Monday, November 28, 2005

Democracy Now: William Sampson; Bill Moyers, Seymour Hersh, David Lindorff, Earl Ofari Hutchinson ...

Report: Pentagon Expands Ability to Spy At Home
The Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon has expanded its ability to spy on citizens within the United States. According to the Post, the Bush administration is considering allowing a little known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity to investigate certain crimes domestically . The Pentagon is also pushing legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exemption to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies. Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, said such an exemption would remove one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said "We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing."

32,000 Back Clemency for Tookie Williams
Backers of California death row prisoner Stanley Tooke Williams have submitted the signatures of 32,000 people supporting his petition for clemency. Williams is scheduled to be executed on Dec. 13. Williams is a co-founder of the Crips street gang. Since his imprisonment he has become a leading advocate against gang violence and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to review Williams' case next week.

U.S. Prepares to Execute 1,000th Person Since 1976
Meanwhile, the United States is about to execute its 1,000th prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. On average a prisoner has been executed every 10 days since 1976. 3,400 prisoners remain on death row.

UK investigates Shootings by Private Contractors in Iraq
The British Foreign Office is investigating allegations that private contractors with the defense company Aegis have randomly shot at Iraqi cars. According to the Telegraph newspaper, a video recently appeared on a site affiliated with Aegis that contained four clips of an unidentified gunman shooting at cars in Iraq. In one clip a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. One Iraqi Interior Ministry officials confirmed such shootings occur. He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done... I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."

The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Bernado, KeShawn, Lucy and Susan. Democracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):

Headlines for November 28, 2005

- Trial of Saddam Hussein Resumes in Baghdad
- Four Humanitarian Aid Workers Kidnapped in Iraq
- Ex-Iraqi PM: Torture As Bad Now As Under Hussein
- U.S. Admits Troops Burned Bodies of Taliban Fighters
- Major Climate Control Conference Opens in Montreal
- Report: Pentagon Expands Ability to Spy At Home
- 6,600 People Remain Missing Following Katrina
- 32,000 Back Clemency for Tookie Williams
- Cindy Sheehan Returns to Crawford Texas

American Citizen Jailed in Saudi Arabia for 20 Months Convicted in U.S. Court of Joining al-Qaeda and Plotting to Assassinate Bush

A 24-year old Arab-American was convicted Tuesday of joining al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush. Houston native Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was tried after spending nearly two years in a Saudi Arabian prison, where he says was tortured into making a confession. We speak with his attorney.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you be appealing on those grounds?
ASHRAF NUBANI: Well, the judge's finding is a credibility issue, which there is no appeal. He would have to have been wrong on the law. The joint venture issue that was alluded to in the Post article is an issue that we weren't able to flush out. And the problem with that was that the government had kept a lot of the material away from the defense team throughout the trial. I had applied for a security clearance that was denied by the government, and no specific reason was given. And it was too late for the rest of the team to apply for their own security clearances, and we had to bring in counsel that was cleared.

Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison: William Sampson Recounts his 2 1/2 Year Ordeal, Calls Torture "Morally Wrong, a Political Mistake" and Useless for Intelligence Gathering

We speak with William Sampson, a Canadian citizen who was jailed for over two and a half years in Saudi Arabia where he was accused of being a British spy. He was never tried, only tortured - including being beaten, raped and deprived of sleep. Under mounting international pressure, the Saudi government released Sampson in August 2003. He has written a book about his ordeal titled "Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison."

The highlights are a grab bag today with members finding a diverse group of topics and issues. We'll start with Lily's highlight, John Eggerton's "Moyers Has His Say" (Broadcasting & Cable) ("Moyers" is, of course, Bill Moyers):

You are the exemplar of liberal PBS bias, according to Ken Tomlinson. Was your show liberally biased?

Right-wing partisans like Tomlinson have always attacked aggressive reporting as liberal.
We were biased, all right--in favor of uncovering the news that powerful people wanted to keep hidden: conflicts of interest at the Department of Interior, secret meetings between Vice President Cheney and the oil industry, backdoor shenanigans by lobbyists at the FCC, corruption in Congress, neglect of wounded veterans returning from Iraq, Pentagon cost overruns, the manipulation of intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq.
We were way ahead of the news curve on these stories, and the administration turned its hit men loose on us.
Tomlinson actually told The Washington Post that he was irate over one of our documentary reports from a small town in Pennsylvania hard-hit by outsourcing.
If reporting on what's happening to ordinary people thrown overboard by circumstances beyond their control and betrayed by Washington officials is liberalism, I stand convicted.
It is an old canard of right-wing ideologues like Tomlinson to equate tough journalism with liberalism. They hope to distract people from the message by trying to discredit the messenger.
Now threw the fear of God into Tomlinson's crowd because they couldn't dispute the accuracy of our reporting.

Jonah notes Seymour Hersh's latest piece. As we've noted before, if you feel a sixties flashback, no one has slipped you window pane. (Jonah noted that he had to ask his father to explain that comment when it appeared here.) Point, the Bully Boys may change names but not methods. Bully Boy may or may not allow a token amount of troops to leave Iraq; however, he's got other plans as well. From Seymour M. Hersh's "Up In The Air: Where is the Iraq war headed next?" (The New Yorker):

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
"We're not planning to diminish the war," Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson's views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting--Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield."
He continued, "We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004." The war against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win," he said. "As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we're set to go. There's no sense that the world is caving in. We're in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message."
One Pentagon adviser told me, "There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don't think the President will go for it"--until the insurgency is broken. "He's not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics."

Again, for older members, if it all seems too familiar, it's not window pane, it is the Bully Boy. On the same topic, Eddie e-mails to note David Lindorff's "Troop Cuts After 12/15? What a Line of Bull! It's Stealth Escalation" (This Can't Be Happening!):

The Pentagon can only get away with calling the idea of cutting back the level of troops in Iraq from the current 155,000 to "just" 138,000 because of the total lack of historical context that prevails in today's mainstream newsrooms.

138,000 was the level of troops the US had in Iraq until a few months ago, when the level of attacks on them rose to such an extent that the Pentagon decided it had to add troops, using the looming Dec. 15 elections as a pretext. At that time, they said the increase was temporary, and that the level would be brought back down after the elections were over.

Now they are acting as if the drawdown following Dec. 15--if it actually happens--will be a reduction in troop levels, when in fact it would be no such thing--just a return to "normal" strength.

There are a number of topics covered in today's Democracy Now! Headlines. One topic is something KeShawn found a further highlight on, Earl Ofari Hutchinson's "Clemency For 'Tookie' Won't Sink Schwarzenegger" (The Chicago Defender*):

In 1990, Danville, Virginia residents were shocked at the execution style murder of a local businessman during what police described as a bungled drug deal. A jury swiftly convicted William Saunders of the killing. The betting odds were that Saunders would get the death penalty. The odds were even greater that he'd be executed. Virginia ranks close to Texas as an execute em' quick, and in large numbers, death penalty state.
Guilt was not an issue in his case. Saunders purportedly killed in cold blood. But he also had a jailhouse epiphany, and had become a strong advocate against drugs and violence. There were also hints of improprieties in his sentencing. Authorities praised Saunders' as a changed man. Though governors are scared stiff of being tagged as soft on crime, and of subverting the people's will, and routinely duck and run from clemency, in September 1997 conservative Republican Governor George Allen did what many thought unthinkable. He spared Saunder's life.
Six months after granting clemency, his approval rating was far higher than a year earlier. Saunders' clemency grant was not the sole factor in Allen's job performance rating climb, but his clemency act didn't hurt him. This defied the conventional wisdom that outraged voters punish governors that grant clemency to death row inmates. Allen took the humane step of granting clemency, and his political career didn't miss a beat. He left the governors post, ran and won a Senate seat.
Allen is no aberration. In the decade since 1993, 15 governors have granted clemency in death cases mostly on humanitarian grounds. Only one of the governors lost their reelection bid. In nearly every case the approval ratings of the governors that granted clemency remained steady or climbed. That's no guarantee that if California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger grants clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams, scheduled for execution December 13, there'll be an instant numbers reversal in his plummeting popularity.

Friday Democracy Now! had a one hour special broadcast:

A Tribute to Yip Harburg: The Man Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz
His name might not be familiar to many, but his songs are sung by millions around the world. Today a journey through the life and work of Yip Harburg, the Broadway lyricist who wrote such hits as "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" and who put the music into the Wizard of Oz. Born into poverty on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Yip always included a strong social and political component to his work, fighting racism and poverty. A lifelong socialist, Yip was blacklisted and hounded throughout much of his life.
Taking us on today's trip through the music and politics of Yip is his son, Ernie Harburg. First, we're going to go through Yip's early life, his collaboration with the Gershwin's, through "Brother Can You Spare A Dime." Then we're going to take an in-depth look at the Wizard of Oz. And finally, we'll hear a medley of Yip Harburg's Broadway songs and the politics of the times in which they were created. [includes rush transcript]

I'd noted that my favorite version of "Brother Can You Spare A Dime" from the episode was Judy Collins. A number of members e-mailed to share their favorites. Tori and Brady both picked Yip Harburg's version, Eli noted as Odetta's as his favorite, Charlie, Ethel, Donnie and Rachel noted Dr. John's as their favorite and Erika and Brad selected Judy Collins' version. If you missed the broadcast, Abhilasha notes you missed "an incredible program" and suggests you consider checking it out.

Staying with the topic of music for a moment, Alabama e-mails to note that the Rolling Stone's A Bigger Bang "makes a great Christmas gift." Alabama suggests that if you haven't listened to the CD, you check out two reviews. First, Kat's "Stones Keep Rolling." The second review is Phyllis' Pollack's "The Stones' Rough Justice in Bush Time" (CounterPunch):

As on past albums including Undercover, Black And Blue and Emotional Rescue, there is a well-stocked supply of dance rhythms on this album, found on tracks like the earthy, Latin-driven "Look What The Cat Dragged In," in which Jagger pulls out his claws and coughs up some deliberately aimed hairballs, complete with his dis towards a "dirty old mouse."
A lyrical reverse of Richards' previous work, "Thief In The Night," the tables are turned in "She Saw me Coming," as Jagger warbles, "She busted in and burglarized my soul, but now the bad news, she's out on parole." Here, Jagger is transparent, while not being able to see what is right is in front of him.

The gritty "This Place Is Empty" features Keith Richards, accompanied by the album's producer, Don Was, on keyboards, with Jagger on guitar. Blondie Chaplin's vocals are a perfect weave around Richards' cigarette-stained voice, as they waft past Watts' subtle percussion.

Again joined by Blondie Chaplin on vocals and Jagger on harp, "Infamy" is Richards' play on words, and it is yet another one of Richards' handful of songs throughout his career, in which he mentions the subject of dreams, and things that are not what they seem. On this forty-proof, relentless track, he tries to figure out why he is a target for hostility.

"Oh, No Not You Again" is reminiscent of the band's late Seventies Some Girls period, with its frenetic rant from Jagger, "It was bad the first time, I can't stand it twice." With its lyrics about running from a dangerous temptress, this song could have been sequenced right after "Respectable." Like that song about "the easiest lay on the White House lawn," in "Dangerous Beauty," Jagger delivers taunts with a D.C. backdrop, including, "You're a favorite with the Chiefs of Staff/You're a natural working with dogs." Perhaps this time around, he was thinking of Condaleezza Rice.

On the topic of higher education, we have two things to note. Molly e-mails to note Katrina vanden Heuvel's "The Plight of Public Universities" (Editor's Cut, The Nation):

There's a crisis in this country in higher education--and the House GOP's reckless fiscal policies are making it worse. To pay for the rebuilding costs associated with Hurricane Katrina, House Republicans just last week passed $50 billion in budget cuts, eviscerating student loan programs, Medicaid and food stamps while simultaneously seeking to enact a five-year $57 billion tax break for millionaires and corporations. ("The beauty of taking the cuts out of Medicaid and student loan that it doesn't reduce the flow of funds to the Republican campaign committees by a single dime," Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson observed.)
Make no mistake: the loan cuts could be devastating for low- and middle-income students. The Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities which fought to build opposition to the GOP's budget cuts said that New York students and their families would be looking at a $6,000 hike in costs for higher education should the GOP cuts take effect.
This assault on the poor and the middle-class comes at a low moment in higher education in general. Republicans' fiscal policies have made college less affordable for many. And with less money available at the state and federal level, schools have had to raise tuition and impose other costs on families least equipped to bear the burden.

Brian e-mails to note "Look Who's Screaming 'Special Right'" (The Third Estate Sunday Review). I'll post that editorial in full later in the week but we'll do an excerpt in (selected by Brian) in a moment. There were Blogger problems (Blogger is the program community members use) Sunday and The Third Estate Sunday Review had troubles getting pieces to post. (Similar problems occurred here which is why Sunday morning's entry was e-mailed to the site.) The editorial finally posted late on Sunday. Ava and I were getting some items posted and I don't remember when what we could get to post hit. But there's a book discussion and other things of note there so if you checked The Third Estate Sunday Review early Sunday and saw nothing or very little new contenct, the full edition is up. Here's the excerpt Brian selected:

The article in the paper (by Thomas Vinciguerra) offers excerpts from texts for these non-credited courses. The information imparted in those texts may be useful to someone's spirituality or not. They're not helping to educating the students on the basics that one needs to enter college.

No one's forcing the schools to drop those courses. They can offer them. They just shouldn't whine when colleges refuse to accredit them. We're sure the parents are outraged. They've spent good money sending their children to private schools. That's a problem between the parents and the schools they selected for their children.

Nothing prevents the schools from offering the same information in elective courses. But the courses aren't covering the core information that a student entering college needs.

That's not the fault of university standards.

Text books containing (as fact) statements such as "Second, physics as taught in the schools of the world contradicts the processes that shaped the world we see today" aren't teaching core academic requirements. They're teaching opinion and they can continue to do that. No one's stopping them.

They just shouldn't demand that academic standards be lowered to give them "Special Rights."

Brian wonders why we didn't include the 60 Minutes segment in the editorial (see "A note to our readers")? I'll speak for me. Core content, fine. But I wasn't going to support standardized testing as something that doesn't have inherent problems. (I wasn't the only one who felt that way.) Dona and I were both saying "no" to adding to the editorial (adding the 60 Minutes segment) because the editorial had taken a lot of work to include only what everyone involved could support (or live with having their name attached to). I seriously doubt anyone participating would have a problem with including something from or about Lesley Stahl's report, but without asking, that's a guess. Since it was Dona, Jim, Ty, Jess, Ava and myself at that point, Dona and my opinion was that it wasn't fair to others to alter the editorial we'd all agreed upon in any way without the permission from all who participated.

By the way, if you missed "The Debate Over Plan B" (the 60 Minutes segment), here's an excerpt from the beginning of Lesley Stahl's report:

Until last August, Dr. Susan Wood headed the FDA's Office of Women's Health and was one of the scientists inside the agency arguing that Plan B should be available without a prescription. "If it's safe, and it is, and effective, it's more effective the quicker you have it. This is why it needs to be over-the-counter," she says.

"If you need it on Saturday morning, Monday morning is too late. Getting to a physician to get a prescription, getting that prescription to a pharmacy and getting it filled takes time, as we all know. Then what are you going to do?" says Wood.

That's a question that a woman named Evelyn faced last year, when she was raped at a New York nightclub.

Evelyn, age 22 at the time, was rushed to St. Vincent's hospital, the nearest emergency room.

She says the hospital did not offer her an emergency contraceptive.

"It was something that they were supposed to offer," says Evelyn's mother, Sandi. "In the situation as my daughter's, as Evelyn's situation, they were supposed to offer, you know, and let the person make the decision as to whether or not they wanted it. I didn't know that it was optional."

Sandi says she knew about a New York law that says all hospitals must offer rape victims emergency contraception like Plan B.

Sandi called the nurse who had treated Evelyn at St. Vincent's. "I said, 'Why did you not give it to her?' And she very rudely said to me, 'Well, we're a Catholic hospital. We don't do birth control.'
At which point, I told them what they could do with being a Catholic hospital and their views on birth control -- I'd rather not say that on the air," she recalls. "I was absolutely livid."

Because of Evelyn's case, St. Vincent's is under investigation by the state of New York. The hospital told 60 Minutes it is now complying with the law.

Make time to check out Maureen Farrell's column at BuzzFlash, "Tired of Being Lied Lied to? Modern History You Can't Afford to Ignore." If you're a longterm BuzzFlash reader, you'll be thrilled to know Farrell has a new column. If you're new to the name, her works been cited in Rolling Stone as well as by Project Censored.

Lastly, Rachel e-mails to note this event tonight:

Mon., Nov. 28: Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman in New York
7:00 pm at Soundgatherer's Benefit on West 43rd Street.
Monday, November 28, 7:00 PM
Soundgatherers Benefit.
MLK Labor Center
310 West 43rd St.
New York, NY

Tickets are $10 at the door.
Spread the word! For event details and a complete schedule of tour dates, go to The website has an easy event-by-event Email A Friend option.

Again, that's tonight.

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[Note from Ava: Post corrected to credit The Chicago Defender.]