12/31/10

12/29/10

12/17/10

Worst Responders

Worst Responders
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

First Responders React to Republicans

9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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The 12 Gays of Christmas

12/14/10

12/13/10

12/12/10

Aretha

12/10/10

The Upbeat Show

The Little Drummer Boy (Hendrix)

12/8/10

12/08/80 Monday Night Football

Sarah Palin Like Michael Vick



Aaron Sorkin




Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather chair or eaten meat, save your condemnation."

You're right, Sarah, we'll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who've come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, broadcast on The-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it's hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don't think it is, and here's why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

I'm able to make a distinction between you and me without feeling the least bit hypocritical. I don't watch snuff films and you make them. You weren't killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals. I can make the distinction between the two of us but I've tried and tried and for the life of me, I can't make a distinction between what you get paid to do and what Michael Vick went to prison for doing. I'm able to make the distinction with no pangs of hypocrisy even though I get happy every time one of you faux-macho shitheads accidentally shoots another one of you in the face.

So I don't think I will save my condemnation, you phony pioneer girl. (I'm in film and television, Cruella, and there was an insert close-up of your manicure while you were roughing it in God's country. I know exactly how many feet off camera your hair and make-up trailer was.)

And you didn't just do it for fun and you didn't just do it for money. That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain. You knew there'd be a protest from PETA and you knew that would be an opportunity to hate on some people, you witless bully. What a uniter you'd be -- bringing the right together with the far right.

(Let me be the first to say that I abused cocaine and was arrested for it in April 2001. I want to be the first to say it so that when Palin's Army of Arrogant Assholes, bereft of any reasonable rebuttal, write it all over the internet tomorrow they will at best be the second.)

I eat meat, there are leather chairs in my office, Sarah Palin is deranged and The Learning Channel should be ashamed of itself.

12/4/10

Neil Young

Lotta Love (Nicolette Larson)

Hello It's Me

Todd Rundgren

The Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle from Kevin Parry on Vimeo.

Wikileaks Shut Down

Reporters Without Borders condemns the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure being directed at cablegate.wikileaks.org, the website dedicated to the US diplomatic cables. The organization is also concerned by some of the extreme comments made by American authorities concerning WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

Earlier this week, after the publishing several hundred of the 250.000 cables it says it has in its possession, WikiLeaks had to move its site from its servers in Sweden to servers in the United States controlled by online retailer Amazon. Amazon quickly came under pressure to stop hosting WikiLeaks from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and its chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, in particular.

After being ousted from Amazon, WikiLeaks found a refuge for part of its content with the French Internet company OVH. But French digital economy minister Eric Besson today said the French government was looking at ways to ban hosting of the site. WikiLeaks was also recently dropped by its domain name provider EveryDNS. Meanwhile, several countries well known for for their disregard of freedom of expression and information, including Thailand and China, have blocked access to cablegate.wikileaks.org.

This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency. We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China. We point out that in France and the United States, it is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed.

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, John Ensign and Scott Brown, and an independent Lieberman, have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to publish the names of U.S. military and intelligence agency informants. This could facilitate future prosecutions against WikiLeaks and its founder. But a criminal investigation is already under way and many U.S. politicians are calling vociferously for Assange’s arrest.

Reporters Without Borders can only condemn this determination to hound Assange and reiterates its conviction that WikiLeaks has a right under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to publish these documents and is even playing a useful role by making them available to journalists and the greater public.

We stress that any restriction on the freedom to disseminate this body of documents will affect the entire press, which has given detailed coverage to the information made available by WikiLeaks, with five leading international newspapers actively cooperating in preparing it for publication.

Reporters Without Borders would also like to stress that it has always defended online freedom and the principle of “Net neutrality,” according to which Internet Service Providers and hosting companies should play no role in choosing the content that is placed online

12/2/10

Pinup 2011




















12/1/10

Taxi

11/30/10

Police Squad

11/29/10

Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Ram Jam

11/28/10

Christmas Flash Mob

The Sound of Music

11/24/10

The Smithereens

11/23/10

Lies of George W. Bush's Memoir




The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of George W. Bush's Memoir

WASHINGTON -- These days, when we think of George W. Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of the United States of America from global champion of human rights into an outlaw nation.

History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two things in particular: Launching a war against a country that had not attacked us, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.

And that's why the two most essential lies -- among the many -- in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate reason to torture detainees.

Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if he keeps making the case for himself -- particularly if it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's verdict.

It may even be working. Extrapolating from the response to the book, former vice president Dick Cheney on Tuesday told a crowd gathered for Bush's presidential library groundbreaking in Dallas that "judgments are a little more measured than they were" and that "history is coming around."

The 'Decision' to Go to War

In "Decision Points," Bush describes the invasion of Iraq as something he came to support only reluctantly and after a long period of reflection. This is a flat-out lie. Anyone who paid any attention to the news at the time knew Bush was dead-set on war long before he sent in the troops in March 2003. And there is now an abundant amount of documentation, in the form of leaks, unclassified memos, witness interviews and other people's memoirs to prove it.

The historical record clearly shows that Bush had long harbored a desire to strike out at Saddam Hussein, was trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the terrorist attacks, and finally found the excuse he was looking for in skewed intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The only real question is whether he actively deceived the American public and the world -- or whether he was so passionate about selling the public on the war that he intentionally blinded himself to how brazenly Vice President Cheney had politicized and abused the intelligence process.
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Bush repeatedly insists in his memoir that he tried to avoid war. He describes his preferred approach to Iraq as "coercive diplomacy" and tries to explain away the military planning, the troop movements and the constant saber-rattling as being intended primarily to scare Saddam into "disarming". He even tries to retroactively justify one of his notoriously long vacations by suggesting that he needed the time to think. "I spent much of August 2002 in Crawford, a good place to reflect on the next decision I faced: how to move forward on the diplomatic track," he writes.

In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer aired on Nov. 8, Bush declared, "I gave diplomacy every chance to work." But as David Corn put it ever so succinctly on Politics Daily, that is a "super-sized whopper." U.N. weapons inspectors had found nothing and were getting more cooperation from the Iraqi government just prior to the invasion. And Corn offered up one particularly telling anecdote from the book he co-authored, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War": On May 1, 2002 -- almost a year prior to the invasion -- Bush told press secretary Ari Fleischer of Saddam, "I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast."

Bush writes in his memoir that the idea of attacking Iraq came up at a meeting of his national security team at Camp David, four days after the 9/11 attacks. By his account, it was then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who "suggested that we consider confronting Iraq as well as the Taliban." Bush writes that he eventually decided that "[u]nless I received definitive evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 plot I would work to resolve the Iraq problem diplomatically."

But that's a hugely disingenuous version of events. It didn't take Wolfowitz and four days after 9/11 for the idea of attacking Iraq to occur to Bush. As the 9/11 Commission report documented: "President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussein's regime might have had a hand in it."

In the first tell-all book from inside Bush's national security team, Richard A. Clarke wrote in 2004 of a meeting he had with Bush the day after 9/11:

The president in a very intimidating way left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office....

I think they had a plan from day one they wanted to do something about Iraq. While the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking: 'Ah! This gives us the opportunity we have been looking for to go after Iraq.'

Clarke notes that the following day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained in a meeting that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that the U.S. should consider bombing Iraq, which had better targets.

At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the President did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq. Instead, he noted that what we needed to do with Iraq was to change the government, not just hit it with more cruise missiles, as Rumsfeld had implied.

Just over two months later, on Nov. 21, 2001, Bush formally instructed Rumsfeld that he wanted to develop a plan for war in Iraq. Sixteen months after that, in March 2003, the invasion began.
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In the period during which Bush claims he was wringing his hands about whether or not to attack, he and his aides were instead intensely focused on building the public case for what was, in their minds, an inevitability.

The first concrete bits of evidence to that effect were the Downing Street Memos, first published in May 1, 2005, which documented the conclusions of British officials after high-level talks in Washington in July 2002:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

And just recently, the independent National Security Archives completed a major analysis of the historical record, including a new trove of formerly secret records of both the Bush administration and the British cabinet of Tony Blair. John Prados, co-director of the archives' Iraq Documentation Project, summed up their findings this way: "The more we learn about how the Iraq War began the worse the story gets."

Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly "demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan subsequent to that except for a military solution, and enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to generate support for a war."

That's right: There never was another plan. And therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision point" either. There were some debates about how to invade Iraq, and when, but not if.

Prados writes:

In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course.

Former CIA director George Tenet admitted as much in his own memoir, in 2007. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote, nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

And in June 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the conclusions of his committee's exhaustive report on the Bush administration's public statements regarding Iraq:

Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence. In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.

It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.

There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.

It was, in short, a propaganda campaign. As former Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his revelatory 2008 memoir, Bush's advisors "decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.... A pro-war campaign might have been more acceptable had it been accompanied by a high level of candor and honesty, but it was not."

And as Jonathan Landay wrote for Knight Ridder in 2005, the materials that had become public to date demonstrated "that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case -- often leaking classified information to receptive journalists -- and dismissing information that undermined the case for war."

That's what made Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of the Valerie Plame case so essential. It promised a public view into the heart of the administration's dirty tricks department -- and a chance to find out once and for all who the mastermind was. But Cheney aide Scooter Libby's lies stymied Fitzgerald, and we never found out for sure -- even though the signs pointed pretty clearly to Libby's boss.

Even if Cheney was the driving force behind the war campaign's deceptions, however, Bush was undeniably the chief cheerleader.
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Precisely to what extent pressure from the White House was responsible for the intelligence community's totally inaccurate assessment of Iraq's WMDs remains unclear. Bush's own WMD commission, not surprisingly, gave him a pass in their final report. But there was no doubt the community knew what its chief customers wanted to hear, and gave it to them.

Even so, the intelligence did not support Bush's insistence at the time that those weapons posed an imminent threat.

Paul R. Pillar, the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, wrote in 2006 that it was only through the overt, intentional misreading, cherry-picking and politicization of intelligence findings that the case could be made for war:

If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war - or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar US intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important US policy decisions in recent decades.

Intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive Bush's decision to go to war, Pillar continued:

A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors.

For Bush, the intelligence findings Cheney and others were feeding him -- and the media -- were not factors that needed to be weighed carefully as part of a decision-making process. There was no decision-making process. The intelligence findings were simply elements of a sales campaign.

The one time Bush is recorded as having pushed back at the intelligence at all was in the famous late 2002 Oval Office scene with Tenet. However, contrary to popular mythology, Bush's concern was manifestly not about the intelligence itself, but about its marketing potential.

When Tenet exclaimed "It's a slam dunk case!" it was in the context of the case to be made to the public.

In the memoir, Bush himself recalls having declared: "Surely we can do a better job of explaining the evidence against Saddam."
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Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."

But as David Corn also points out Bush famously treated the missing WMDs like a big joke at a March 2004 press dinner. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he said as he narrated a slideshow of pictures of him looking out his window and under his furniture.

And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or that going to war was a sickening mistake.

LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?

BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision, and I don't believe it was a wrong decision.

In fact, despite everything, Bush continues to indulge in the same unfounded rhetoric to this day"For all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East," he writes.

And the cherry-picking of the intelligence continues, as well. As Walter Pincus wrote on Monday (in a story the Washington Post buried on page A29), the book "makes selective use" of a Jan. 27, 2003, report to the U.N. Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix, "citing elements that support the idea that Hussein was not cooperating and leaving out parts that indicate his government was. More to the point, however, Bush fails to mention two subsequent Blix pre-invasion reports in February and early March, weeks before U.S. bombs struck Baghdad. Those show Iraq cooperating with inspectors and the inspectors finding no significant evidence that Hussein was hiding WMD programs."


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George W. Bush was no reluctant warrior. The U.S. went to war in Iraq because he wanted to. The war he launched was arguably an illegal act of aggression. And the costs have been enormous.

The United States has spent $750 billion and counting on the war in Iraq. More than 4,400 members of the U.S. armed forces have perished, with nearly 32,000 wounded in action, and somewhere in the ballpark of 500,000 more suffering from brain injuries, mental health problems, hearing damage and disease. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to number at least 100,000 and more than a million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes.

Bush told Lauer it was worth it: "I will say, definitely, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom."

But author Nir Rosen recently addressed Bush's claim:

Certainly the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are not better off. Their families aren't better off. The tens of thousands of Iraqi men who languished in American and subsequently Iraqi gulags are not better off. The children who lost their fathers aren't better off. The millions of Iraqis who lost their homes, hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, are not better off. So there's no mathematical calculation you can make to determine who's better off and who's not.....

Saddam Hussein is gone, that's true. The regime we've put in place is certainly more representative, but it's brutal and authoritarian. Torture is routine and systematic. Corruption is also routine and systematic. There are no services to speak of, no real electricity or water. Violence remains very high. So, there's nothing to be proud of in this. The Iraqi people deserve much better, and they're the real victims of Bush's war.

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In what was perhaps the single most preposterous assertion of his book tour, Bush seemed to suggest to Lauer that he was actually against going to war:

LAUER: So by the time you gave the order to start military operations in Iraq, did you personally have any doubt, any shred of doubt, about that intelligence?

BUSH: No, I didn't. I really didn't.

LAUER: Not everybody thought you should go to war, though. There were dissenters.

BUSH: Of course there were.

LAUER: Did you filter them out?

BUSH: I was -- I was a dissenting voice. I didn't wanna use force.

For the nation's journalists to allow this outrageous lie to go uncontested is particularly galling. During the run-up to war, one of the elite media's most common excuses for marginalizing or ignoring the true voices of dissension and doubt was that everyone knew an invasion was a foregone conclusion.

The result back then was that instead of watchdog journalism, what we got was credulous, stenographic recitation of the administration's deeply flawed arguments for war. Or, as former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie told Howard Kurtz in 2004: In retrospect, "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale."

Today's journalists would like to think they have learned some lessons from their poor pre-war conduct. But letting Bush get away now with saying the exact opposite of what they knew to be true even at the time -- and what has since been amply confirmed by the historical record -- would be yet another major victory of stenography over accountability.

The Embrace Of Torture

That torture is even a subject of debate today is a testament to the devastating effect the Bush administration has had on our concept of morality.

And in his book and on his book tour, far from hanging his head in shame, Bush is more explicit and enthusiastic than ever before endorsing one of torture's iconic forms. "Damn right," he quotes himself as saying in response to a CIA request to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Had we captured more al Qaeda operatives with significant intelligence value, I would have used the program for them as well."

Bush's two-part argument is simple; That waterboarding was legal (i.e., that it was not really torture); and that it worked.

But neither assertion is remotely true.

Waterboarding -- essentially controlled drowning -- involves immobilizing someone and pouring water over their mouth and nose in a way that makes them choke. It causes great physical and mental suffering, but leaves no marks.

It's not new; villains and despots have been using it extract confessions for something like 700 years. The CIA just perfected it.

It is self-evidently, almost definitionally, torture. The U.S. government had always considered it torture. In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer who waterboarded an American with war crimes. It is flatly a violation of international torture conventions.

And as far as I know, no American government official had ever even suggested it wasn't torture until a small handful of lawyers in Bush's supine Justice Department, working under orders from the vice president, claimed otherwise.

These lawyers drafted a series of memos so lacking in legal merit -- and so cruel and inhuman -- that they were retracted and repudiated even by a later wave of Bush appointees.

The original "torture memo" from August 1, 2002, for instance, argued that to "rise to the level of torture" an act had to cause pain "equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Anything short of that, according to the memo, was OK.

Lauer asked Bush in their interview why he thought waterboarding was legal.

"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."

When Lauer raised the possibility that Bush's lawyers had simply told him what they knew he wanted to hear, Bush vaguely denied it and suggested that his book might shed more light on the topic. But it doesn't, at least not much. In it, Bush writes:

Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution an all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.

I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did not lasting harm.

I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.

But the choice between security and values was not real. And this is exactly the reason we have laws: To prevent people from doing what they may for some reason think at the moment is a good idea, but which society has determined is wrong. No man is above the law. And "the lawyer said it was legal" is not a sufficient excuse.
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As for the claim that torture worked, Bush writes in the book:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded. The information the detainees revealed constituted more than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

But the only thing we know for sure is that detainees who were tortured made elaborate confessions. That, after all, is what torture is good for. We don't know how much valuable information they really provided. We don't know how much of that information came before they were tortured, rather than after. We certainly don't know how much information they would have shared under proven, standard interrogation techniques.

And under close inspection by investigative journalists, every one of Bush's specific assertions about torture having saved lives has been thoroughly debunked.

The first detainee waterboarded directly on Bush's orders was Abu Zubaydah, in August 2002.

During his presidency, Bush repeatedly used Zubaydah as his Exhibit A for torture. In the book, Bush describes him as a "senior recruiter and operator" and "trusted associate of Osama bin Laden."

After CIA interrogators strapped Zubaydah to the waterboard and suffocated him 83 times in a month, he broke down. Bush writes:

Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him upon the first anniversary of 9/11.

In the book, Bush did not, as he had on several occasions during his presidency, give Zubaydah credit for identifying bin al Shibh as a terror suspect in the first place. That particular claim was undercut by the fact that, some four months before Zubaydah was captured, an FBI indictment detailed bin al Shibh's alleged involvement in the 9/11 plot.

But what Bush did assert in his memoir was equally untrue. Investigative journalist Ron Suskind, in his breakthrough 2006 book, "The One Percent Doctrine," reported that the key information about bin al Shibh's location came not from Zubaydah but from an al-Jazeera reporter who had interviewed bin al Shibh at his apartment in Karachi.

And Zubaydah was not a major player. According to Suskind, he was a mentally ill travel booker who under CIA torture sent investigators chasing after false leads about al Qaeda plots on American nuclear plants, water systems, shopping malls, banks and supermarkets.

Almost three years after Suskind's book came out, the Washington Post confirmed what Suskind had reported: that "not a single significant plot was foiled" as a result of Zubaydah's brutal treatment -- and that his false confessions "triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms."

Another detainee waterboarded on Bush's say-so was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who stands accused of plotting al Qaeda's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

As far as I can tell, Bush has never actually made any claims about any intelligence whatsoever reaped from Nashiri's brutal treatment at the hands of CIA interrogators in Poland (who, among other things, used a power drill and a handgun to terrify him.)

The unclassified transcript of Nashiri's Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing in 2007, while redacted to eliminate any mention of the specific ways in which he was tortured, indicates that his response was to tell interrogators whatever they wanted to hear.

Nashiri was asked about his statements about plans to bomb other American ships, about a plot to fly a plane and crash it into a ship, and about bin Laden having a nuclear bomb.

"I just said those things to make the people happy," he explained. "They were very happy when I told them those things."

And then there was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who the CIA asphyxiated 183 times after Bush so enthusiastically approved his waterboarding. Bush writes:

He disclosed plans to attack American targets with anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the al Qaeda biological weapons program. .He provided information that led to the capture of Hambali, the chief of al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate in Southeast Asia and the architect of the Bali terrorist attacks that killed 202 people. He provided further details that led agents to Hambali's brother, who had been grooming operatives to carry out another attack inside the United States, possibly a West Coast version of 9/11 in which terrorist flew a hijacked plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

There seems to be little doubt that KSM provided intelligence of some value (along with a number of false confessions) -- although he might have done likewise (minus the false confessions) in the hands of a skilled interrogator using traditional methods.

But despite the lengths that the Bush White House, intelligence officials and various torture apologists have gone to over the past several years to help Bush make his case, there remains not the tiniest shred of evidence to support his assertion that KSM's torture -- or any other -- actually saved a single life.

As far as we know, none of the alleged plots that were allegedly disrupted was anything more than a fantasy. There is no evidence they presented an actual danger. There is not a single saved life they can point to. If they could, they would have.

The first time Bush disclosed what he alleged were thwarted terror plots was in a speech in October 2005. "Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States," he said. The White House then distributed what it called a fact sheet.

But a few days later, the Washington Post reported:

Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed....

The president made it 'sound like well-hatched plans,' said a former CIA official involved in counterterrorism during that period. 'I don't think they fall into that category.'

Similarly, in a February 2006 speech Bush offered more details about that alleged Library Tower plot. The Director of National Intelligence obligingly declassified a Summary of the High Value Terrorist Detainee Program to go along with that. But the Washington Post soon reported that "several U.S. intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush's speech to politics."

And even when the CIA last year released documents that Cheney had sworn would definitively prove that torture had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people," those documents turned out to include no such proof -- just a lot more cover-your-ass language from the CIA.

Senator Rockefeller concluded in March 2008:

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Bush's assertion that torture thwarted plots to attack Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf got some renewed attention earlier this month after portions of his memoir were serialized in the Times of London. The journalists across the pond, at least, pushed back a bit.

The Guardian reported:

British officials said today there was no evidence to support claims by George Bush, the former US president, that information extracted by "waterboarding" saved British lives by foiling attacks on Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf....

British counter-terrorism officials distanced themselves from Bush's claims. They said Mohammed provided "extremely valuable" information which was passed on to security and intelligence agencies, but that it mainly related to al-Qaida's structure and was not known to have been extracted through torture.

The Daily Mail reported:

Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said: 'These stories about waterboarding thwarting attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow -- I've never seen anything to substantiate these claims. These claims are to be treated with a great deal of scepticism.'

Now it's true that some British intelligence officials -- notoriously close to their American colleagues -- share Bush's views. The head of Britain's MI5, for instance, actually defended the use of torture on familiar grounds last year:

Al Qaeda had indeed made plans for further attacks after 9/11: details of some of these plans came to light through the interrogation of detainees by other countries, including the US, in the period after 9/11; subsequent investigation on the ground, including in the UK, substantiated these claims. Such intelligence was of the utmost importance to the safety and security of the UK. It has saved British lives. Many attacks have been stopped as a result of effective international intelligence co-operation since 9/11.

But he offered no verifiable details, of course.

Meanwhile, the new British Prime Minister, conservative David Cameron, told the Telegraph that torture was wrong and that Bush administration detainee policy had done harm, rather than good.

"Look, I think torture is wrong and I think we ought to be very clear about that," Mr Cameron said. "And I think we should also be clear that if actually you're getting information from torture, it's very likely to be unreliable information."

When pressed on whether torture saves lives, he added: "I think there is both a moral reason for being opposed to torture -- and Britain doesn't sanction torture -- but secondly I think there's also an effectiveness thing ... if you look at the effect of Guantánamo Bay and other things like that, long-term that has actually helped to radicalise people and make our country and our world less safe. So I don't agree."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


There may be little point in speculating on what drove Cheney and Bush to cross such a clear and important ethical line. Was it that they were well and truly terrified? Did they succumb to the lures of the ticking time bomb-fallacy so popular on TV -- and among the supremely confident? Some social psychologists have speculated that the real motivation for torture is retribution.

It was the Senate Armed Services Committee, in April 2009, that actually suggested an even more nefarious possible motive: That the White House started pushing the use of torture not out of concern about an imminent threat, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks in order to strengthen their public case for invasion.

That becomes less incredible when you consider that it was a false confession extracted under torture by Egyptian authorities from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a terror suspect who had been rendered to Egypt by the CIA, that was the sole source for arguments Bush made in a key pre-Iraq war speech in October 2002.

"We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said at the time -- with no caveats. The same false confession provided a critical part of then-secretary of state Colin Powell's famous presentation to the United Nations, a month before the invasion.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Finally, it's hugely important to remember that Bush's embrace of torture went far beyond the waterboard. For Bush, the best-case scenario is that the debate remains about his approval of the use of that one procedure on three top terror suspects.

But Bush's legacy is one of much more wanton and widespread cruelty -- a cruelty that was truly unimaginable before the unique combination of 9/11 and some particularly cold-blooded people occupying high office.

Bush and his helpers approved a wide range of other brutal interrogation practices, including severe beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold and hot temperatures, forced nudity, threats, hooding, the use of dogs and sensory deprivation -- many of which, it turned out, were cribbed from techniques Chinese Communists perfected to extract confessions from captured U.S. servicemen.

Some of these tactics fall short of the legal definition of torture, some don't, but they are all, as former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora explained in 2008, morally indefensible:

Many Americans are unaware that there is a legal distinction between cruelty and torture, cruelty being the less severe level of abuse. This has tended to obscure important elements of the interrogation debate from the public's attention. For example, the public may be largely unaware that the government could evasively if truthfully claim (and did claim) that it was not "torturing" even as it was simultaneously interrogating detainees cruelly. Yet there is little or no moral distinction between cruelty and torture, for cruelty can be as effective as torture in savaging human flesh and spirit and in violating human dignity. Our efforts should be focused not merely on banning torture, but on banning cruelty.

Tactics that violated basic human dignity were not limited to three men, or even to the three dozen men subjected to "enhanced interrogation" at the CIA's black sites in Poland, Thailand, and Romania. They were employed as a matter of standard practice on countless detainees held in custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

And once cruelty was adopted as a weapon of war, that inevitably opened the door wide to abusive and degrading practices that weren't explicitly authorized.

Far from being limited to ostensibly "high value" detainees, state-sanctioned cruelty was applied willy-nilly to many of those unfortunate enough to get swept up into the system. We literally have no idea how many.

As a bipartisan Senate report in 2008 concluded:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002, authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

The report laid out a clear line of responsibility for Abu Ghraib that started with Bush and his February 2002 memo exempting war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva Conventions.

Mora, one of the few voices of conscience inside the government during that dark period, summed up the damage this way:

[O]ur Nation's policy decision to use so-called "harsh" interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a mistake of massive proportions. It damaged and continues to damage our Nation in ways that appear never to have been considered or imagined by its architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the interrogation room. This interrogation policy -- which may aptly be labeled a "policy of cruelty" -- violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security. The net effect of this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses, not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary to our national interest.

George W. Bush has managed to duck the ignominy he deserves for launching this policy of cruelty. He has done so in part by framing the debate as one solely about waterboarding -- and counting on a lazy, amnesiac press corps to neither confront him on that count nor call him out for the wider moral breach for which he is responsible.

Back in 2004, as soon as the photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib went public, Bush and his collaborators launched a high-stakes disinformation campaign to prevent the American people from linking the White House to the pervasive, inhumane treatment of detainees -- many of whom were utterly innocent -- at prison facilities such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. Being associated with the waterboarding of three top terrorists was at least a defensible position. Being responsible for widescale violations of the laws of war was not.

That disinformation campaign continues today, in "Decision Points." If we forget what really happened, it just might succeed.


Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post.
November 23, 2010

11/21/10

Don't Touch My Junk

11/20/10

Brian Michael Jenkins



Brian Michael Jenkins, a published authority on terrorism and current senior advisor to the President at the Rand Corporation.



Excerpts from an interview with Patt Morrison for the LA Times.




You've been studying terrorism for decades -- and it's morphed.
Now we argue over terminology: Is it a war?


Right after 9/11, I said that we did have to think of this in terms of war. This was an extraordinary attack and the business-as-usual response was not going to be adequate. I also thought that the term "war" was appropriate in that it was going to require a national effort to mobilize the resources and the political will. I had one further reason for arguing that it be war: my own experience in Vietnam. If we were going to send young men and women into battle, we had better [show] national support.
[So] it didn't disturb me to call it a war until [it] became a much more ambitious undertaking. I was in Washington about a year after 9/11 listening to a State Department official saying "We're going to take down Hezbollah, Hamas; we're going to take them all down," and I thought, whoa, we're signing on to decades of effort here. I think it became conflated with concerns about weapons of mass destruction; it became a framework for the invasion of Iraq, which in my view had very little to do with the campaign against Al Qaeda. But the idea that we were going to battle with an irregular foe worldwide was not inappropriate.



What part of the rhetoric would you tone down now?


Television in my view has become a sort of reality show with manufactured drama. It is 24/7 and the capacity sometimes exceeds news to report, or at least easy news to report.
I would like to see Americans -- not tolerate, because terrorism is not to be tolerated -- but be somewhat more phlegmatic. Americans are not good at being phlegmatic. We're highly excitable, and the media feed that and politicians leap to the microphones and pound the podium.
There is a more fundamental problem. Today, there are fewer wars and fewer people dying in those wars. [In] the 20th century, wars killed anywhere between 60 and 100 million people. But by the 1990s, worldwide war-related deaths had dropped to around a half-million a year -- still a terrible slaughter, but better than it was. It's enormous progress. Despite this good news, Americans seem more fearful today than ever before.
The Christmas Day bomber was tragedy averted, but as a consequence, we're deploying a thousand body scanners, [costing] hundreds of millions of dollars. If we do this every time there's an attempt, we are going to do exactly what our terrorist foes want us to do: bankrupt ourselves in pursuit of a national obsession with security and completely unrealistic expectations.
Fear has become completely detached from the reality of risk. This protracted campaign of terror, even as it is not succeeding in terms of attacks, has profoundly changed this country. It's worrisome.



And now cargo bombs.


It's not as if intelligence analysts like myself were slapping our foreheads saying, "Who'd have thought?" In a technologically interdependent society, an open society, the vulnerabilities are virtually infinite.Each time we put in security measures, that's more friction in our system, and you [can] really hamper our economy. Of course we're going to subject [foreign visitors] to somewhat greater scrutiny, but [now] foreign businessmen are loath to come. It has become difficult for technically qualified people our industry needs to get into the United States. We pay a price. It's not just the cost of the bollard in front of the building.
This is not an argument against security; it's an argument against the unrealistic expectation of the absolute banishment of all risk.



Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview on this page told me that security has to be right 100% of the time but terrorists only once.


She's absolutely right. If we look at what has been foiled [and] intercepted as a result of intelligence services and law enforcement worldwide, the record is stunning. People don't realize the daily battle that goes on to analyze the tsunami of information. In many cases, issuing an alert itself sometimes has a disruptive effect on the plot.
[There is] a tendency to point fingers, so every time there is even a near miss, somebody has failed, heads must roll, something must be done. Then we reorganize our intelligence for the umpteenth time, and that is counterproductive.
The tension is between the public perception and unrealistic political demands for absolute prevention, and the reality that what we do is manage risk.
At airports, passenger loads are going up, the security procedures are increasing, the number of screeners [is] not, and there is an impact not only on morale but on performance. You do have to say at some point, what is the right balance? One has to be very careful and not do things simply to be seen doing things.
Even now, the most contact many Americans have with national security is at airports.
Terrorists remain obsessed with commercial aviation. The first terrorist hijacking was in 1968; the first terrorist sabotage of an aircraft was in 1970; and 40 years later, they're still coming at airplanes. The biggest change in security has been the passengers' attitudes. Yes, we put in armored cockpit doors, we have air marshals, but the most important element now is that any would-be hijacker would face a planeload of desperate passengers who would take measures to save themselves.



Since 9/11 it's seemed like anyone who writes a paper on terrorism is a terrorism expert.


I always tried to avoid the word "expert"; I never knew what the hell it meant. What makes you an expert today is one appearance on television. Television news will call and if that "expert" isn't available, they go on to the next person, and keep doing so until they find [someone], and that person will be the expert. I don't want to be dismissive. [In] this avalanche of books and articles produced since 9/11, there's unquestionably some fantastic, serious scholarship.



In Muslim countries there's a belief that the cargo bombs story was a fabrication to discredit Islam. The same thing goes for 9/11. How widespread is that reaction?


It is extraordinarily widespread, and it is a problem. We're dealing with countries that do not have a tradition of a free or independent press, and [do have] an inclination to disbelieve anything in the news. [There's] an appetite for conspiracy theories.
You have a little bit of the same thing going on in this country, where you can have people's beliefs determined by their underlying ideological beliefs. Look [at] the persistence of the birthers, or the belief that the president is a secret Muslim. You say, that's astounding, that flies in the face of evidence. What is happening is that people's beliefs are so strongly held, they are producing their own "facts."



How important is it to find Bin Laden?


I think it is important. First, there's the matter of justice. He is still a principal responsible for 9/11 and other terrorist acts. We would never abandon an effort to apprehend an individual responsible for a crime of that magnitude. Second, he does have importance within the organization, as ideological leader. I'm not suggesting with the capture or death of Bin Laden, the global terrorist enterprise he inspired ends. But I do consider him still an important figure who needs to be brought to justice.



Are there more Yemens out there?


It's interesting how Al Qaeda has managed to survive and operate where it's attached itself to a local movement. Out of all the Al Qaeda affiliates, the ones that cause greatest concern are in Iraq, where they are a principal part of the insurgency, Yemen, and in North Africa. They are organizationally parasitical. On their own, they can't get their roots into the ground, but they can get their roots into some of these local movements, especially where the local government is already fragile.



Does torture have any place in this country's fight against terrorism?


I don't think torture belongs in the American arsenal. I think torture is illegal, is immoral, but I would go further and argue that it doesn't work.
These silly scenarios [in which] the terrorist knows where the bomb is that's about to go off in 30 minutes -- that's not reality. Further, you have to judge what you get in information versus the strategic loss that you take when it is revealed, as it will be inevitably, that a country is employing torture.
In Madrid, [I chaired] a working group on intelligence at the time of the revelations of the abuses in Iraq. I was being pummeled by men who are not squeamish, not hand-wringing compassionate folks, [who said] it was worse than immoral -- it was stupid. The information really had very little value, and yet the loss that we took strategically to our reputation is tremendous. This is like going to Las Vegas and throwing down a million dollars to win a nickel.
Finally, you take into account that [using torture] changes the nature of our own society, and that is a tremendous cost.
[As for legal justifications], I would find a legal brief more compelling if I knew the lawyer had witnessed an actual waterboarding -- more so, had the author been waterboarded. Let's waterboard a panel of lawyers and see where they come out.

Dick Cavett

Father Guido Sarducci

11/19/10

Nilsson

11/18/10

11/16/10

Public Ignorance

Frightened by joblessness, “the American people” rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two per cent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.
Another part of the problem, it must be said, is public ignorance.
An illuminating Bloomberg poll, taken a week before the election, found that some two-thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, are gone never to be recovered. One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health-care law will drive the deficit higher.
Reality tells a different story.
For ninety-five per cent of us, taxes are actually lower, cut by around four hundred dollars a year for individuals and twice that for families. (The stimulus provided other tax cuts for people of modest means, including a break for college tuition.)
The economy has been growing, however feebly, for five straight quarters. Most of the TARP loans have been repaid and the rest soon will be, plus a modest profit for the Treasury. And the number of illegal immigrants fell by close to a million last year, thanks in part to more energetic border enforcement. The health-care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says, will bring the deficit down.

By Hendrick Hertzberg
Excerpted from The NewYorker.

11/14/10

The NewYorker

11/13/10

11/12/10

Bumper-Sticker Patriotism


Aaron Sorkin
Playwright, screenwriter and television writer


Bumper-Sticker Patriotism Is No Way to Honor Our Veterans

I was 18 when President Carter rattled America's saber. The Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, and Carter wanted to show the Russians that we weren't kidding around so he re-instituted registration for the draft. (He didn't re-institute the draft, just registration for the draft.) I'd just finished my freshman year at Syracuse University and had a summer job in Boston when my 18th birthday came up. My parents insisted that I register at a Boston post office, using my Scarsdale, New York, home address and my Syracuse, New York, dormitory phone number in the hopes that it would somehow slow the draft board down should things escalate beyond boycotting the Olympics. I'm not my father, who served and fought in World War II, and I'm not my sister Debbie, who after graduating from law school signed up with the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. I'm not my brother Noah, who after graduating from law school took a job with the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office -- rising through the ranks to the Organized Crime Division. (Much to our mother's unhappiness, Noah would often be one of the very few people who knew where key prosecution witnesses were being hidden -- making his throat a prime target for Luca Brasi.) And I'm not my mother, who taught public school in New York City her whole adult life in spite of having an education and a resume that would have allowed her to get paid a lot more for a lot less. To be clear, the most dangerous thing I do is get reviewed by the New York Times. When I sacrifice it's by writing a check.

Not so for U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Pereira. Sgt. Pereira (who I'll call Mike for the rest of this brief column because that's what he prefers) enlisted when he was 18 years old. In 2005 and 2006 he was serving at the Bagram Internment Facility in Afghanistan where he analyzed who we'd just captured and why. His MOS (Military Operational Specialty) was 96 Bravo. "Nobody cared what my name was," he says. "Nobody cared what my skin color was or if I believed in God. 96 Bravo was my contribution to the fight."

Mike's quick to tell you that he wasn't ever shot at. "I mean we took mortars and rockets," he says, his voice implying but nothing more serious than that. Okay, so except for the mortars and the rockets, Mike wasn't fired at while he was in Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged, then hired by a civilian contractor working out of Fort Bragg. This time Mike went to Iraq, and he'd like me to not reveal any more information than this: It was once again his job to analyze prisoners. His interrogations took place in the ICU of the base hospital where he'd question prisoners who needed medical treatment. Once he saw an infant with no skin on his face.

Intelligence gathered from his interrogations would become operational the same night. That's why he was riding in a CH-77 helicopter back to his base. "I wouldn't worry unless any of them were worried." The "them" he's talking about were the Navy SEALs he was riding with. But suddenly the SEALs were worried. The large metallic box filled with supplies and attached to the bottom of the CH-77 was making the bird swivel like a pendulum. Outside his window, Mike saw a fire. "There are always fires in Iraq," he says. "I don't know why." But this fire kept going past his window and past his window and past his window. The helicopter was spinning out of control. The SEALs were shouting.

"This is it," he thought. "Right now." And Mike blacked out.

He doesn't remember how the helicopter got on the ground -- just that he sat there under the stars breathing for hours. And that it took it him some time to understand that he wasn't dead. Mike quit his job and came home to Bellingham, Washington. He and his girlfriend had saved enough money to go to school.

The first 30 days were fine. It was the 31st day that would get him. He took his girlfriend to a local movie theater to see Transformers. In the middle of the movie he experienced a dizziness that was completely foreign to him. He was anxious -- "like when you're thinking, 'Did I leave the coffee pot on? Something's wrong. Someone's in danger.'" His heart started racing and he couldn't breathe. He excused himself, went to the men's room and splashed water on his face. His girlfriend took him home.

He went back to see Transformers again, having missed most of a movie he wanted to see. It happened all over again and, incredibly, right at the same moment in the movie, except this time Mike understood why.

Michael Bay had staged a helicopter crash.

Every day after that got worse. He told his father, "I feel like I'm dying." He went to a doctor who gave him a Xanax and told him he should really see a doctor.

And it just kept on coming. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat, he couldn't socialize with his friends and "listen to them talk about cars and style. I wanted to tell them, 'I died.'" His family, "bless their hearts," told him to give it up to God. His girlfriend "took a pretty hard hit from me" -- something he won't be able to get back. Mike told his girlfriend she had to leave -- that he's now a danger and is no longer in control of himself, and here comes some heroics from the girlfriend. She doesn't go anywhere.

She tells everyone she can find that "there's something wrong with my boyfriend. This isn't him. There's something going on." And she takes Mike to a psychiatrist where he's diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Mike foots the medical bill.

He was introduced to Tim Nelson, a former marine who was good with returning vets with PTSD. The two would sit on a park bench for hours telling stories. He really felt like Tim Nelson was exactly who he needed to talk to and that Tim was helping.

Mike helped clean up the blood when Tim Nelson committed suicide by shooting himself in the face.

Mike was now certain he was going to suffer the same fate. He decided he needed to serve. He had to. That's what he was trained for, and that's where he was comfortable. He went to Big Brothers/Big Sisters to sign up. They loved him. A returning vet who didn't drink or smoke. The 22-year-old kid behind the desk said:

"Listen, we just need to ask you three questions:

1. Have you ever killed anyone? No.
2. Have you ever been shot at? No, not really.
3. What's PTSD?"

Mike was denied. He had letters of recommendation from his doctors but he didn't get the gig. Mike was dead, and nobody would believe him.

Least of all Eric Greitens. Greitens, a former SEAL, founded The Mission Continues, and somehow Mike found Eric Greitens. "You don't need an MOS to serve," Eric told him. "You're going to be a leader. I promise you. In civilian life you're going to be a leader. But first do what I tell you to do." Okay. "There's a 90-year-old woman who can't stand up by herself. She lives in a hole. Go fix up the outside of her house." Mike did as he was told, and soon he was joined by five other vets and five became thirty and one house became fifteen and fifteen houses became five blocks and weeds were pulled and fences painted and garages cleared out. Now Mike had a fellowship with the Mission -- a monthly stipend so that he could go to school while he served, and at school he started to soar.

His girlfriend is now his wife and Mike is now the Director of the Fellowships Program at The Mission Continues. He still has hard days, but Mike knows he's alive.

There have been more than Mike and Mike's girlfriend, Tim Nelson and Eric Greitens. Mike's serious injuries should have been diagnosed and treated way before he went to the movies.

I don't have room here to talk about the tens of thousands of other Mikes. I don't have room to fully talk about Specialist Jennifer Crane, who needed a permission slip from her parents when she enlisted because she was 17 and a half -- who finished Basic Training on Sept. 11, 2001, and was deployed to Afghanistan less than two years later -- who took mortar fire from the Taliban and who, after returning home with undiagnosed PTSD, slept in her car, turned to coke and paid for it first with her savings, then by sleeping with her dealer and then by sleeping with whoever her dealer told her to sleep with. Jennifer has five years clean now, is married with a two-year-old daughter and is the head of Give an Hour. She travels the country speaking to Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans with PTSD and addiction.

At Give an Hour and The Mission Continues they know what hardly any of us know -- that 15 percent of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are suicides.

During Veterans Week you're going to hear people -- particularly those for whom Veterans Week merely means we're one week closer to the Iowa Caucuses -- tell us to "Support Our Troops." And when they do I'd like us to politely ask them to put their pom poms down for a moment. I'd like us to tell them that if you really want to honor our troops you won't use them for an easy applause line, that you won't use them to get votes, or, most insulting to them of all, to divide us into real Americans and fake Americans. I'd like us to ask them what, other than saying it, are they actually doing to support our troops? I'd like to ask the people who say government's bad what they think of the Department of Veteran's Affairs. When we're fighting two wars, should they get more money or less? And where is that money going to come from -- magic or taxes? Mostly I'd like to ask them three questions, but out of respect for President Bring it On, who couldn't get it together to protect Florida from Alabama, I'll skip the first two and just ask the bumper-sticker patriots Question #3: What's PTSD?

If you have to turn to an aide for an answer to that, please get off the stage. There are real leaders like Mike and Jennifer we'd like to listen to. And that's how you can support our troops.

11/7/10

Gnarcade

Gnarcade from Mike Benson on Vimeo.

View

VIEW from Alex Schulz on Vimeo.

11/2/10

I Remember. Don't Vote Republican!

Hi, I'm a Tea-Partier!

Remember

10/31/10

Happy Birthday, Baby!

10/29/10

Gilenya

FDA Approves First Oral Treatment for Relapsing Forms of MS
A New Disease-Modifying Therapy for MS

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation announced today that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Gilenya (fingolimod) as a first-line treatment for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Gilenya is the first oral disease-modifying therapy available for the long-term treatment of MS. The approval of a treatment that may be taken orally (by mouth), versus injection or infusion, is exciting news for members of the MS community.

Seven other disease-modifying therapies (including two identical drugs marketed under different brand names) have been previously approved by the FDA and are presently available by prescription. These are given via self injections at the patient's home or by infusion at a medical facility.

Gilenya (pronounced as "Jil-EN-ee-ah") presents a new option for individuals with MS. While many members of the MS community presently take one of the previously approved disease-modifying therapies and are doing very well on these therapies, not everyone responds to or is able to tolerate these medications. Particularly for these individuals, and for people who are uncomfortable with injections and/or experience injection-site reactions, the prospect of a new oral medication for MS is very encouraging.

MSAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jack Burks explains, "Gilenya represents the first FDA-approved oral drug for MS, which will provide additional opportunities to greatly help many people affected by this disease. The effectiveness data for Gilenya is very impressive. The MS world is excited to add this new class of drug in an oral capsule. However, patients and their doctors must realize that new classes of drugs come with new types of side effects that will require attention. Learning about these adverse events and how to minimize them are an important consideration in deciding if this drug is right for each individual patient."

Administration, Therapeutic Action, Efficacy, and Other Oral Drugs in the Pipeline

This new oral drug will be available by prescription in early October. The dose is a single 0.5 mg capsule taken once daily, with or without food. Since it has been approved as a first-line treatment, doctors may prescribe this medication as a first disease-modifying therapy for MS; in other words, a patient does not need to try other treatments prior to starting on Gilenya.

Formerly known as "FTY720," Gilenya is the first in a new class of immunomodulatory drugs called S1P-receptor modulators. It is similar in structure to a naturally occurring component of cell surface receptors on white blood cells. Gilenya blocks potentially damaging T cells from leaving lymph nodes, lowering their number in the blood and tissues. It may also reduce damage to the central nervous system (CNS) and enhance the repair of damaged neurons. Additionally, animal data suggest that this drug may provide neuroprotective effects. If treatment with Gilenya is discontinued, white blood cells are no longer retained in the lymph nodes and they return to circulation in the body.

Gilenya has been shown to reduce relapse rate and delay the progression of disability, as well as reduce brain lesion activity and brain volume loss as seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), when compared to control groups given a placebo. In addition, in a one-year study, Gilenya compared favorably over interferon beta-1a (Avonex®).

Gilenya is one of five oral medications that have been recently under investigation for the treatment of MS. These include oral cladribine, which has been given Fast Track status by the FDA and may be approved later this year or in early 2011, and oral laquinimod, which has been given Fast Track status as well. Additionally, the developers of oral teriflunomide have recently announced positive data from their pivotal trials, while oral BG-12 (dimethyl fumerate) is also in phase III studies with the hopes of filing for FDA approval in the near future.

Clinical Trial Information

The information in this section is an excerpt from the upcoming cover story, "Multiple Sclerosis Research Update." The full cover story will appear in MSAA's Summer/Fall 2010 issue of The Motivator, due out in late October. The "Multiple Sclerosis Research Update" was written by Diana M. Schneider, Ph.D and reviewed by MSAA's Chief Medical Officer Jack Burks, MD. The information to follow is an overview of some of the pivotal trial results for Gilenya.

The FREEDOMS Phase III study of low-dose (0.5 mg) and high-dose (1.25 mg) Gilenya (fingolimod) versus placebo is scheduled to end in March 2011. Outcome measures to date show the drug to be safe and well tolerated. Interim data show a 60-percent reduction in annualized relapse rate, a significant reduction in disability progression, a 74 to 82-percent reduction in the burden of disease as measured by MRI, and a reduction in whole-brain atrophy.

An extension study, FREEDOMS II, evaluated long-term safety, tolerability and efficacy; all 1,080 participants received Gilenya. Two deaths resulted from Herpes virus infection in the FREEDOMS trials; both of these individuals had received a higher dose than that submitted to the FDA. No deaths were reported in lower-dose group, which used the same dose as approved by the FDA.

The TRANSFORMS Phase III trial was a 12-month study of the efficacy of two doses of Gilenya (0.5 mg and 1.25 mg) as compared to weekly intramuscular injections of Avonex in individuals with RRMS. Its primary outcome measure was a reduction of relapse rate. Secondary measures include frequency of relapses, inflammatory disease activity as measured on MRI, and time to progression of disability.

In the TRANSFORMS trial, the annualized relapse rate was lower with Gilenya 0.5 mg (0.16) versus Avonex (0.33) at 12 months. The proportion of relapse-free patients was also higher with Gilenya. In summary, Gilenya was more effective in reducing relapse rate and relapse frequency, resulted in less deterioration in the ability to independently perform daily activities, was associated with a lower rate of brain atrophy, and showed a greater effect on reducing MRI measures of lesion activity.

Another new clinical trial began in April 2010. It has 1,850 participants, all of whom are receiving Gilenya. This trial is scheduled for completion in April 2011. The primary outcome measure is the safety and tolerability profile in patients with relapsing forms of MS. Secondary measures include the incidence of macular edema (swelling behind the eye) and any changes in heart rate or function as seen on an electrocardiogram. Secondary measures also include patient-reported outcomes based on surveys of health status and treatment satisfaction.

The 36-month INFORMS study in 940 individuals is the only trial now ongoing for PPMS. It will evaluate the effect of Gilenya relative to placebo on delaying the time to sustained disability progression, as well as safety, tolerability, and the effects on MRI parameters.

Side Effects, Adverse Events, and Precautionary Steps to Minimize Risks

These oral medications offer the advantage of not requiring injections or infusions, as with drugs approved prior to September 2010. Oral medications do not cause related side effects such as injection-site reactions and flu-like symptoms. However, these new drugs are not without potential side effects and adverse events, which need to be discussed with one's healthcare provider prior to making any treatment decisions.

The most commonly reported side effects with Gilenya include headache, flu, diarrhea, back pain, abnormal liver tests and cough. Women are strongly advised to use contraception to avoid pregnancy while taking Gilenya - and to continue contraception for two months following the discontinuation of Gilenya. Although no studies have been conducted to see the effects of pregnancy with humans while taking Gilenya, animal studies suggest that it could cause fetal harm. Researchers also do not know if the drug is passed through breast milk, so the makers of Gilenya also strongly advise against breast feeding.

Adverse events with Gilenya include: a reduction in heart rate (dose-related and transient); infrequent transient AV conduction block of the heart; a mild increase in blood pressure; macular edema (a condition that can affect vision, caused by swelling behind the eye); reversible elevation of liver enzymes; and a slight increase in lung infections (primarily bronchitis). Infections, including herpes infection, are also of concern.

A number of precautionary steps have been put in place to minimize risks and enable doctors to better evaluate and treat any possible adverse events. Within six months prior to starting Gilenya, patients should be given a baseline evaluation for any issues with the heart, lungs, liver, eyes and vision, as well as white-blood-cell count (which may indicate an existing infection). Present medications also need to be considered. Vitals (blood pressure, pulse, etc.) should be taken at baseline and periodically while on treatment.

Since the drug causes a reduction in circulating white blood cells, individuals considering Gilenya also need to indicate if they have had chicken pox or a chicken pox vaccination recently; if so, they may need to wait before starting the medication. Individuals who test negative for the chicken pox virus may need to be vaccinated and delay starting Gilenya. Patients will also need to avoid vaccinations with live viruses.

When beginning the drug, patients must be observed at a medical facility for the first six hours following the first dose. This is necessary as Gilenya may slow the heart rate, with the most significant drop usually occurring within the first six hours. While taking this drug, patients need to contact their doctor immediately if they experience any symptoms such as dizziness, tiredness, slow or irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties, visual changes, or signs of an infection or liver problem.

If an adverse event occurs, the treating physician may determine the best follow-up treatment. In the case of an infection, in studies, Gilenya was usually discontinued for two weeks. No withdraw issues occurred, however, when restarting the drug, patients need to be observed again for the first six hours following the first return dose. In studies, macular edema occurred in a small number (0.4 percent) of those treated with the approved dose. In such instances, study protocol required patients to discontinue Gilenya and the condition generally improved or resolved afterward in most but not all cases.

A Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) has been approved to provide information to patients as well as healthcare professionals on how to use the drug safely, along with possible risks that may occur. Novartis will conduct a five-year observational safety study to further evaluate any adverse events. They have also organized a voluntary registry for women who become pregnant while taking or within two months after discontinuing this drug to document possible effects.

Both patients as well as medical professionals are encouraged to visit Gilenya's website at www.gilenya.com for more detailed information on this new treatment. Individuals may also call Gilenya's Patient Service Center at (877) 408-4974 for more information. The Patient Service Center can also provide advocacy with insurance claims as well as financial assistance to those who qualify.

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