Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Did Bush/Cheney Authorize Nazi-Like Experimentation on Humans?

Various aspects of what the Senate torture report revealed in therms of the torture and war crimes authorized the the evil duo of Chimperator George Bush and Emperor Palpatine Cheney.  Less discussed is a related aspect of what the CIA did under the authorization from the White House: experimentation on humans to find ways to break them.  It's something right out of the annals of what the Nazi regime and Gestapo did in Germany in the 1930's and early 1940's.  Any decent American ought to be horrified by this revelation.  Frighteningly, many are not and it speaks volumes about America's further moral descent under those who claim to be the champions of "Christian values."  The Nation looks at some of these less reported horrors:
Human experimentation, in contrast, has not been politically refashioned into a legitimate or justifiable enterprise. Therefore, it would behoove us to appreciate the fact that the architects and implementers of black-site torments were authorized at the highest levels of the White House and CIA to experiment on human beings. Reading the report through this lens casts a different light on questions of accountability and impunity.

The “war on terror” is not the CIA’s first venture into human experimentation. At the dawn of the Cold War, German scientists and doctors with Nazi records of human experimentation were given new identities and brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip. During the Korean War, alarmed by the shocking rapidity of American POWs’ breakdowns and indoctrination by their communist captors, the CIA began investing in mind-control research. In 1953, the CIA established the MK-ULTRA program, whose earliest phase involved hypnosis, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. The program evolved into experiments in psychological torture that adapted elements of Soviet and Chinese models, including longtime standing, protracted isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation. Those lessons soon became an applied “science” in the Cold War.

During the Vietnam War, the CIA developed the Phoenix program, which combined psychological torture with brutal interrogations, human experimentation and extrajudicial executions. In 1963, the CIA produced a manual titled “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” to guide agents in the art of extracting information from “resistant” sources by combining techniques to produce “debility, disorientation and dread.” Like the communists, the CIA largely eschewed tactics that violently target the body in favor of those that target the mind by systematically attacking all human senses in order to produce the desired state of compliance. The Phoenix program model was incorporated into the curriculum of the School of the Americas, and an updated version of the Kubark guide, produced in 1983 and titled “Human Resource Exploitation Manual,” was disseminated to the intelligence services of right-wing regimes in Latin America and Southeast Asia during the global “war on communism.”

In the mid-1980s, CIA practices became the subject of congressional investigations into US-supported atrocities in Central America. Both manuals became public in 1997 as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation by The Baltimore Sun. That would have seemed like a “never again” moment.

But here we are again. This brings us back to Mitchell and Jessen. Because of their experience as trainers in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, after 9/11 they were contacted by high-ranking Pentagon officials and, later, by lawyers who wanted to know whether some of those SERE techniques could be reverse-engineered to get terrorism suspects to talk.

[U]ntil the program was dry-docked in 2008, at least thirty-eight people were subjected to psychological and physical torments, and the results were methodically documented and analyzed. That is the textbook definition of human experimentation.

My point is not to minimize the illegality of torture or the legal imperatives to pursue accountability for perpetrators. Rather, because the concept of torture has been so muddled and disputed, I suggest that accountability would be more publicly palatable if we reframed the CIA’s program as one of human experimentation. If we did so, it would be more difficult to laud or excuse perpetrators as “patriots” who “acted in good faith.” Although torture has become a Rorschach test among political elites playing to public opinion on the Sunday morning talk shows, human experimentation has no such community of advocates and apologists.
Not all at the CIA and within the military bought into torture and experiments on human beings.  A piece here looks at these unsung heroes who supported decency. 

Virginia's 20 Craziest Politicians

Lowell has a great list of Virginia's craziest politicians at Blue Virginia and not surprisingly, 85% of them are Republicans.  Included in the pack of asylum escapees are the GOP's 2013 "dream team" of Cuccinelli, Jackson and Obenshain.  And one can never leave out spittle flecked homophobe Del. Bob Marshall.  When one looks at the insanity of these Republican's I can only shake my head and think "WTF happened to the party I once supported."   Here are excerpts on some of these GOP loons:
The following list is inspired by GQ's just-published "America's 20 Craziest Politicians" (Steve King, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Joe Barton, etc.). For my list, I'm sticking to Virginia elected officials, people who have been Virginia elected officials, or current/past candidates for elective office in Virginia.  . . . . note that the vast majority are Republicans - shocker, huh? - and it's not for lack of trying to come up with Democrats to make it more "even" - the fact is that today's GOP attracts "teh crazy" like....well, crazy!).  Anyway, enjoy!

1. E.W. Jackson (R): Has anyone ever heard anything come out of his mouth that wasn't at least a bit "out there?" OK, need specific examples of this guy's insanity?  For starters, he's obsessed with Barack Obama (e.g., how Obama's supposedly not a Christian, how he's supposedly an anti-Semite, blah blah blah); how "Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was;" how gays are "frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally," who are attempting to "poison our children, divide them from their parents and the teaching of the church and basically turn them into pawns for that movement so that they can sexualize them at the earliest possible age." What's truly shocking about this guy isn't so much that he's an extremist and an all-around lunatic, but that the Virginia GOP nominated him for Lt. Governor of our state in 2013! What does that say about them? Anyway, E.W. Jackson has the "honor" of being #1 on this list.

2. Ken Cuccinelli (R): Again, where do you even start with this guy?  I mean, this is someone who - in addition to the de-rigeur-among-wingnuts climate science denial - also tried to make it easier for people to discriminate against gay people, claimed that Virginia can disobey federal laws it disagrees with, believes the government is tracking his kids via Social Security numbers, and talks to a toy elephant named "Ron", is a "birther," rants about a "vast left-wing conspiracy" and the "Humanist Manifesto," claims that liberals "cannot tolerate god" and that Barack Obama has "helped destroy this country," compared immigrants to rat families, etc, etc. Most appallingly, "the Cooch" actually was elected to be Virginia's Attorney General, where he spent four years on a bunch of crazy, mostly failed, crusades. He also was, appallingly yet again, the Virginia Republican Party's 2013 nominee for governor of our state. It says a great deal about said party that they'd nominate such a lunatic, not to mention extremist, as Ken Cuccinelli. Come to think of it, maybe Cooch should have been #1, and E.W. Jackson #2, on this list?

4. Del. Bob Marshall (R):  We nicknamed him "Sideshow Bob" for good reason. Seriously, the list of his lunacy is endless. Check out, for example: "Sideshow Bob" Marshall Completely Unhinged Over Demise of His Anti-Gay Hate Amendment, Video: "Sideshow Bob" Elaborates On His Vicious Homophobia (That's right, according to "Sideshow Bob," it's all about "blood transfusions," "sodomy," and being "worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Can we say "he's got issues?" Uh huh.); Does Bob Marshall Agree w/ Rev. Ellison that Haitian Earthquake Was God's Punishment for Voodoo?; Virginia lawmaker: Children with disabilities are God's punishment to women who previously had abortions.; Chief Sponsor of Virginia 'Personhood' Bill Calls The Affordable Care Act 'Rape'; Robert Marshall, Virginia Delegate, Pushes Bill To Study Whether State Should Have Alternative Currency; etc. Seriously, with Bob Marshall, the "Sideshow" truly never ends!

5. Senator Dick Black (R): A few items include Dick Black on Spousal Rape, "Nighties," etc.; Republican Loudoun-sanity Continues: Dick Black Rails Against Gays in the Military; VA Sen. Dick Black (R) Praises "Extraordinary Gallantry" of Syrian Armed Forces; Sen. Dick Black (R-Homophobia): Polygamy "just more natural" than homosexuality . Yeah, this one's certifiable. 

8. Sen. Mark Obenshain (R): I had heard stories about this guy's nuttiness for years, but I didn't really focus on him until last year's AG race. Then, it came to light that Obenshain had tried "to force women to report miscarriages to police," introducing legislation to require that "when a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion, the mother or someone acting on her behalf, within 24 hours, report the fetal death, location of the remains, and identity of the mother to the local or state police or sheriff's department of the city or county where the fetal death occurred...and that a violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor." There's lots more craziness with this guy, but I'd say that's enough right there to put him on the Top 20 craziest Virginia politicians list. We'll see if Republicans nominate him again for statewide office in 2017, after he narrowly lost (phew -- close call!) to Mark Herring in a recount last time around.

14. Michael Farris (R): He ran for Lt. Governor in 1993 against Don Beyer (D) and lost, 54%-46%. Thank goodness, too, because aside from being a right-wing extremist, he's also just plain crazy. For instance, "Farris was featured on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360° on December 7, 2012 as a leading opponent of U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act." Why? In part, according to Farris, because "[t]he definition of disability is not defined in the treaty, and so my kid wears glasses; now they're disabled; now the UN gets control over them." Cuckoo! Cuckoo! 
Yes, there are Democrats on the list, but they comprise only 15%.  What is truly frightening is that the GOP crazies are "mainstream" for today's Republican Party of Virginia.

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Stay Marriage Equality in Florida

In a move that ought to be hand writing on the wall as to how the appeal from the ruling from the Sixth Circuit upholding state marriage bans is going to fare, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend a stay in Florida delaying the effect of lower court rulings that struck down that that state's gay marriage ban.  The immediate result: same sex marriages will begin in Florida on January 6, 2015.  The larger result?  It seems inconceivable that the Supreme Court would allow marriages to occur in more and more states if it planned to uphold the Sixth Circuit's reactionary ruling that took a position that had been argued by a white supremacist group that had filed an amicus brief.  Indeed, such an action would be akin to an expost facto law - something barred by the U.S. Constitution. Here are highlights from The Advocate:
In a ruling late Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it will allow same-sex couples to begin marrying in Florida on January 6. But that doesn't mean that clerks will actually issue licenses.

A federal judge ruled in August that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and stayed his decision until early January. The state had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to extend that stay, but the justices have now declined. Ordinarily, emergency requests from Florida are heard by Justice Clarence Thomas, but he referred Florida's petition to the full court. According to Friday's decision, only Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia were in favor of granting the state's request, and so it was denied.

Unfortunately, couples who attempt to obtain licenses January 6 may still be turned away. The Florida Association of Clerks and Comptrollers has warned its members that because the state's marriage ban remains on the books and because litigation is still ongoing, issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples remains a criminal act in Florida. Clerks who issue licenses could face up to a year in jail, the group said.

It's hard to imagine that law enforcement officials would actually prosecute a clerk who decided to test that law. But will there be a clerk brave enough to stick his or her neck out? That remains unknown.

If a clerk did decide to issue a license, and if a prosecutor decided to then charge them with breaking the law, that clerk would likely be in a good legal position to defend their actions. But such a defense would probably be costly, so they would also need to be in a good financial position to defend themselves. That would require the support of national civil rights groups, like potentially Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, or the Human Rights Campaign.

"Every day these couples and their families are denied the protections and benefits that come with legal marriage, they risk real and serious consequences," said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow in a Friday statement. "We look forward to the day that all couples are able to have their relationships recognized as valid under the law."
The Court's move is a rebuke to Pam Bondi who has enthusiastically prostituted herself to the Christofascists.  It is telling that both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Alito did not support extending the stay.  Is it possible that even a reactionary like Alito now supports same sex marriage?  Perhaps he and Roberts see the future and they have decided that they do not want to be on the wrong side of history and looked back upon with derision.  Meanwhile, expect NOM and other hate groups to work hard to shake down the ignorant for money. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Did Historical Jesus Ever Really Exist?

The folks at the Washington Post best brace themselves for spittle flecked rants from the "godly folk" who will no doubt take great offense at a story that raises the relevant question of whether the Jesus of the New Testament ever existed.  If not, Christianity's already damaged story line (e.g., the human genome project says Adam and Eve never existed) virtually collapses.  Here are excerpts from the piece:
The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious. The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea. The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus.” Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12).

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

So what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little – of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times. Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them. Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar. Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.
In terms of historical fact, the Jesus story has no more documented support that the stories of the Olympian gods, the Egyptian goddess Isis or the middle eastern god Mithras.  Wanting a story to be true, in short, does not somehow magically make it true.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Did Senior Thatcher Era Politicans Rape and Murder Boys?

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast
With stories that sound like something out of the Vatican and Catholic priest circles, a victim and others are claiming that a pedophile abuse ring ran rampant during the Thatcher years and that powerful British politicians worked to keep the abuse and possible some murders covered up.  As most readers know, the Thatcher regime was anything but friendly to gays, yet if the stories are true, gay sex and the abuse of boys was a fixture with some in Thatcher's government.  Why is it that the loudest homophobes are always the ones desiring or engaging in abusive gay sex?  The Daily Beast looks at the sensational allegations.   Here are highlights:
Scotland Yard detectives believe that an organized pedophile ring at the heart of the British establishment was responsible for the murder of three young boys and the violent sexual abuse of dozens more.

A survivor, known as Nick, described regular “abuse parties” that were held at a luxury apartment block near Westminster during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He said he watched a Conservative Member of Parliament strangle one boy to death, and witnessed another young boy brutally murdered in front of a Cabinet minister.

Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, who is leading an investigation of the alleged “VIP” abuse network said today: “I believe what Nick is saying to be credible and true.”

Nick says children between the ages of seven and 16 were taken to the events, including regular Christmas parties, which were often held at Dolphin Square, an exclusive building on the River Thames that was popular with MPs who needed second homes in London close to the Houses of Parliament. He has described the partygoers as a cross-section of some of the most powerful men in Britain including Sir Peter Hayman, a long-time MI6 chief.

A Scotland Yard inquiry has been established to investigate whether the Metropolitan Police was guilty of overlooking the crimes of powerful figures, or whether some kind of cover-up operation was in place.

Over the years, several MPs have alleged cover-ups or suggested that investigations were shut down by senior security officials. In 1981, Sir Peter Hayman, a former diplomat and intelligence operative, was outed by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who used Parliamentary privilege to name him as a pedophile in the House of Commons. Dickens continued to investigate the pedophile ring, which he claimed included “big, big names,” and he passed a 40-page dossier of evidence to the Home Secretary in 1983.

Dickens claimed his name subsequently appeared on a hit-list and his house was broken into by burglars who scoured his office but never stole any possessions. “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honorable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began,” he told the House of Commons in 1985.
Current Labour MP John Mann has suffered no personal threats but says his investigation into allegations of a VIP pedophile network were also shut down by the authorities. As a local politician in Lambeth, South London, he said he became aware of allegations that young boys in care homes were being recruited as rent boys and taken to Dolphin Square.  “We were told this by several sources. It was very specific: there were sex parties there, and they involved Tory MPs,” he told the Daily Mail last month.

He passed the information to the police who came back to him after three months to apologize and say they had been instructed to stop looking into the abuse parties. “They'd been forced to drop it,” Mann said. “Pressure had come from on high in the police service.”

A former senior detective at the Metropolitan Police, Clive Driscoll, said earlier this year that he had been hastily removed from an investigation that had begun in Lambeth into child abuse when his superiors saw a list of suspects, which included several MPs, that he wanted to investigate.

The investigation into an alleged cover-up is just one of 18 strands of inquiry currently ongoing as part of Operation Fairbank, which was first set up in 2012 into allegations of a VIP pedophile ring. 

In total, officers said 600 emails or tip-offs had been received by more than 40 officers working on Operation Fairbank. Thus far, just five people have been arrested.

Sea Level Rise Putting America's Largest Navy Base at-Risk

If you listen to Republicans - e.g., Senator Inhofe - climate change and global warming aren't happening.  It's all a conspiracy in the minds of these lunatics.  The real conspiracy is between the Koch brothers and the oil and coal industries which seek to perpetuate the myth that climate change is not occurring and that humankind have no role in the visible changes occurring. As local TV-13 reports, the signs are clear at the Norfolk Naval Base - which boasts that it is the largest in the world - and Senator Tim Kaine says that it is time to address reality.  He and those like him who are in touch with objective reality will have an uphill battle given the GOP control of the Senate starting next month.  Here are article highlights:
Touring a flood-prone neighborhood blocks from the world's largest Naval base, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said Thursday, the time to act is now. Kaine is calling for a combination of needed infrastructure investments, and a reduction of U.S. dependence of carbon-based energy sources.

Probably the most sobering thing to me dealing with this sea level rise issue is the affect on the main Naval base," Kaine said. "Being on Armed Services, this is the center of Naval power in the world and such an important center for America. And when you contemplate the main road into the base eventually being underwater three hours a day in 2040, not because of storms but because of normal tidal action, by 2040, being underwater three hours a day, that was the one thing that made me snap back and say, I've got to take this seriously."

Kaine's comments follow an October Department of Defense report which concluded that Naval Station Norfolk would be at-risk, if, as many scientists have predicted, sea level rises 14 to 18 inches in the next 20 to 50 years.
"We have the time to make the investments to improve the infrastructure," he said. "We just really have to find these resiliency investments to protect this important key to America's national security."
The GOP likes to depict itself as the party of national security yet lunatics like Inhofe are acting as military leaders did on the evening of December 6, 1941.   Not wanting to admit/believe something doesn't make it not true.  At least not outside of the insane asylum known as the Republican Party.

flooded Navy pier parking lot

Why Putin's Bubble Has Burst

I have noted before that throughout the centuries, Russia has been plagued by bad rulers.  Those who bear the worse consequences of such misrule are typically the Russian people.  With Russia's economy imploding and its currency in a free fall, all of Vladimir Putin's misrule is catching up with him and the picture is not a pretty one.  Putin, of course blames the west for Russia's woes rather than look in the mirror for the ultimate cause of that nation's misfortune.  Like Adolph Hitler, who Putin seems to be trying to emulate in many ways, the fault is never his or that of his corrupt cronies.  A column in the New York Times looks at how Putin and company have brought Russia to this point.  Here are excerpts:
If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.

But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.

The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices, which, in turn, reflects factors — growing production from shale, weakening demand from China and other economies — that have nothing to do with Mr. Putin. And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that, as I said, doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage.

But Russia’s difficulties are disproportionate to the size of the shock: While oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?

Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.

When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.

Russia’s elite has been accumulating assets outside the country — luxury real estate is only the most visible example — and the flip side of that accumulation has been rising debt at home.
Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.

It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.
I feel bad for average Russians suffering because of Putin's misrule.  The ultimate solution?  Rise up and drive Putin from power and take back the wealth stolen by Putin and his cronies.