’s February 23, 2004 report, "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security." At the top of the report is boxed-in text titled Imagining the Unthinkable.

The day after the Pentagon report was issued, Knight-Ridder published "Dramatic Climate Change Could Become Global Security Nightmare": “Imagine eastern European countries, struggling to feed their populations with a falling supply of food, water and energy, eyeing Russia, whose population is already in decline, for access to its grains, minerals and energy supply. Or, picture Japan, suffering from flooding along its coastal cities and contamination of its fresh water supply, eyeing Russia's Sakhalin Island oil and gas reserves as an energy source. ... Envision Pakistan, India, and China - all armed with nuclear weapons -skirmishing at their borders over refugees, access to shared rivers, and arable land.

"Military showdowns could be fast and furious, the report speculates: In 2015, conflict in Europe over supplies of food and water leads to strained relations. In 2022, France and Germany battle over the Rhine River's water. The U.S. Defense Department seals off America's borders to stanch floods of refugees from Mexico and the Caribbean. In 2025, as energy costs increase in nations struggling to cope with warmer and colder weather, the United States and China square off over access to Saudi Arabian oil. “ [emphasis mine]

With “climate war games” scheduled, it looks like the unthinkable has become thinkable. Clemons’s post: "’The security ramifications of climate change will affect both the developed and the developing world," said John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, a member group of the consortium. 'This unique event will challenge participants to confront both the domestic and international security challenges of climate change.'

”Participants in the game, 40 of them, from the United States, Asia and Europe, will ''provide a wide range of perspectives,' said the statement, adding the scenario would be based on the [November 5, 2007] report, 'The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change.' "

Led by the Center for New American Security, the consortium includes the Center for American Progress, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on and Brookings Global Economy and Development.

It’s distressing that these exercises are described as “war games.” It’s distressing that the United States, with 5% of the world’s population, has contributed 25% of the greenhouse gases causing global warming. As other countries and people suffer from lack of resources caused by global warming, this country (which will not be as adversely affected as many other countries) appears to be working on plans to make sure that they can’t get what we have rather than working on what we can do to help them. I hope the consortium comes up with a better plan.

(photo from BBC: Somalia is one of the countries worst affected by a drought which has hit the Horn of Africa, leaving some 11.5 million people in need of food aid.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Lame Duck Still Quacks" by Jon Spitz

Jon’s back. After taking a few weeks off to work on local issues involving water rights, Jon is again writing columns for the Mendocino County Observer. The Observer is the weekly newspaper in Laytonville, California, a town of 1,301 residents that straddles U.S. 101 one hundred and sixty miles north of San Francisco. Since last October, I’ve featured several of his columns with links below.*

His most recent, "Lame Duck Still Quacks," is well worth reading. In the first paragraph he sets the tone by stating “…[T]here is still a bloody war going on in Iraq and …we still have a sitting president who is literally getting away with murder.”

Jon focuses on the underreported war in Iraq, the negative impact of the “surge,” and the likelihood the war will rage on regardless of who is nominated for president next November.

Not just one war. We may be on the verge of a second war. Excerpt: “With virtually no Congressional resistance to his war in Iraq, Bush felt empowered to spend much of his recent trip to the Middle East trying to drum up support from Islamic countries for his plan to bomb Iran. Unlike the cowering US Congress, however, the leaders of these countries did not bow down to the naked emperor, and Bush came away with no local Middle Eastern support for his lunatic plan. But such rejection means nothing to Bush and the bombing of Iran is still very much on his agenda.”

There are many more insightful comments in the article. In Jon’s concluding paragraph he warns, “…Bush is not gone, and in these perilous months before the November election he is still in a position to do a lot of damage. Public beware – this lame duck is still quacking.”

Related reading: Today’s post by Dan Froomkin, "Bush's Peace of Mind" (scroll down to the second section). It describes Bush’s sangfroid in the face of the disastrous Iraq war: “Yesterday, as the American military death toll in Iraq passed 4,000, Bush's first public appearance was at the annual Easter Egg Roll, where he appeared in high spirits. Today he participated in a photo op with two bass-fishing champions. ‘There's nothing better than fishing,’ he said.”

* Jon’s previous columns:
"Full-spectrum impotence"
"Don't look now, but here come the thought police"
"The Suddenly Impeachable Mr. Cheney"
"Frank Rich....and Jon Spitz...comment on the Mukasey confirmation"
"The collapse has begun"

(photo of Jon provided by him)

Poisonous plants: I know more today than I knew yesterday

I spent all day yesterday with my grandchildren, Sophia and Rody James. I’ve been setting up their play area under a large privet tree in my front yard. Thanks to my astute son, Rody, who expressed concern when Rody James popped a privet berry in his mouth, I Googled “privet berries” and learned they are poisonous. Then I checked with the California Poison Control System and learned that it would take more than one berry to cause problems.

Their play area is no longer under the privet tree. My search revealed that other common plants, including several in my yard, are also poisonous. The rule: No plant material in the mouth!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Check out History Shots

This morning when I checked what Juan Cole had to say (I call him “my Middle Eastern expert”), I noticed a pop up ad for and saved it.

This evening I ordered "History of the Political Parties II." Click here and you can zoom in on the chart.

This is a growing enterprise, with 16 prints currently available, including Race to the Moon, Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music, and History of Life on Earth.

I think I’ve found the perfect place to find gifts for my family and friends.

(photo of History of Political Parties II chart)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Exposure - Bush's refusal to give up torture

This evening I read "Exposure - The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib" in the March 24th issue of the New Yorker.

The article, by Philip Gourevitch* and Errol Morris,** focuses on Specialist Sabrina Harman, who took hundreds of pictures at Abu Ghraib.

What I focused on was what was being done to the detainees. It appears to me that what was being done at Abu Ghraib in 2003 could still be going on. On March 8th President Bush vetoed the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act due to a provision that would have applied the Army Field Manual on Interrogations to all government agencies, including the CIA.

The Army Field Manual (AFM), officially known as FM 2-22.3: Human Intelligence Collection Operations (Sept. 2006), specifically bans the following in addition to a blanket prohibition of torture:
Forcing a prisoner to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.
Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a prisoner, and using duct tape over the eyes.
Applying beatings, electric shocks, burns or other forms of physical pain.
Using military working dogs.
Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
Conducting mock executions.
Depriving a prisoner of necessary food, water or medical care.

Bush’s veto means that he reserves the right to allow these practices to be used by the CIA and other government agencies we may not even know about. The descriptions of how the detainees at Abu Ghraib were treated in "Exposure" fits neatly into the list of procedures the CIA can continue to use, thanks to Bush's veto. You can bet there won’t be any Sabrina Harmans around to take photos.

On this Easter eve, I noted this comment near the end of the article: “Of course, the dominant symbol of Western civilization is the figure of a nearly naked man, tortured to death—or, more simply, the torture implement itself, the cross. But our pictures of the savage death of Jesus are the product of religious imagination and idealization. In reality, he must have been ghastly to behold. Had there been cameras at Calvary, would twenty centuries of believers have been moved to hang photographs of the scene on their altarpieces and in their homes?”

*Philip Gourevitch is editor of The Paris Review and A Cold Case.
** Errol Morris is the Academy Award winning director of "The Fog of War" and a new film coming out next month, "Standard Operating Procedures."
Gourevitch and Morris co-authored Standard Operating Procedures, which will be published in May.

Here are excerpts from Morris’s 9 hour interview with Harman, a clip from the film, a video of Morris and Gourevitch from the 2007 New Yorker Festival, and photographs of Harman and of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

(photo of Abu Ghraib detainee from Update Center at Britannica Encyclopedia)

Friday, March 21, 2008

From the kingdom of fear and my fearless attempt to stand up against our country's use of torture

My friend, Pat Denino, who blogs at Wondering Wanderings, has been creating stick figures with signs for my anti-torture campaign, which I posted about on March 18th.

Pat picked up on what I’m trying to do and on March 19th posted "From the Kingdom of Fear," linking to my post.

Pat is an artist. Her stick figures have a life of their own. She’s created a group of them (click on picture to enlarge):
I’m a word person. I’m working on what it is I’m trying to say to the people in my community about our country’s use of torture. I’m trying to do it nonviolently, meaning without anger.

On March 11th, I first learned about Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life. I’ve decided to try to apply the principles I’ve been reading about to all aspects of my life, including standing up against torture,

On page 6 of the book, Rosenberg describes the nonviolent communication (NVC) process as having four components:
1. observation
2. feeling
3. needs
4. request

Here’s my effort to apply NVC regarding torture:
1. observation: I am observing that our government is condoning the use of torture. David Cole, legal correspondent for The Nation says it so well in his comment in the March 31st issue of the magazine, "The Torture Veto," which Congress failed to override.
2. feeling: This is so wrong! On March 13th I posted "No Torture. No Exceptions," linking to the Washington Monthly special edition featuring 37 articles about why our country shouldn’t be using torture. I rest my case.
3. needs: I need to speak out about this. In a democracy, what our government does in our name creates a responsibility in us to visibly and vocally oppose actions that are contrary to what this country is all about. I am choosing to stand on a street corner with a sign showing that I’m opposed to our country’s use of torture.
4. request: I’m asking that the people in this country, starting with my community, do something to oppose torture. I don’t expect everyone to stand on a street corner, but surely those who oppose our use of torture can contact the media or our Congressional representatives.

(stick figures with a message thanks to Pat Denino)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Iran is back in Bush's gunsight - William R. Polk sees Iran through lenses of danger and opportunity

As I started to gather up the articles I planned to link to in my post about the likelihood of an attack on Iran before Bush is out of office, I came across a Washington Post March 21st article, "Iran a Nuclear Threat, Bush Insists - Experts Say President is Wrong and Is Escalating Tensions." From the article: “Experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation said the president's statement was wrong. 'That's as uninformed as Senator John McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda. Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It's just not true. It's a little troubling that the president and the leading Republican candidate are both so wrong about Iran,' said Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation."

I’ve posted numerous times about the likelihood of an attack on Iran. When the National Intelligence Estimate came out last December stating with high confidence that Iran had stopped its nuclear weaponization process in 2003, I thought, “That’s it. Bush can’t possibly attack Iran now.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even Juan Cole, who blogs at Informed Comment, appears to be getting concerned. On March 12th, he posted: “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates denied Tuesday that the abrupt resignation of Admiral William Fallon as CENTCOM commander indicates an imminent war against Iran. I think Gates's denial is credible. There is no sign of an American war on Iran, which would involve key positioning of warships, materiel and troops…. My guess is that the real reason for moving Fallon out is not Iran but Iraq, and that he is being made to step down for the same reason that Donald Rumsfeld was. He does not agree with the long-term troop escalation or 'surge' in Iraq….”

Today, Cole handed over his blog to William R. Polk,* whose guest op ed, "Iran: Danger and Opportunity." Polk starts with the March 12th US News & World Report article, 6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed for War in Iran." He elaborates on the six signs, including Cheney’s most recent visit to the Middle East, and asks if it’s “…deja vu all over again? U.S. News and World Report notes, ‘Back in March 2002, Cheney made a high-profile Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and other nations that officials said at the time was about diplomacy toward Iraq and not war…’ It was, as we now know, one of the concerted moves in the build-up to the already-decided-upon plan to attack Iraq.”

Is Juan Cole a little more concerned about an attack on Iran than he was a week ago? I don’t know, but I describe him as “my Middle East expert” and continue to rely on his blog to keep me informed. Regardless of Cole’s opinion, Polk’s guest op-ed is well worth reading.

* William R. Polk was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia from 1961 to 1965 and then professor of history at the University of Chicago where he founded the Middle Eastern Studies Center. He was also president of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. His most recent book is Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism & Guerrilla Warfare from the American Revolution to Iraq (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

(photo of William R. Polk:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"5 Years, 5 Lies"

This morning, Juan Cole, who blogs at Informed Comment, had the best summary of the five lies of President Bush and his advisors, one for each year of our war in Iraq.

“Year 1: ‘There is no guerrilla war.’

Year 2: ‘Iraq is a model democracy.’
Year 3: ‘Zarqawi is causing all the trouble.’
Year 4: ‘There is no Civil War.’
Year 5: ‘Everything is calm now.’

”I also suggest that John McCain is pushing for:

Year 6: ‘Total victory is around the corner.’"

Cole links to his article describing how "How President Bush and his advisors have spent each year of the war peddling mendacious tales about a mission accomplished."

In the run up to the war, I spent an incredible amount of time reading and watching the debates in Congress about whether or not Iraq represented a threat to this country. I concluded it didn’t. I’m just an ordinary citizen. If I could figure this out, I wonder why our elected representatives couldn’t.

Whether or not an individual opposed the war before it began, there is so much accurate information now available, particularly from people like Juan Cole, who comprehends Arabic, Persian and Urdu, that there’s really no excuse for believed Bush’s lies.

This evening I’m joining others* who oppose the war in Iraq on the plaza in my town, Healdsburg, to publicly protest our continuing occupation of that country.

* The Healdsburg Peace Project has been meeting every Thursday to oppose the Iraq war since October of 2002. They even show up on Thanksgiving!

(photo of the core members of the Healdsburg Peace Project)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Torture R US" - What do you think?

I’d like your opinion on what I plan to do.

I’ve decided I need to do more than blog* about our country’s use of torture

The plan:
1. To show up an evening or two a week on a busy street corner in my hometown, Healdsburg, waving a “Torture R US” sign.

2. If people express interest, I’ll hand them a one-page summary of why I’m doing this.

3. Encourage others to become visible in their communities on the torture issue, using any message that feels right to them.

Two reasons why I’m doing this:
1. In the introduction to the 37 articles in the Washington Monthly, "No Torture. No Exceptions," this paragraph stood out: “Over the past decade, voters have had many legitimate worries: stagnant wages, corruption in Washington, terrorism, and a botched war in Iraq. But we believe that when Americans look back years from now, what will shame us most is that our country abandoned a bedrock principle of civilized nations: that torture is without exception wrong” [emphasis mine]. I want to be able to say that I did everything I could to stop our country's use of torture.

2. How our country is treating terrorism suspects is affecting how other countries, groups and individuals treat “the enemy.” For example, in the April issue of Harper's Magazine, John Leonard reviews The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari. The review starts with a chilling description from the book of a Janjaweed man who tied a parent to a tree, then forced him/her to watch while he skewered his/her daughter on a bayonet and danced around with her in the air. Leonard describes the book as a “…..geography of an African tragedy….a Darfur the size of Texas, where ….’torture was the popular new thing because Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were everywhere in the news at that time, and crazy men …were now getting permission to be crazy'’’ [emphasis mine].

I want to take action locally because I can walk to the street corner and won’t be contributing to climate change.

Please e-mail me at or post a comment to let me know what you think about my plan or to propose a different plan.

* Previous posts here, here, here, and here.

(stick figure with sign: thanks to Pat Denino)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday scooter ride

Earlier today my neighbor Will and I took a ride around Dry Creek Valley. It was my first long trip (about 12 miles) on my Oxygen Lepton.

I’ve known Will since he was four years old. This was our first mini-road trip together. In his twenties and recently back from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Will rode his new motorcycle, slowing way down so he could stay with me as I got used to my sleek black and gray 230 pound behemoth. We stopped at the halfway mark, the Dry Creek Store, so I could check the LED screen on my scooter. When I got back home, I plugged it in, using mostly geothermal power from the nearby Geysers, the largest geothermal development in the world. Over 50% of the electrical energy for my town, Healdsburg, comes from the Geysers.

I’m leaving this afternoon for my son’s ranch out near the Geysers, to help take care of my 13 month-old twin grandchildren. I won’t be posting until I return home on Tuesday.

(photo of Will and me taken in front of the Dry Creek Store, source of the photo of the store; photo of the Geysers: U.S. Dept. of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

"How could you have done what you did?"

Currently the most read link at the New Yorker’s website is "Auschwitz album," a slide show of photos in a recently found album that is the subject of an article in the March 17th issue of the New Yorker, "Picturing Auschwitz" by Alec Wilkinson (abstract of article).

The album is at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and includes 116 photos, mostly portraying off-duty German officers who worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp

What struck me was a paragraph toward the end of the article: “Several people at the museum told me [Alec Wilkinson] that the strangest thing about the album for them is that a person can look again and again at the images and never find an answer to the question 'How could you have done what you did?' One thing is that is particularly troubling is the presence of so many doctors and the pseudoscientific legitimacy that their participation lent to the process. I showed the album to Robert Jay Lifton, the psychiatrist and author of 'The Nazi Doctors' (1986). Alcohol, Lifton told me, is what it made it possible for many of the doctors to persevere when killing was substituted for the imperative to heal, or at least to do no harm...."

Fast forward to our country’s use of torture, which I posted about here. I included a sketch of Diliwar, the 22 year-old Afghan taxi driver who died as a result of five days of torture. Evidence showed that Dilawar had no connection to the rocket attack for which he had been apprehended.

In 2005, Specialist Glendale Wells of the U.S. Army pleaded guilty at a military court to pushing Dilawar against a wall and doing nothing to prevent other soldiers from abusing him. Wells was sentenced to two months in a military prison. Two other soldiers convicted in connection with the case escaped custodial sentences.

I wonder if Specialist Wells, the two other soldiers implicated in Dilawar's death, interrogators and guards of detainees, members of the medical profession who are supervising the interrogations, and the leaders in this country who are continuing to authorize the use of torture are drinking a lot.

(photo: Laughter lines the faces of Auschwitz camp staff as they prepare for a sing-song from the Daily Mail)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday morning hike

This morning took a strenuous hike at Lake Sonoma with my friend, David Gonzalez. The hills are steep and David carried at least 35 pounds of rocks in his back pack as a “handicap” since I’m thirty years older then he is.

I really enjoy hiking with David. We are so different, not just separated by the gap in our ages but also because I’m unabashedly liberal and David is what I describe as a traditional conservative. I wrote about David for our county bar journal, available here. Our bond, in addition to being family law lawyers and enjoying hiking, is the importance we place on raising children so they know they are valued.

Since I’ve been very preoccupied by our country’s use of torture (see my recent post), I brought it up. I learned that David isn’t where I am on this issue, but we listened to each other. When I mentioned I plan to stand on a street corner waving a sign that says “Torture R Us,” he didn’t ridicule me. It’s helpful to have a conservative with whom I can talk about difficult issues. I’m grateful to have David for a friend.

(photo of David and his dog, Otis, whose political position is unknown)

Thursday, March 13, 2008


The use of torture by our country has bothered me for a long time. On November 20, 2007, I posted, "Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war." My final paragraph: “I wonder if our generation will be described as the ‘torture generation.' We live in a democracy, albeit a weakened one, but it’s not a dictatorship yet. How can we not be blamed if we allow our leaders to continue to torture?"

It's our "leaders" who continue to justify using torture. Its use is authorized by our president, George W. Bush and supported by Vice President Richard Cheney. Last Saturday, Bush vetoed the bill which would have required the CIA to be bound by the same anti-torture prohibitions mandated for the military.

Last Monday, Dan Froomkin, who blogs for The Washington Post, posted "A Legacy of Torture," which included excerpts from the February/March 2008 issue of the Washington Monthly. My hard copy arrived today and I urge everyone to either buy* the magazine or read ”NO MORE. No Torture. No Exceptions.” online. Thirty-seven people** have written articles about why using torture on so-called terrorists in an attempt to extract information must stop.

The drawing on the cover of the Washington Monthly is a sketch of Afghan detainee, Diliwar. He was a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver and farmer, weighed 122 pounds and was described by his interpreters as neither violent nor aggressive. Dilawar was taken into U.S. custody on December 5, 2002. He was deprived of sleep, chained to the ceiling of his cell, his legs were “pulpified,” and he died five days later.

I feel responsible. I wonder if you do.

*I’ve subscribed to the Washington Monthly because I’m a fan of Kevin Drum, who blogs for the magazine.

**Including Jimmy Carter, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, Carl Levin, Richard Lugar, and Lawrence Wilkerson

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What I learned last night

Yesterday afternoon I posted "Do you know your and your community's carbon footprint?, then went off to a local meeting on the issue of global warming.

I arrived at the meeting upset:

A. With myself because my carbon footprint is huge, i.e., I’m contributing several tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year;

B. Because the problem of global warming is so dire. This week, The Washington Post reported that "Carbon Output Must Near Zero to Avert Danger, New Studies Say";

C. Because our county sent as its representative to the UN international climate change convention in Bali an elected official, Paul Kelley, who had made these comments within the past few years:

“I am still not convinced that global warming is not a hysterical thing, a fad that will pass.”

“It’s sort of arrogant that people think that man can have such a catastrophic impact on the earth. I’m not so sure.”

And on and on and on. I felt anxious and critical of what I had read about local efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. I planned to question the speaker, Ann Hancock, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Protection Campaign, about why we weren't doing more.

After all, using the chart from her organization’s website, the commitment of our county to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% from the 1990 level by 2015 seemed woefully inadequate. Plus our county's greenhouse gas emissions rose at double the national rate between 1990 and 2000, and the graph (see yesterday's post) shows that it's continuing to rise at virtually the same rate from 2000 to 2010.

By the time I left the meeting last night, I had lost my angry edge. What happened? I relearned something very valuable: The most effective way of getting the message across is to refrain from blaming, ridiculing, or getting angry with those who don't believe that human beings are affecting our climate. It also helps to listen. Of course, these apply to all facets of my life.

I also learned that the best way to describe what is happening is this: “Climate change is caused by a manmade blanket of carbon dioxide that surrounds the earth and traps its heat.”

Ann mentioned Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life, which helped her become effective in carrying the message that we need to do something to protect our earth from overheating.

Why was I so impressed with Ann’s message? Because the very person who I thought would never change his mind, Paul Kelley, has now “come around.” So has the one hold-out on our city council.

I bought Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life this afternoon and plan to start reading it tonight.

(book cover: Language of Compassion)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Do you know your and your community's carbon footprint?

Yesterday I read in The Washington Post "Carbon Output Must Near Zero to Avert Danger, New Studies Say": “The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.” [emphasis mine]

I decided I’d better check my carbon footprint. According to the calculator at Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” website, mine is 2.55 tons per year, with the average in this country of 7.55 tons. Using the Carbon Footprint calculator, it’s 4.7 tons and looks a lot smaller than the average footprint for a person living in California but a lot larger than the goal for each of us throughout the world.

Then I became interested in what my small town, Healdsburg, is doing about its carbon footprint. There’s a push for a new large upscale development north of town, Saggio Hills, and its carbon footprint has not been calculated yet. Will Healdsburg consider this when it approves or disapproves the project?

What about my county, Sonoma. ? I’ll learn more this evening because Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, will be here in Healdsburg to talk about it. Hancock has been the driving force behind all nine Sonoma County cities adopting the country’s boldest target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 25% below 1990 levels by 2015.

But is this enough? When I look at the chart below, it doesn’t look like it to me (double-click to enlarge).

One other thing that bothers me about local efforts to reduce our carbon footprint is that Paul Kelley, who is a county supervisor, went to Bali to represent Sonoma County at the U.N. conference on climate change held in December.

How could Kelley, who said the following within the last three years, possibly represent our county at an international climate change conference?

1. “I am still not convinced that global warming is not a hysterical thing, a fad that will pass.”
2. “It's sort of arrogant that people think that man can have such a catastrophic impact on the Earth. I'm not so sure.''

I’ll go to the meeting this evening with an open mind. However, I suspect that I as an individual and my community, i.e., my town and my county, need to do more to reduce its carbon footprint.

(carbon footprint logo: Blogs Today (UK); chart of Sonoma County emission reductions: Climate Protection Campaign)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Being with babies beats blogging

I spent most of the day with my twin grandchildren, Sophia and Rody, 13 months old. We were outside most of the day, and it took a lot of energy to keep them happy and comfortable.

There are so many things I want to post about, but I will have to wait until I revive.

The good thing is that given the option of taking care of these infants or spending that time blogging, the babies win out every time!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Recommended reading: Scott Horton on the road to surfdom

Yesterday, Scott Horton, who blogs for Harper's, posted "Another milestone on the way to surfdom." It’s not an upbeat article. It describes three recent issues that are all being resolved unfavorably for we citizens: (1) The FISA Farce, (2) the NSL Scam, and (3) the Torture President.

Horton doesn’t think that a new president is going to make that much difference. I tend to agree.

Our Constitution is being eroded away. I used to think that people in this country should do what they love to do, i.e., make music, grow flowers, etc. I’ve come to believe that we all need to spend some time learning what’s going on and voicing our concerns to others, including our elected representatives. It’s time to wake up!

(drawing: Pablo Picasso. Sleeping Peasants. 1919. Tempera, water-color and pencil. The Museum of Modern Arts, New York, NY, USA)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

It's going to be a messy election in November

I’ve been involved in election integrity since 2004. In my opinion, there are more breaks in the voting process now than there were in 2000, when the United Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida and handed the election to George W. Bush.

I highly recommend that you watch the movie "Uncounted" by David Earnhardt. It’s being shown across the U.S., or you can order a DVD here.

If you need to be convinced that watching “Uncounted” is worth your time, I recommend you read the following:

A. "’Uncounted: The New Math of Elections’ and the Power of One," a great review by Joan Brunwasser, voting integrity author at OpEdNews.

B. David Earnhardt interview by Buzzflash.

I plan to be very involved in the voting process in November. After you watch “Uncounted,” you, too, may want to become involved. I have several suggestions and can be contacted at

(banner from “Uncounted” website)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Today's must read: "The banality of the surveillance state"

Glenn Greenwald, who blogs for has posted "The banality of the surveillance state," “Another federal database is launched to monitor the behavior of Americans, and, as usual, it receives little attention and has almost no oversight.

“Independent of revelations yesterday that the FBI has been abusing its NSL powers for years, it was also reported that the Federal Government is now launching "a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information." The system will store broad new categories of data about the behavior of Americans -- from the mildly suspicious to the perfectly innocuous -- and will create "new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues."

Yesterday I saw the articles Greenwald is referring to above and sent them off to my son, Jeff Jonas, because he’s created software that mines data. Also, Jeff was quoted in front page articles in The Washington Post about the NSL letters, here, and about the ineffectivness of warrantless eavesdropping in finding terrorists here (“Techniques that ‘look at people's behavior to predict terrorist intent,’ he [Jeff] said, ‘are so far from reaching the level of accuracy that's necessary that I see them as nothing but civil liberty infringement engines.’”

I’m not sure what I expect Jeff to do, but I’m hoping he can tell me that it isn’t as bad as it sounds.

The Greenwald post is worth reading in its entirety.

(Caricature of Glenn Greenwald from his blog)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What's the big deal about telecom immunity?

“One sunny day in San Francisco two winters ago, a retired telecommunications technician with an understandable distrust of telephones stepped off a BART train after a short but fateful ride. His name was Mark Klein, and his destination was a red brick office building in an untouristed part of the city dominated by low-rise warehouses. There he met with a small group of maverick, tech-savvy lawyers called the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“For Klein, then 60, this trip was a long time coming. As a veteran telecommunications technician and computer network associate at AT&T, he had in recent years obtained several company documents that described in specific, technical terms a secret room he says the National Security Agency (NSA) had set up on the sixth floor of an AT&T building downtown. Klein entered the room itself only once, and that was just for a couple of minutes. (Generally, people needed a security clearance to gain access.) However, just one floor above, he managed the Internet-traffic room to which it was electronically connected. Through that work, the documents he gathered, and conversations he had with other employees, Klein came to understand that his employer was colluding with the federal government to siphon a copy of billions of domestic Internet communications into that secret room, every second of every day. And all without a warrant. ‘Even Nixon didn't go that far,’ Klein thought. As he later told MSNBC, the situation made him think of George Orwell's classic 1984. ‘Here I was, being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.’ However, after complaining to a supervisor, with no result, he did not pursue the matter. He retired in 2004.” [emphasis mine] "Up Against Big Brother - The Electronic Frontier Foundation Takes on Warrantless Surveillance," February, 2007, California Lawyer Magazine.

The House is likely to capitulate and give AT&T and other telecom providers retroactive immunity. Once granted, it’s final. Mark Klein won’t be testifying in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T. The suit will be dismissed.

Sometimes I feel like giving up. Yet one more time, I will call my Congressional representative, toll free 800-828-0498, 800-614-2803 or 866-340-9281 and urge him vote no to letting the telecoms off the hook for knowingly disregarding the law to wiretap millions of ordinary U.S. citizens. When the leaders of this country advise private individuals and corporations to ignore the law and they cooperate with no consequences, we have a police state.

Recommended reading:

1. If you are concerned about whether or not it’s fair to hold the telecoms responsible for warrantless eavesdropping, I highly recommend Dan Froomkin’s March 3rd post, "Why Immunity Matters."

2. For background on how far this country has moved toward secret surveillance, Glenn Greenwald’s March 2nd post, "The 'liberal' position on the Surveillance State."

3. On the upcoming vote on telecom immunity, Glenn Greenwald’s March 3rd post, "House Democratic leadership: not just complicit but also self-destructive."

(photo The Coming New World Order)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

This morning, a double-winged brown bird cheered me up

I confess, I’m feeling discouraged.
* The Democratic presidential nomination contest is likely to become a nasty fight .
* The House Democrats are expected to roll over and vote for telecom immunity.
* The true cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq is likely to be at least three trillion dollars.
* It’s going to be a messy election in 2008. The statewide voter registration lists are highly likely to disenfranchise thousands of people.

I could go on, but my focus was changed this morning when my friend, Pat Denino, sent me a photo of a double-winged brown bird.

Pat has blogged for several years at Wondering Wanderings. Pat encouraged me to blog and helps me with technical problems. The bird photo encourages me to turn off my computer and go outside to enjoy the real birds that are chirping up a storm this spring morning.

(photo by Pat’s brother, Bob Fister)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies

Have you ever wondered about the more than four million Iraqis displaced by the war started by the U.S.? Where are they? Which countries are taking them in? What about those who have had to flee Iraq because their lives have been threatened for helping the US as translators, interpreters and drivers?

I’ve been aware of the mass misery of these displaced Iraqis, but now I’m going to learn more about these people as individuals, starting with those who have been put in harm’s way by allying themselves with the U.S. I’ve put The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies icon on my desktop. I’ve also signed up for e-mail updates.

There’s a good description of The List in Juan Cole’s March 1 post, "On Mercy and Redress."

George Packer, who writes and blogs for the New Yorker, has been paying attention to the Iraqis whose lives are at risk because they helped the US. His March 26, 2007 article, "Betrayed - The Iraqis who trusted America the most," and his November 16, 2007 post, "One Refugee's Story," are both worth reading.

(logo of the The List from its website)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"The Myth of the Surge"

The mainstream media quotes members of Congress and the president describing the surge in Iraq as an unqualified success.

From The Washington Post on February 27th, "Senate Agrees to Debate Bill on Iraq Pullout": “The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to begin debating a bill that would require the administration to start withdrawing forces from Iraq in 120 days and cut funding for battlefield deployments, a surprise move supported by Republicans who want to highlight the security achievements over the past year under President Bush's troop buildup strategy. [emphasis mine]

“Republicans remain almost unanimously opposed to any required withdrawal timeline, but they supported opening the debate because they want to draw attention to the decreased violence and other military progress in Iraq since the United States sent an additional 30,000 U.S. troops there last year. [emphasis mine]

"There's been so much improvement in the situation in Iraq. Since [Democrats] are the ones who want to turn back to the subject, we'd like to spend the time talking about the dramatic improvements in Iraq," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters moments before a preliminary vote on the withdrawal measure.” [emphasis mine]

Dan Froomkin, who blogs for The Washington Post, reported on Bush’s comments at the February 28th press conference here: “President Bush today defended his unpopular war in Iraq, accusing Democratic leaders of being in denial about progress there…. [emphasis mine]

"It seems that no matter what happens in Iraq, opponents of the war have one answer: retreat," Bush said at a press conference this morning. "When things were going badly in Iraq a year ago, they called for withdrawal. Then we changed our strategy, launched the surge, and turned the situation around. . . . [emphasis mine]

"It's interesting that many of the same people who once accused me of refusing to acknowledge setbacks in Iraq now are the ones who are refusing to acknowledge progress in Iraq."

I wonder why mainstream media journalists, with a few exceptions, don’t report on what Nir Rosen and Chris Hedges have to say about the surge. I’ve read Rosen’s In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs of Iraq and Hedges’s War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

Both men have risked their lives to report on what is really happening in war zones. Rosen’s Rolling Stone March 6th article "The Myth of the Surge" is a first-hand account of what he learned from meeting with both Sunnis and Shiites last December. It’s a stunning report about how the U.S. arming of Sunni Iraqis is already starting to backfire. It’s long, but you have the whole weekend to read it.

On February 25th, Hedges posted "The Calm Before the Conflagration" at Truthdig. Excerpts: “The supporters of the war, from the Bush White House to Sen. John McCain, tout the surge as the magic solution. But the surge, which primarily deployed 30,000 troops in and around Baghdad, did little to thwart the sectarian violence….

“The Sunni Arab militias, though they have ended attacks on U.S. forces, detest the Shiite-Kurdish government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and abhor the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil. They take the money and the support with clenched teeth because with it they are able to build a renegade Sunni army, a third force inside Iraq, which they believe will make it possible to overthrow the central government…. There are several hundred thousand well-trained Sunni Arabs who lack only an organizational structure. We have now made the formation of this structure possible. These militias are the foundation for a deadlier insurgent force, one that will dwarf anything the United States faced in the past. The U.S. is arming, funding and equipping its own assassins. “

(photo by Danfung Dennis: A father cares for his daughter after she fainted when US soldiers of Eagle Company, 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment entered the house during an operation in the East Rashid neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 12, 2007: Rolling Stone)