2010 - %3, February

O'Reilly: Oath Keepers Invite Anarchy

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 7:05 AM EST

What happens when Tea Party-minded soldiers and police—largely Obama-hating, Communist-fearing, Glenn Beck-listening white men with weapons and combat training—are encouraged to take matters into their own hands?

In our upcoming March/April issue, Justine Sharrock spends quality time with the Oath Keepers, one of the "patriot" movement's fastest-growing promoters of revolutionary angst and conspiratorial rhetoric.

Here's Sharrock's capsule description:

There are scores of patriot groups, but what makes Oath Keepers unique is that its core membership consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution—but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey "unconstitutional" orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.

Last Thursday, following a New York Times story about the increasingly violent atmosphere at Tea Party rallies, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes appeared on The O'Reilly Factor to counter criticism from the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the segment, Rhodes portrays Oath Keepers as little more than a bunch of average Americans trying to hold on to their constitutional rights. But his host isn't buying it. After Rhodes explains his goal of inspiring soldiers and police to disobey unconstitutional orders, O'Reilly responds, "if it's a matter of interpretation, you could have anarchy easily." Watch the clip below:

O'Reilly got this one right. In her profile, Sharrock also hangs out with Lee Pray, an alienated active duty soldier who identifies with the group and takes its fearful rhetoric at face value (like the assertion that our rogue federal government will find some pretext to declare martial law and start rounding up citizens into camps). That guys like Pray are stockpiling weapons in preparation for such an eventuality is proof enough that soldiers shouldn't be drawing their own constitutional lines in the sand. (Unlike Rhodes, his foot soldiers are not constitutional lawyers.)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 22, 2010

Mon Feb. 22, 2010 7:00 AM EST

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Paratroopers with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist), land on a drop zone near Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, Feb. 12, as part of a training exercise they hope will lead to combined US Iraqi training jumps. Photo via the US Marines.

15 Minutes With Yoko Ono

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 6:45 AM EST

Yoko Ono still wants to reconnect humanity with its long-lost id. From Fluxus to songstress, the 77-year-old has used every free-associative vocal, literary, and visual avant-garde tool at her disposal to help resuscitate the uncensored thoughts of audiences around the world. Born in 1933 in Japan, Ono was the first female artist to market experimental primal wails as legitimate music at a time when demure vulnerability was prized over a woman’s angst-ridden screams. Her proto-feminist punk, often orgasmic vocals were inspired by childbirth; musically, her spawn includes bands like Deerhoof, Animal Collective, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill and the whole riot grrrl gang—who owe their flagrant embrace of the loud and the absurd to Ono's radical displays of freedom. I spoke with Ono—who performs at Noise Pop in San Francisco this week—about her work and to get her take on why female artists married to male artists often find their talent overshadowed. Prepare for sass.

Mother Jones: Musically, you were doing the uninhibited primal scream thing way before anyone else, I think…

Yoko Ono: That’s the truth, that’s the truth.

MJ: Which just makes it perfect that you’re headlining a show with Deerhoof. In the past, you’ve pointed to John Cage, Edgar Varese, Ornette Coleman and other free-jazz staples as musical inspirations.

YO: I wouldn’t say that they were my musical inspiration. Yes, there’s that too. But as a woman, I’d like to define it that it was both: They probably were inspired too.

MJ: Who inspired you vocally?

Music Monday: Black Like Appalachia

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 6:30 AM EST

Various Artists
Classic Appalachian Blues
Smithsonian Folkways

These 21 tracks, part of Smithsonian Folkways' compilation series, include blues greats like Archie Edwards, Pink Anderson, and Etta Baker. The collection draws exclusively from artists who learned their trade in the Southern Appalachians. Some, like Martin, Bogan & Armstrong—a black string band who toured the region on foot—and Peg Leg Sam Jackson who learned his mean harmonica from decades with an itinerant medicine show.

The recordings cover a period from 1948 to 1977; the later ones being mostly performances at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, a pillar of the national folk revival, which unfolded toward the end of these artists' lives.

According to the 36 pages of history-packed liner notes, the disc "dispels the notion that Appalachian music is limited to country performed by white men and women, and that blues is unique to black musicians of the Mississippi Delta region...The Appalachian blues tradition is far more integrated than Delta or Texas blues." Mining and lumber industries brought people of various ethnicities to Appalachia, resulting in a unique musical permutation. It's not entirely old-time country, folk, or deep Southern blues, but includes elements of all three.

New Use for Old Computer Cords

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 5:30 AM EST

Next up in our series of creative ways to avoid sending your e-waste to the landfill: a new use for old computer cords. I have a few dead ones haunting my desk drawers, ghosts of computers past. The excellent new book 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics) has a few neat project ideas for these, one of which is a coaster (which, incidentally, we could really use in my house, since my poor roommate cringes every time we put drinks on the cool table she got from her grandparents). Here's how to turn your old cables into coasters:

Materials:

Large plastic cup

Placemat-size piece of cork

Marker

Scissors

Diagonal cutters

Computer power cable

Gaffer's or duct tape

Hot-glue gun

Instructions:

1. Trace a circle: Place the cup upside down on the cork mat. Trace a circle around the lip of the cup and cut it out with a pair of scissors.

2. Snip. Cut off the end of the power cable that would normally connect to the computer. Cut an additional 2" piece of cable from the end and set it aside for later.

3. Make a tape square. Cut two approximately 4"-long pieces of tape. Lay them sticky-side-up next to each other to form a square on your work surface.

4. Make the initial loop. Coil the trimmed end of the cable into the tightest possible loop that you can make. Stick it firmly onto the center of the tape square.

5. Coil it. Continue to tightly coil the cable around the center loop utnil you have created a similar spiral just slightly bigger than the cork circle. Your coil should be stuck firmly to the piece of tape. Use the 2" piece of cable you cut in Step 2 to plug the opening in the center of the coil.

6. Glue. Liberally apply hot glue to the surface of the wire coil. While the glue is still hot, center and press the cork circle over the coil. Hold it firmly in place until it dries.

7. Trim. Cut off the excess cable where it starts to spiral out from under the piece of cork. Glue the end of the cord and hold it in place until dry.

8. Peel. Flip the coaster over (so the cork side is down) and gently peel off the tape. If needed, fill the center of the coaster with hot glue to further seal it.

E-waste pack rats rejoice: The cord coaster is just one of Randy Sarafan's bright ideas. The be-ponytailed craftsman offers step-by-step instructions on how to make a first-aid kit out of a broken iPod, turn your old laptop into a digital photo frame, and make a dead mouse into either a pencil sharpener or a mini garden. We'll be featuring more of these projects over the next few weeks. So resist the urge to trash your old 'tronics for just a little while longer, okay? Cable cord project excerpted from 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer (and Other Discarded Electronics). Copyright 2010 by Randy Sarafan. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York. All Rights Reserved. 

Lying About Torture, Part 2

| Sun Feb. 21, 2010 7:04 PM EST

A few days ago, Jonathan Bernstein pointed out that former Bush/Rumsfeld speechwriter Marc Thiessen was continuing to claim that the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2003 helped foil a terrorist plot to crash an airplane into a Los Angeles skyscraper. This was obviously a lie. Why? Because the cell leaders of the LA plot were arrested a year before KSM was captured.

Apparently this kind of crude, low-rent deception isn't limited to Thiessen. It turns out that the same sort of clumsy lying was also part of the CIA's classified "Effectiveness Memo," which the Bush administration relied on to bolster its legal case for torturing terrorist suspects. In Newsweek yesterday, Michael Isikoff reported that the recently released Justice Department report about the lawyers who approved the CIA's interrogation program spilled the beans on what this memo said. In particular, the memo defended torture by claiming it was critical to the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda:

One key claim in the agency memo was that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogations of Zubaydah led to the capture of suspected “dirty bomb” plotter Jose Padilla....“Zubaydah’s reporting led to the arrest of Padilla on his arrival in Chicago in May 2003 [sic].”

But as the Justice report points out, this was wrong. “In fact, Padilla was arrested in May 2002, not 2003 ... The information ‘[leading] to the arrest of Padilla’ could not have been obtained through the authorized use of EITs.” (The use of enhanced interrogations was not authorized until Aug. 1, 2002 and Zubaydah was not waterboarded until later that month.)....As Newsweek reported last year, the information about Padilla’s plot was actually elicited from Zubaydah during traditional interrogations in the spring of 2002 by two FBI agents, one of whom, Ali Soufan, vigorously objected when the CIA started using aggressive tactics.

If torture were really as effective as the Thiessen/Cheney wing of the conservative movement thinks, they'd hardly risk resorting to such obvious lies to defend it. They'd have so much good evidence in favor of it that they wouldn't need to bother. But apparently they don't.

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Democracy for Sale, California Style

| Sun Feb. 21, 2010 4:32 PM EST

LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, who is on something of a crusade against big corporations hijacking the California initiative process, tells the story today of a big corporation hijacking a municipal initiative process in order to exempt itself from the laws that apply to everyone else. The city is Carpinteria, on the Pacific coast just north of Los Angeles:

The corporation is Venoco Inc., an independent oil company with revenue of more than half a billion dollars a year, which currently owns an oil storage facility in Carpinteria....This Denver-based firm is spending lavishly to pass a ballot initiative specifically exempting itself from the city's industrial development and environmental rules.

That's because it's afraid that Carpinteria's elected officials, left to their own devices, might not greenlight its proposal to operate a 10-story oil derrick round the clock on its property next to a 225-home residential neighborhood and on the edge of the ecologically sensitive coastal bluffs.

[Gruesome details follow.....]

So here we are on the cusp of a new California trend: businesses that don't care to bother with legitimate government regulatory procedures scampering directly to the voters. All it takes is money. Venoco has reported spending more than $155,000 on the initiative up to the end of 2009, but a company spokesman told me last week that more money has been spent since then. And the election is still three months away.

So let's take a guess and say that Venoco is going to spend half a million dollars in a city with 6,000 registered voters. It's democracy in action! One can only hope that, regardless of the merits of Venoco's case, the residents of Carpinteria are smart enough to defeat this resoundingly just to send the appropriate message. The corporatization of the California initiative process has been a cancer for a long time, and it's long past time to put a stop to it.

On Torture

| Sun Feb. 21, 2010 1:40 PM EST

Gen. David Petraeus on whether he wishes Bush-era interrogation techniques were available to him for the questioning of captured Taliban military leader Abdul Ghani Baradar:

Whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside....Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility. Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works.

Conservative Mike Potemra, responding at National Review to critics who insist that he offer a clear definition of what he considers torture:

Instead of trying to find a definition, and to get everyone to agree to it, I ask myself the following, about any given interrogation practice: “If agents of Fidel Castro’s regime, or of China’s laogai, engaged in this activity, would I condemn it as torture?” That, I think, is the wisest course, because asking this question prevents me from endorsing acts that might be evil simply because it may be in my own self-protective interest (as an American who doesn’t want to be injured or killed in a terrorist attack) to do so.

As Potemra says, it isn't hard to define torture if you're honest with yourself. And as Petraus says, it isn't hard to figure out that regardless of whether or not it produces short-term gains, torture nearly always plays into your enemies' hands in the longer run. The case against torture is both profoundly moral and concretely pragmatic and always has been.

Why Small Bore Healthcare Reform Doesn't Work

| Sun Feb. 21, 2010 12:59 PM EST

Everyone — Democrats, Republicans, tea partiers, you name it — is supposedly in favor of banning insurance companies from turning down people with preexisting conditions. When you ask about small, bipartisan changes we could make in the healthcare arena, this is one of the proposals that gets hauled out most frequently.

Now, the reason you can't implement this except as part of a larger reform effort is pretty obvious. I've written about it numerous times, including here and here. But just in case you need a case study to convince your friends, the LA Times writes today about New York state's experiment with guaranteed issue:

The state has become a victim of a dangerous dynamic in insurance markets. Laws allowing consumers to buy insurance at any time often saddle companies with a lot of high-cost customers. That in turn drives up premiums, pushing away younger, healthier people who are vital to a functioning insurance system.

"You basically can't have a functioning insurance market if people can buy insurance on the way to the hospital," said Mark Hall, a Wake Forest University economist who studied New York's experience.

....[In 1992] state lawmakers approved the "guaranteed issue" provision, which prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to customers, even those with preexisting conditions. Such rules became popular in the early 1990s, as states including New Jersey and Washington contended with insurance companies that were denying coverage to people with preexisting health problems.

New York went further, becoming the first state to also include a "pure community rating" requirement that prohibited insurers from varying premiums based on customers' age or health, another common industry practice. Three years later, the state required all HMOs to offer a comprehensive, standardized package of benefits.

The law allowed consumers to buy insurance after they became sick with only a relatively short waiting period. They could also drop it when they no longer needed it. The New York insurance market did not collapse, as some insurers had warned. But in the ensuing years, more older and sicker New Yorkers bought individual health plans. And premiums shot upward.

Well, yes. If the only people who buy coverage are ones who know their claims will be higher than their premiums, insurance companies are toast. They'll just keep raising their prices in an endless spiral to keep up with their losses. The only answer is to mandate that everyone be covered all the time so that insurance companies have a reasonable pool of customers to balance out their gains and losses. And then provide subsidies to low-income families that can't afford the coverage they're legally required to have. And then put in a funding source to pay for the subsidies.

What a great idea that would be! And just think: Both the House and the Senate have already approved bills that would do exactly this. All they have to do now is reconcile a few modest differences and pass them. So what's stopping them?

POSTSCRIPT: On another healthcare note, I wrote a post two days ago saying that I didn't remember ever seeing the mainstream press explain the endlessly repeated Republican proposal to allow insurance policies to be purchased across state lines. Well, David Adesnik found one. It was on page 20 of last Sunday's New York Times. You can read it here.

Was Joseph Stack a Terrorist?

| Sat Feb. 20, 2010 9:55 PM EST

Was Joseph Stack a terrorist? Andrew Sullivan says yes: "This was obviously an act of terrorism. When someone is mad at the government, and when he flies a plane into a federal building, killing two and traumatizing countless others and urges others to do the same, he is a terrorist." Glenn Greenwald says yes: "The issue isn't whether Stack's grievances are real or his responses just; it is that the act unquestionably comports with the official definition." Dave Neiwert says yes: "Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism?" Dave then helpfully supplies the FBI's official definition:

Domestic terrorism refers to activities that involve (1) acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; (2) appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (3) to influence the policy of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (4) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)]

Well, let's take a look at this. I've added numbers to the FBI definition for easy reference, and obviously Stack met conditions #1 and #4. No argument there.

But how about #2? Was Stack trying to intimidate civilians? In his manifesto he says, "Nothing changes unless there is a body count....But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change." Italics mine. This means (obviously) that he was willing to kill himself to make a point. Then there's this: "I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt." Is he talking here about more killing of civilians? Or is he hoping that other people follow his lead and kill themselves, with the numbers eventually getting so big that the "American zombies" wake up? At best, it's unclear. He's certainly not trying to inspire civilian fear here (he wants them to wake up, not give in), but beyond that it's hard to say.

But if #2 is ambiguous, #3 isn't: Stack doesn't really have a policy he wants changed. He's mad at the government, he's mad at paying unfair taxes, and he's mad at the turns his life has taken. But if, instead of killing people, suppose he had been holding them hostage. What would his demands have been? Repeal of Section 1706 of the tax code? That's about the closest he comes to saying something specific.

"Jews out of Palestine" is a policy grievance. Ditto for "abortion is murder," "freedom for Tamil," and "Jim Crow forever." But all Stack has is a vague and inchoate rage caused by his feeling that he's been screwed by the IRS and nobody is willing to help him. Calling that a policy grievance is to strip the word of all meaning.

Not everybody who goes postal is a terrorist. Stack didn't have a political agenda in the usual sense of the word, he was just a guy who'd reached the end of his rope and finally snapped. That happens to thousands of people every year. Stack may have chosen to end his life a little more spectacularly than most, but that doesn't raise him to the level of a terrorist.

POSTSCRIPT: Just for the record, I agree with all the commenters (and others) who say that if Stack had been a lone wolf Muslim who had some equally vague complaints about, say, being treated badly by U.S. customs officials, right-wingers would be quick to call it terrorism if the guy snapped and killed a few in revenge. But they'd be wrong, and the way to fight this attitude is not for lefties to insist that Stack is a terrorist too, it's to insist that we use the word properly for everyone. You need to have some kind of at least semi-coherent political agenda to be a terrorist, and "the IRS sucks" is no more one than "the INS sucks."