The Militant Libertarian

I'm pissed off and I'm a libertarian. What else you wanna know?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Electorette

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Report Ties Dubious Iran Nuclear Docs to Israel

A report on Iran’s nuclear programme issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month generated news stories publicising an incendiary charge that U.S. intelligence is underestimating Iran’s progress in designing a “nuclear warhead” before the halt in nuclear weapons-related research in 2003.

That false and misleading charge from an intelligence official of a foreign country, who was not identified but was clearly Israeli, reinforces two of Israel’s key propaganda themes on Iran – that the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is wrong, and that Tehran is poised to build nuclear weapons as soon as possible.

But it also provides new evidence that Israeli intelligence was the source of the collection of intelligence documents which have been used to accuse Iran of hiding nuclear weapons research.

The Committee report, dated May 4, cited unnamed “foreign analysts” as claiming intelligence that Iran ended its nuclear weapons-related work in 2003 because it had mastered the design and tested components of a nuclear weapon and thus didn’t need to work on it further until it had produced enough sufficient material.

That conclusion, which implies that Iran has already decided to build nuclear weapons, contradicts both the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, and current intelligence analysis. The NIE concluded that Iran had ended nuclear weapons-related work in 2003 because of increased international scrutiny, and that it was “less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005″.

The report included what appears to be a spectacular revelation from “a senior allied intelligence official” that a collection of intelligence documents supposedly obtained by U.S. intelligence in 2004 from an Iranian laptop computer includes “blueprints for a nuclear warhead”.

It quotes the unnamed official as saying that the blueprints “precisely matched” similar blueprints the official’s own agency “had obtained from other sources inside Iran”.

No U.S. or IAEA official has ever claimed that the so-called laptop documents included designs for a “nuclear warhead”. The detailed list in a May 26, 2008 IAEA report of the contents of what have been called the “alleged studies” – intelligence documents on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work — made no mention of any such blueprints.

In using the phrase “blueprints for a nuclear warhead”, the unnamed official was evidently seeking to conflate blueprints for the reentry vehicle of the Iranian Shehab missile, which were among the alleged Iranian documents, with blueprints for nuclear weapons.

When New York Times reporters William J. Broad and David E. Sanger used the term “nuclear warhead” to refer to a reentry vehicle in a Nov. 13, 2005 story on the intelligence documents on the Iranian nuclear programme, it brought sharp criticism from David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“This distinction is not minor,” Albright observed, “and Broad should understand the differences between the two objects, particularly when the information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead.”

The Senate report does not identify the country for which the analyst in question works, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff refused to respond to questions about the report from IPS, including the reason why the report concealed the identity of the country for which the unidentified “senior allied intelligence official” works.

Reached later in May, the author of the report, Douglas Frantz, told IPS he is under strict instructions not to speak with the news media.

After a briefing on the report for selected news media immediately after its release, however, the Associated Press reported May 6 that interviews were conducted in Israel. Frantz was apparently forbidden by Israeli officials from revealing their national affiliation as a condition for the interviews.

Frantz, a former journalist for the Los Angeles Times, had extensive contacts with high-ranking Israeli military, intelligence and foreign ministry officials before joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff. He and co-author Catherine Collins conducted interviews with those Israeli officials for “The Nuclear Jihadist”, published in 2007. The interviews were all conducted under rules prohibiting disclosure of their identities, according to the book.

The unnamed Israeli intelligence officer’s statement that the “blueprints for a nuclear warhead” – meaning specifications for a missile reentry vehicle – were identical to “designs his agency had obtained from other sources in Iran” suggests that the documents collection which the IAEA has called “alleged studies” actually originated in Israel.

A U.S.-based nuclear weapons analyst who has followed the “alleged studies” intelligence documents closely says he understands that the documents obtained by U.S. intelligence in 2004 were not originally stored on the laptop on which they were located when they were brought in by an unidentified Iranian source, as U.S. officials have claimed to U.S. journalists.

The analyst, who insists on not being identified, says the documents were collected by an intelligence network and then assembled on a single laptop.

The anonymous Israeli intelligence official’s claim, cited in the Committee report, that the “blueprints” in the “alleged studies” collection matched documents his agency had gotten from its own source seems to confirm the analyst’s finding that Israeli intelligence assembled the documents.

German officials have said that the Mujahedin E Khalq or MEK, the Iranian resistance organisation, brought the laptop documents collection to the attention of U.S. intelligence, as reported by IPS in February 2008. Israeli ties with the political arm of the MEK, the National Committee of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), go back to the early 1990s and include assistance to the organisation in broadcasting into Iran from Paris.

The NCRI publicly revealed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in August 2002. However, that and other intelligence apparently came from Israeli intelligence. The Israeli co-authors of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran”, Yossi Melman and Meir Javeanfar, revealed that “Western” intelligence was “laundered” to hide its actual provenance by providing it to Iranian opposition groups, especially NCRI, in order to get it to the IAEA.

They cite U.S., British and Israeli officials as sources for the revelation.

New Yorker writer Connie Bruck wrote in a March 2006 article that an Israeli diplomat confirmed to her that Israel had found the MEK “useful” but declined to elaborate.

Israeli intelligence is also known to have been actively seeking to use alleged Iranian documents to prove that Iran had an active nuclear weapons programme just at the time the intelligence documents which eventually surfaced in 2004 would have been put together.

The most revealing glimpse of Israeli use of such documents to influence international opinion on Iran’s nuclear programme comes from the book by Frantz and Collins. They report that Israel’s international intelligence agency Mossad created a special unit in the summer of 2003 to carry out a campaign to provide secret briefings on the Iranian nuclear programme, which sometimes included “documents from inside Iran and elsewhere”.

The “alleged studies” collection of documents has never been verified as genuine by either the IAEA or by intelligence analysts. The Senate report said senior United Nations officials and foreign intelligence officials who had seen “many of the documents” in the collection of alleged Iranian military documents had told committee staff “it is impossible to rule out an elaborate intelligence ruse”.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

BILDERBERG: The systemic conspiracy: Estulin

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Illegal religious gatherings

Government clamps down on Bible study

Religious freedom recently clashed with arrogant bureaucracy in San Diego County, Calif. Religious freedom prevailed.

For five years, the Rev. David Jones and his wife Mary have held Bible studies at their home in Bonita, Calif. With the impeccable timing of a soulless bureaucrat, on Good Friday morning, a San Diego County Code Enforcement officer appeared at the Jones residence, taking photographs and subjecting Mrs. Jones to a sharp interrogation. Did they sing at their meetings? Did they say amen and "praise the Lord?" After Mary responded in the affirmative, the officer declared that these were illegal religious gatherings which must stop immediately.

On April 14, the Joneses received a citation warning them to "cease/stop religious assembly on parcel or obtain a major use permit." Obtaining the permit could cost tens of thousands of dollars, and failure to do so would result in fines starting at $100 and escalating to $1,000. After that, the county official reportedly had warned, "it will get ugly."

But the situation was already ugly. The First Amendment prohibits government from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion, or the right of people peaceably to assemble. Common sense argues that a weekly Bible study group that attracts an average of 15 people would be protected from any form of state intrusion.

The Joneses had no intention of ceasing their Bible studies. Attorney Dean Broyles of the Western Center for Law & Policy, who represented the couple, told us he advised them that they should "obey God, not man." The county dug in on its position until local news organizations picked up the story and a barrage of criticism erupted, at which point the county wisely chose to back down.

County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard released a statement saying "no one would find the infringement of such rights more abhorrent." Officials now contend that the issue was really about parking, which Mr. Broyles said is "completely absurd" since the matter was never raised in the weeks during the dispute.

Similar cases have occurred in Connecticut and Florida, threatening the survival of prayer groups and other private religious gatherings. But as this case shows, out-of-control administrators will fold when their schemes are exposed. This is a useful illustration of the power of the press and common sense in defending religious rights. In many government agencies, a refresher course on civil liberties is in order.

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Fail, Fail, Fail, Fail

by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

How about a bit of reality? Not the ridiculous promises from Washington, the absurd talk of "green shoots" while unemployment soars and investment falls, the silly guarantees that GM has a bright future even as its stock price falls to less than the price of a Snickers bar, the nonsense about how if we spend more and inflate more. Recovery will come tomorrow morning.

The war on recession is a flop. Fail, fail, fail.

The full-scale war on recession began in January 2008. Unemployment was climbing and house prices were falling, and George Bush, whose entire persona was the war mode since 2001, decided he wouldn't tolerate declining economic conditions.

That's when the Fed started pushing down interest rates to ridiculous lows and started gunning the money supply as much as possible. Bush put on his solemn/determined face and started talking to the American people about how he was going to destroy this recession monster in its crib.

Now, there are things politicians can do in the face of trends they don't like. If kids aren't learning to read, bureaucrats can cobble together carrots and sticks and gin up the scores a bit for a while. They can have their hirelings shoot consumers of illegal substances and bomb foreigners who don't love America. They can pass out goodies to friends and take them away from enemies. From time to time, they can experience moderate success in these actions.

But the economy? Now, here is a force too big even for the biggest government in the history of the world, which is the U.S. government. That's because economic trends are embedded in the structure of the material world and operate according to laws akin to gravity. They are social laws, if you will, features of the world that operate in all times and all places, and they are generated by the implacable fact of scarcity and the need for a system of production and allocation.

In other words, economic trends are finally beyond the control of the political class. This is the great lesson that economics has been teaching for some 700 years, generation after generation.

As Bastiat wrote, economic laws "act on the same principle whether we take the case of a numerous agglomeration of men or of only two individuals, or even of a single individual condemned by circumstances to live in a state of isolation."

They are unavoidable features of the world, ones which the political class is forever attempting to override. The economy had been on a false foundation for some years, and the housing sector in particular had become wildly overbuilt and rested on bad debt. What can politicians do about this? Absolutely nothing. Economic foundations are built by private investment. Government has no resources of its own to build a foundation. It can only rob people of their property and thereby divert resources from where they belong to where they ought not to be.

When prices of houses started falling, we began to see only the most conspicuous sign of the rot underneath it all. But the political class blamed the symptom instead of the disease, and started trying to prop up prices, which is probably the stupidest thing these birds could ever attempt. It is utterly futile to attempt to change the direction of prices. It is about as successful as attempting to replace the water in one ocean with another or rearranging the order of the planets. It is beyond their capacity.

Bastiat said of the attempts of his time: "Modern reformers! when I see you desiring to replace this admirable natural order by an arrangement of your own invention, there are two things (although they are in reality one and the same) that confound me – namely, your want of faith in Providence, and your faith in yourselves – your ignorance, and your presumption."

It's not just that the attempt to undo economic law doesn't work. It ends up mucking up the system even more, and prolonging the suffering. That is precisely what has happened. There can be no question that we would have been out of this recession by now had the politicians not intervened. But an election was coming and Bush tried to rig the system. Not only that, but after seven years of ridiculous marauding around like King of the Universe, he was flush with power and arrogance.

Bush attempted to reverse the economic river by waging a war on recession, about which I was writing back in March 2008: "All this nonsense about digging ourselves out of recession through government intervention began with the New Deal. But here is the amazing fact: not once has this strategy worked."

By the fall and winter, it became clear that the War on Recession was not working and the economy was sinking further. Rather than give up, Bush pushed so hard that he managed to throw us all in the arms of a socialist who knows nothing about economics and has surrounded himself with big shots who affirm him in his ignorance – people like Paul Krugman, who are wedded to antique mythologies about the glories of government power.

And so we live through it again. We see the fools trying this and that with our lives and liberty, promising glorious results around the corner. Well, by now, we've been around the corner, the next one and the next one, and it gets worse with each turn. These people are driving us right into the abyss, and let's be clear that this is not the fault of private investors or savers or foreigners or stock jobbers. It is the fault of the managers of this recession: the government, whoever is or has been in charge, and the Fed that operates on government authority.

They are strangling free enterprise just as surely as a mugger chokes his victim, and with it the capacity for the American worker and producer to do the hard work of restoring prosperity.

We are a generation that proudly shows off its accomplishments in all areas of science, and we preen about our love of facts and our detachment from mythology. Yet our culture is imbued with the most ridiculous faith in government to turn stones into bread, to accomplish miracles with a printing press before our very eyes. This is the age of folly.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Avoiding police brutality

by jasonn

There are a few simple things you can do to avoid violent escalation. Total and absolute subjection is essential. You can not win. If you resist, you will be punished more. If you succeed in resisting, you will go to prison for the rest of your life. You are dealing with someone that has the full power of courts and nation's law on their side, as well as weapons and backup. Private citizens will stand by helpless as they beat or even kill you. Nobody will intervene. And, even if you feel you didn't justify or provoke a violent attack, once the attack has happened you will be charged with serious felonies to justify the physical damage. Your chance of avoiding prison time or a felony conviction are small. They hold all the evidence and authority. It is urgent that you avoid conflict with law enforcement.

1. Don't smile; don't scowl. This is a potentially emotional event for the defendant and the police officer. Treat the event as a serious and professional matter.
2. Never speak disrespectfully to an officer or anyone in his presence, especially when they are verbally abusive. A verbally abusive officer is much more likely to use force to subdue or punish you.
3. Always answer simply "Yes sir," or "no sir." Do not respond to abusive questions with disdain. It is important to remember that the officer believes you must comply with his every demand whether you believe the law requires it or not.
4. If asked to exit a vehicle, elevate your arms slowly to show submission. Always keep your hands away from your pockets and never put them too close to your sides. Never make any quick movements.
5. Do not demand the officer unhand you, not tase you, not beat you. Such demands solicit punishment.
6. Never refuse to sign a ticket or anything else the officer asks you to sign. If you believe signing a document puts you in legal jeopardy, the time to deal with that is in a courtroom. A courtroom is the only place to defend yourself.

An increasing number of middle aged and elderly people are challenging police officers and suffering their retribution. Police officers have virtually no way to punish someone for making their job miserable (through the legal system), and an increasing number of them are using tasers to make their point. They're using tasers, fists, boots, elbows, batons, or whatever they can put on the annoying resister to teach them a lesson. People in my age group seem to be the worst offenders, standing up for their perceived rights.

You have no rights. This silly notion that there is some protection that graces all people born in the US is the single biggest contributor to these violent events. Debating law with someone that wears a badge is a bad idea. Don't ever do it! You come across as condescending, and they instantly enter a state of anger. If you can't say "yes sir" or "no sir," just keep your mouth shut. If you believe an officer is breaking the law, survive the conflict and make a legal complaint. Once you've engaged in physical assault, your complaint is moot. At that point you're a felon, not a law abiding citizen making a complaint. Avoid the arrest, battery, or other conflicts. Take your ticket, verbal abuse, and live your life with limb and freedom entact (freedom from imprisonment). The fact is this whole notion of rights is very flawed. You have only the ability to protect yourself or your property so long as someone with more force or power can't over power you. Once you engage in a conflict with law enforcement, you lose. They are not trained to submit. And, any attempt to protect yourself with force is illegal. Neither the constitution nor [the people] will protect you from potential jail time, physical suffering, or death.

In a series of videos and recent news, typically law abiding citizens are arguing with police officers and suffering beatings, sometimes tasing, then jail. The escalation usually starts with a legitimate infraction or some kind of profiling, checkpoint, or other traditional police action. To the officer, questioning the authority he has or impairing his ability to do his job is a serious crime. To the citizen, questioning authority is their inalienable right. It almost always begins with the citizen asking questions or making a complaint. The police officer decides to handcuff, slap, punch, or tase the citizen. Usually, the citizen will escape with a simple handcuffing and ride downtown. Any resistance at this point virtually guarantees a violent attack.

The thing to remember is that an increasing number of these officers deal with serious violent offenders and receive training in MMA, grappling, and weapons. The goal of such training is not to softly detain a suspect. Its goal is to immediately immobilize and render impotent any additional defensive or offensive moves. Broken arms, collar bones, dislocated shoulders, and a series of very painful injuries happen during training. Add adrenaline and/or anger, and it's a wonder more people aren't killed during these conflicts. You can not, and will not escape without serious pain. If you successfully free yourself or defend yourself against the attack, you will be shot. In many of these cases the law enforcement officer is just doing his job and abiding in his training.

Once a beating begins, crying for help, begging for mercy, or any other attempts to solicit mercy will not likely shorten the beating. Even going limp solicits violent responses from some people. Put your hands behind your back and try to avoid the instinct to protect your face. If you are punched a few times, it will only elongate the attack if you attempt to protect your face. Their goal is to get your hands behind your back. Usually the punching will cease shortly after your hands are in cuffs.

If you offer any level of resistance, from walking away to refusing to obey any and all demands instantly, you will be treated like someone who attacked the police officer. There is no training for carefully subduing a resistant but harmless citizen. Police officers are trained to deal with violent criminals, not grandmas. Once the escalation reaches punches and kicks, defending yourself only solicits more volatile attacks. It is very difficult to lie still while someone punches, kicks, and batters you. However, your instinct to protect your face and body will only result in increased violence. The adrenaline is pumping and the officer is going to deliver a beating until he determines you are not able to resist even if you want to, or he may just beat you until his anger subsides.

A violent police officer following protocol and training is a different creature from a violent police officer that has an anger management problem. A small number of police officers are bullies and use their badge as an opportunity to inflict pain and suffering to feed a masochistic desire. Most cops are trying to make it home alive. They've all heard stories of some grandma stabbing a fellow officer to death, or some otherwise innocent driver pulling out a hand gun and killing an officer issuing a citation. Most of this growing trend can be avoided by simply complying with the law enforcement officer. Some of it is a result of bad hiring practices, weak training, and the growing police state. For some reason, Americans have consistently voted for more law enforcement, lower pay, less education, lower standards, and all along louder demand that the bad guys be caught. Police violence is a direct result of America's voting and social trends. In other words, you asked for it. My goal is to survive the dangerous environment my fellow citizens have created. I hope this entry helps you stay safe until our country chooses to become a more civil society.

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Navy Vet Honored, Foiled Israeli Attack

What’s the difference between murder and massacre?

The answer is Terry Halbardier, whose bravery and ingenuity as a 23-year-old Navy seaman spelled the difference between the murder of 34 of the USS Liberty crew and the intended massacre of all 294.

The date was June 8, 1967; and for the families of the 34 murdered and for the Liberty’s survivors and their families, it is a “date which will live in infamy” — like the date of an earlier surprise attack on the U.S. Navy.

The infamy is two-fold: (1) the Liberty, a virtually defenseless intelligence collection platform prominently flying an American flag in international waters, came under deliberate attack by Israeli aircraft and three 60-ton Israeli torpedo boats off the coast of the Sinai on a cloudless June afternoon during the six-day Israeli-Arab war; and (2) President Lyndon Johnson called back carrier aircraft dispatched to defend the Liberty lest Israel be embarrassed — the start of an unconscionable cover-up, including top Navy brass, that persists to this day.

Given all they have been through, the Liberty survivors and other veterans – who joined Halbardier to celebrate his belated receipt of the Silver Star – can be forgiven for having doubted that this day would ever come. In the award ceremony at the Visalia (California) office of Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman pinned the Silver Star next to the Purple Heart that Halbardier found in his home mailbox three years ago.

Nunes said, “The government has kept this quiet I think for too long, and I felt as my constituent he [Halbardier] needed to get recognized for the services he made to his country.”

Nunes got that right. Despite the many indignities the Liberty crew has been subjected to, the mood in Visalia was pronouncedly a joyous one of Better (42 years) Late Than Never. And, it did take some time to sink in: Wow, a gutsy congressman not afraid to let the truth hang out on this delicate issue.

Treatment Accorded the Skipper

As we gathered in Congressman Nunes’s office, I could not get out of my head the contrast between this simple, uncomplicated event and the rigmarole that senior Navy officers went through to pin a richly deserved Medal of Honor on another hero of that day, the Liberty’s skipper, Captain William McGonagle.

Although badly wounded by Israeli fire on June 8, 1967, McGonagle was able to keep the bombed, torpedoed, napalmed Liberty afloat and limping toward Malta, where what was left of the bodies of the 34 crewmen killed and the 174 wounded could be attended to.

Do the math: yes, killed and wounded amounted to more than two-thirds of the Liberty crew of 294.

I remembered what a naval officer involved in McGonagle’s award ceremony told one of the Liberty crew: “The government is pretty jumpy about Israel…the State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal.”

When McGonagle received his award, the White House (the normal venue for a Medal of Honor award) was all booked up, it seems, and President Johnson (who would have been the usual presenter) was unavailable. So it fell to the Secretary of the Navy to sneak off to the Washington Navy Yard on the banks of the acrid Anacostia River, where he presented McGonagle with the Medal of Honor and a citation that described the attack but not the identity of the attackers.

Please don’t misunderstand. The Liberty crew is not big on ceremony. They are VERY-not-big on politicians who wink when Navy comrades are killed and wounded at sea.

Getting the Truth Out

The Liberty survivors are big on getting the truth out about what actually happened that otherwise beautiful day in June 1967. Last Wednesday’s award of the Silver Star to Terry Halbardier marked a significant step in the direction of truth telling. Is it too much to hope that the example set by Nunes may embolden other lawmakers to right the wrongs done to their Liberty-veteran constituents — and thus to chip away at what’s left of the cover-up?

Halbardier said he accepted his Silver Star on behalf of the entire 294-man crew. He and fellow survivor Don Pageler expressed particular satisfaction at the wording of the citation, which stated explicitly — with none of the usual fudging — the identity of the attackers: “The USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats in the East Mediterranean Sea….” In the past, official citations, like Captain McGonagle’s, had avoided mentioning Israel by name when alluding to the attack.

I think former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck put it best in condemning this kind of approach as “obsequious, unctuous subservience to the peripheral interests of a foreign nation at the cost of the lives and morale of our own service members and their families.” Strong words for a diplomat. But right on target.

Were it not for Halbardier’s bravery, ingenuity, and technical expertise, the USS Liberty would surely have sunk, taking down much – if not all – of the crew. Israeli commando helicopters were ready to take care of any personnel still that survived the sinking.

The first thing the Israeli aircraft bombed and strafed were the Liberty’s communications antennae and other equipment. They succeeded in destroying all the antennae that were functional. One antenna on the port side, though, had been out of commission and had escaped damage.

On Deck—Just a Guy From Texas

In receiving the Silver Star, Halbardier made light of his heroism, claiming that he was just a guy from Texas who could do a whole lot with simple stuff like baling wire. (In the infantry we called this kind of thing a “field expedient.”) In any case, with his can-do attitude and his technical training, he figured he might be able to get that particular antenna working again. But first he would have to repair a cable that had been destroyed on deck and then connect the antenna to a transmitter.

The deck was still being strafed, but Halbardier grabbed a reel of cable, ran out onto the deck, and attached new cable to the antenna so a radioman could get an SOS out to the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean.

Voila. “Mayday” went out; almost immediately the Israeli aircraft and torpedo ships broke off the attack and went back to base; the Israeli government sent a quick apology to Washington for its unfortunate “mistake;” and President Johnson issued orders to everyone to make believe the Israelis were telling the truth — or at least to remain silent.

To their discredit, top Navy brass went along, and the Liberty survivors were threatened with court martial and prison if they so much as mentioned to their wives what had actually happened. They were enjoined as well from discussing it with one another. As Liberty crewman Don Pageler put it, “We all headed out after that, and we didn’t talk to each other.”

The circumstances were ready-made for serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The stories shared by Liberty survivors after the award ceremony, including descriptions of the macabre but necessary effort to reassemble torpedoed body parts, and the plague of survivor’s guilt, were as heart-rending as any I have heard. They are stories that should be shared more widely for those muzzled far too long — those who, even 42 years later, might be helped by being in contact with other Liberty survivors, and being able to talk about it.

These were the deep emotional scars to supplement the ones all over Halbardier’s body, some of which he uncovered when asked by the local press gathered there in Visalia. Typically, Halbardier made light of the shrapnel that had to be plucked out of his flesh, emphasizing that he was lucky compared to some of the other crew.

No Mistake

Despite Israeli protestations, the accumulated evidence, including intercepted voice communications, is such that no serious observer believes Israel’s “Oops” excuse of a terrible mistake.

The following exchanges are excerpts of testimony from U.S. military and diplomatic officials given to Alison Weir, founder of “If Americans Knew” and author of American Media Miss the Boat:

Israeli pilot to ground control: “This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?”

Ground control: “Yes, follow orders.”

“But sir, it’s an American ship — I can see the flag!”

Ground control: “Never mind; hit it!”

Haviland Smith, a CIA officer stationed in Beirut during the Six-Day War, says he was told that the transcripts were “deep-sixed,” because the U.S. government did not want to embarrass Israel.

Tapes Also Destroyed

Equally telling is the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) destroyed voice tapes seen by many intelligence analysts, showing that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing.

I asked a former CIA colleague, who was also an analyst at that time, what he remembered of those circumstances. Here is his e-mail reply:

“The chief of the analysts studying the Arab-Israeli region at the time told me about the intercepted messages and said very flatly and firmly that the pilots reported seeing the American flag and repeated their requests of confirmation of the attack order. Whole platoons of Americans saw those intercepts. If NSA now says they do not exist, then someone ordered them destroyed.”

One need hardly add at this point that the destruction of evidence without investigation is an open invitation to repetition in the future.

Think interrogation videotapes, for example.

As for the legal side: the late Captain Ward Boston, unburdened himself on his accomplice role as the Navy lawyer appointed as senior counsel to Adm. Isaac Kidd, who led a one-week (!) investigation and then followed orders to pronounce the attack on the Liberty a case of “mistaken identity.”

Boston signed a formal declaration on Jan. 8, 2004, in which he said he was “outraged at the efforts of the apologists for Israel in this country to claim that this attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’” Boston continued:

“The evidence was clear. Both Adm. Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack … was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew … Not only did the Israelis attack the ship with napalm, gunfire, and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded — a war crime …

“I know from personal conversations I had with Adm. Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

W. Patrick Lang, Col., USA (ret.), who was the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top analyst for the Middle East for eight years, recounted the Israeli air attacks as follows:

“The flight leader spoke to his base to report that he had the ship in view, that it was the same ship he had been briefed on, and that it was clearly marked with the U.S. flag…

“The flight commander was reluctant. That was very clear. He didn’t want to do this. He asked them a couple of times, ‘Do you really want me to do this?’ I’ve remembered it ever since. It was very striking. I’ve been harboring this memory for all these years.”

Lang, of course, is not alone. So too Terry Halbardier, who told those assembled last Wednesday, “I think about it [the attack on the Liberty] every day.”

Why Sink the Ship?

What we know for sure is, as the independent commission headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Thomas Moorer put it, the attack “was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew.”

What we do not know for sure is why the Israelis wanted that done. Has no one dared ask the Israelis?

One view is that the Israelis did not want the United States to find out they were massing troops to seize the Golan Heights from Syria and wanted to deprive the U.S. of the opportunity to argue against such a move.

James Bamford offers an alternative view in his excellent book, Body of Secrets. Bamford adduces evidence, including reporting from an Israeli journalist eyewitness and an Israeli military historian, of wholesale killing of Egyptian prisoners of war at the coastal town of El Arish in the Sinai. The Liberty was patrolling directly opposite El Arish in international waters but within easy range to pick up intelligence on what was going on there. And the Israelis were well aware of that.

But the important thing here is not to confuse what we know (the deliberate nature of the Israeli attack) with the ultimate purpose behind it, which remains open to speculation.

Also worth noting is the conventional wisdom prevalent in our Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) that Egypt forced Israel into war in June 1967. An excellent, authoritative source has debunked that — none other than former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin! In an unguarded moment in 1982, when he was prime minister, he admitted publicly:

“In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Thus, the Israeli attack admittedly amounted to starting a war of aggression, and the occupied West Bank territories and the Golan Heights – gained by the Israelis in the 1967 war – remain occupied to this day.

The post WWII tribunal at Nuremberg distinguished a “war of aggression” from other war crimes, terming it the “supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Perhaps the attempt to sink the Liberty and finish off all survivors qualifies as one of those accumulated evils.

Terry Halbardier summed it up this way on Wednesday:

“There’s lots of theories but let’s just say they didn’t want us listening in to what they wanted to do.”

Getting Away With Murder

In sum, on June 8, 1967, the Israeli government learned that it could get away with murder, literally, and the crime would be covered up, so strong is the influence of the Israel Lobby in our Congress — and indeed, in the White House. And those USS Liberty veterans who survived well enough to call for an independent investigation have been hit with charges of, you guessed it, anti-Semitism.

Does all this have relevance today? Of course.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Israeli Prime Minister has now had an up-close-and-personal chance to take the measure of our new president and has already thumbed his nose at Barack Obama’s plea for a halt in illegal construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The Israelis seem convinced they remain in the catbird’s seat, largely because of the Israel Lobby’s influence with U.S. lawmakers and opinion makers — not to mention the entrée the Israelis enjoy to the chief executive himself by having one of their staunchest allies, Rahm Emanuel, in position as White House chief of staff.

The recent Obama-Netanyahu encounter reminded me very much of the meeting in Vienna between another young American president and Nikita Khrushchev in early June 1961. The Soviets took the measure of President John Kennedy, and we got the Cuban missile crisis, bringing the world close to nuclear destruction.

Netanyahu is currently whipping up frenzy and fear in the face of what he calls the “existential threat” posed by Iran — frenzy about the “danger” from Iran that could lead to military action of some kind. So confident is Netanyahu of the solidity of his position with movers and shakers in the U.S. that he may be sorely tempted to mount the kind of provocation that would be aimed at confronting Obama with an unwelcome choice between joining an Israeli attack on Iran or facing dire political consequences at home.

And nothing is outlandish any more. Remember Seymour Hersh’s report about Cheney’s office conjuring up plots as to how best to trigger a war with Iran?

“The one that interested me [SH] the most was why don’t we build — we in our shipyard — build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy Seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.”

Mullen’s Message

President Obama might want to think about delivering a pointed message via a senior U.S. military officer. It worked last time.

In early July 2008, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was sent to Israel to read the riot act to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who seemed to be itching to start hostilities with Iran while Bush and Cheney were still in office.

We learned from the Israeli press that Mullen, to his credit, went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident like the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 — that the Israelis should disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if Israel somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran.

This is the only occasion of which I am aware when a U.S. official of such seniority braced Israel about the Liberty incident. A gutsy move, especially with Cheney and Elliott Abrams then in the White House, two hawks who would bless — or even encourage — an Israeli provocation that would make it very difficult for Washington to avoid springing to the defense of its “ally.”

The Israelis know that Mullen knows that the attack on the Liberty was deliberate. Mullen could have raised no more neuralgic an issue to take a shot across an Israeli bow than to cite the attack on the Liberty. The Jerusalem Post reported that Mullen cautioned that a Liberty-type incident must be avoided in any future military actions in the Middle East.

Will Netanyahu give more weight to Mullen or to pro-Israel politicians like Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey? Lautenberg, who has visited Israel 80 times since 1968, spoke with the Jerusalem Post earlier this week and pledged full support for pretty much whatever Israel wants to do:

“Israel didn’t ask us permission to drop bombs twice on Syrian nuclear facilities. I don’t hear America scolding Israel for what it did then. Hypothetically, if Israel were able to get rid of Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capability, I’m sure that America would not send Israel a chastising email message. We have to give Israel the courtesy of [allowing it to] make its own decisions.”

For good measure, Lautenberg said Israel “won’t return to the ’67 borders. They are insufficient to permit Israel to function.”

Let me ask again: Will Netanyahu give more weight to Mullen over Lautenberg and a pro-Israel U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) who spoke about “obliterating” Iran during last year’s campaign?

In gauging President Obama’s clout with the Washington power-brokers, Netanyahu is likely to draw conclusions more from things like Obama’s inability, or reluctance, to turn off the feckless, counterproductive sabotage squads inside Iran, than from any warnings Netanyahu may have heard from the president to please not attack Iran.

Seems we are pretty much back where we were a year ago, when it looked like Olmert might mount some kind of provocation involving Iran. Perhaps President Obama should send Adm. Mullen back to Israel.

And perhaps this time Mullen should take Terry Halbardier with him.

Netanyahu needs to be confronted without delay. And June 8, the 42nd anniversary of the attempted sinking of the USS Liberty, could prove an interesting time to be in Tel Aviv.

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No Accident NAIS Opponents Outnumber Supporters at Listening Sessions

by Stewart Doan

Opponents of USDA’s National Animal Identification System far outnumbered supporters at the eight animal ID listening sessions held so far. It turns out that’s not by accident.

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Executive Director, Judith McGeary, confirms her group is working with the National Family Farm Coalition and other small farm advocacy groups to encourage anti-NAIS turnout at the listening sessions, and she is pleased with the results thus far. “The simple fact is that small farmers, people who own a few animals, consumers, we are the majority by a huge percentage, in terms of number of people. And we’ve been loud enough and strong enough that USDA has agreed that it needs to, at the very least, give the appearance of paying attention to those concerns.”

McGeary spoke on the Austin stop of the national listening tour and submitted about 2,000 pages of petition signatures in opposition to NAIS in either a voluntary or mandatory form. In addition to farmers and consumers, anti-government and anti-globalization activists are showing up at the meetings too.

Irene Lin, National Family Farm Coalition Policy Analyst, says, “Some of our folks do work with some of these people who concerns from a property rights angle, or the religious angle. So they are working together where they can. Our opposition to the animal id program is a little different than theirs, but we welcome any sort of coalition to try to stop it.”

The few speakers who have expressed support for a mandatory id system mainly represented state animal health agencies, cattle feeders, and hog farmers affiliated with the National Pork Producers Council.

Lin called on Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to use the animal ID listening tour to kill the National Animal Identification System, not try to fix it.

“I don’t see how you can have 80-90 percent people showing up opposing this thing, and you somehow completely discount all the criticism and just say too bad guys, we’re going to do a mandatory program whether you like it or not. So I would hope that democracy can prevail in this instance.”

While Vilsack personally has attended only two of the eight sessions held thus far, a USDA spokesman says he’s reviewed transcripts of each meeting. Seven more sessions are planned between June 1st and June 25th in Loveland, Colorado; Jefferson City, Missouri; Rapid City, South Dakota; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Riverside, California; Tallahassee, Florida; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dangerous Toys, Strange Bedfellows

by Katherine Mangu-Ward

Cecilia Leibovitz is the kind of person who writes sentences like: “Children are individuals, each with their own unique personality, so I just couldn’t feel good about buying mass-produced toys and clothing from cookie-cutter chain stores.” Leibovitz is the 36-year-old founder of Craftsbury Kids, a Vermont-based online vendor of handmade toys. She sells the type of gear that arty, upscale, NPR-listening parents can’t get enough of: sock monkeys, baby onesies featuring a “hand-stamped and appliquéd” crow with “crocheted flowers and recycled fabric grass,” even a carved wooden “707 Air Force One plane” with “a beautiful silk screened portrait of President John F. Kennedy.” So no one was more surprised than Leibovitz last winter when she found herself on the wrong side of federal law, fighting against consumer safety groups, and building alliances with Republican congressmen to defend free markets.

It all started with the panic over Chinese toys in the summer of 2007. Against a backdrop of daily scare stories about kids gnawing on knick-knacks full of lead, Mattel recalled a staggering 19 million toys. The news made headlines for weeks.

Leibovitz and her compatriots had been anticipating the backlash against industrial Chinese toys for years. When the Polly Pockets hit the fan, here was a cadre of crafty hipsters ready to fill the void, making toys, clothes, and even foodstuffs in small U.S.-based factories and home workshops. Leibovitz remembers thinking the Mattel recall would be good for business. And for a while, it was: In September 2007, when holiday sales started to ramp up, “there was just suddenly a huge demand for wooden natural toys and alter-native toys that were made in the U.S.,” she says. Her suppliers worked feverishly to fill orders.

But the existence of this burgeoning domestic alternative wasn’t enough to placate a dosomething Congress. In August 2008—more than a year after the toy scandal broke—President George W. Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which went into effect on February 10, 2009. The law bans lead and phthalates in toys, books, clothes, and any other object intended for children under 12. To enforce these rules, the law requires every toymaker, distributor, or retailer who sells products in the U.S. to certify each of its models through third-party testing, labeling every item with an individual date and batch number.

Overnight, a bunch of cheerful believers in good government found themselves on the wrong side of a do-gooding law. Under the terms of the new rules, their lead-free, hand-crafted toys were now illegal until proven clean.

‘Weird Alliance’

When the law went into effect, the U.S. “went from being a country that did not really push certification to having the strictest certification in the world,” says Jason Gold of Camden Rose, a natural toymaker in the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many of the toys Gold sells are made from wood pulled out of a local forest by Amish men using horses, so that no machines are employed in the making of the products. Gold had been following the progress of the CPSIA from the beginning, trying unsuccessfully to get the word out about damage to mom-andpop producers, until interest finally exploded in the first week of December.

The new requirements are easy for big manufacturers to meet but are impossibly onerous for small domestic toymakers. Producers have to pay up to $4,000 to have each new toy tested in the United States. Ironically, testing can be done much more cheaply in China—for just a couple hundred dollars per item. But this option is hardly appealing to a man who pays top dollar to Amish carters to make sure no dead dinosaurs are burned in the production of his wooden toy dinosaurs.

Before the legislation, says Leibovitz, “I’d never really gotten involved politically. I’ve just tried to work in my own life.” But a lot of what she thought she knew about the political process turned out to be wrong. She was discouraged to discover how little power citizens, and even individual lawmakers, have over legislation. Consumer safety groups, she says, ended up getting exactly what they wanted.

“I’ve been supportive of some of these groups,” she says. “I actually blogged about this safety issue in 2007, thinking we were just focusing on problem products. I didn’t realize how massive the law would be and how many products it would cover.”

As an active member of the Handmade Toy Alliance, an ad hoc group set up in response to the CPSIA, Leibovitz has spoken with quite a few congressmen during the last few months. “I’m a little disappointed,” she says. “What it looks like is that our needs are largely being responded to by Republicans. Most of the people in the Homemade Toy Alliance are probably more aligned with the Democratic side. And people in the Homemade Toy Alliance kind of like the things that these consumer groups are touting, like safer products and natural things.” But now she finds herself in this “weird alliance.”

‘There’s No Doubt About It That It’s Capitalism, but That’s OK’

Leibovitz’s is one of many websites featuring carefully curated collections of safe toys, books, and clothes for the wary parent. There are sellers to cater to every anxiety about Chinese toys or other threats from the industrialized world. Some emphasize green practices, reusable materials, and local inputs. Others stress tradition, operating on a toy variant of the “slow food” motto, “If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t eat it.” Some stand in opposition to big-box stores, striving to offer cheap, community-oriented alternatives to Wal-Mart. Others are purely concerned about safety and cater to the no-vaccinesand- lots-of-hormone-free-milk set.

The current philosopher-king of the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement is Dale Dougherty, editor and founder of Make and Craft magazines. Dougherty, 53, says of Make: “Behind what we do is an ethic—we don’t wear it on our sleeve—of anti-consumerism.” Yet that’s not the same as anti-capitalism. As many small producers told me, in so many words, “How could I be against global capitalism? I just sold something to a person in Australia.” Or Singapore. Or London. Many products are made with supplies bought cheaply online from China or India, making even the humblest hand-sewn tea towel a product of the global economy even before it goes on sale.

Modern crafter-hipsters make the same T-shirts, cupcakes, and self-produced records that hobbyists have been generating for decades. But now the T-shirts are one-of-a-kind originals available for worldwide sale before the silkscreening is dry, the music is sold online and promoted using Web 2.0 social networking tools, and the cupcakes are organic, vegan, and made from local ingredients. The true amateurs still do it for fun but are just one YouTube video away from international fame. And for the more serious practitioner, it’s never been easier to convert an idea into a product, and a product into a going concern.

The epicenter of the DIY movement is Etsy. com, a massive, easy-to-use clearinghouse for handmade goods. Launched in 2005, Etsy bears some resemblance to eBay, but with an active community component. It also looks cooler, and the goods are nearly all small-batch or one of a kind. The 2.8 million items currently listed for sale are fully searchable, and sellers are easy to contact so you can grill them about which vegetables are used in the dyes for their pinafores. The site did $166,000 in sales its first year, $87 million by 2008.

Reached on his mobile phone while browsing in a Salvation Army store, Etsy’s vice president of communications, Matt Stinchcomb, says: “At the end of the day, we’re a company. We’re in the business of capitalism. It’s more about conscientious consumption or consuming better. There’s no doubt about it that it’s capitalism, but that’s OK. It’s a better kind.” The Etsy enthusiasts won’t bother Wal-Mart if Wal-Mart doesn’t bother them. “As a culture, we’re hungry for alternatives, which is part of our notion of abundance,” says Dougherty. “It’s not so much that Wal-Mart’s wrong,” but there’s room for this too.

Leibovitz and her partner, Michael Secore, sell the work of dozens of home-based toymakers, mostly individuals and small family or community groups. “What we sell tends to include a lot of home-based activity,” Leibovitz says. “A retired grandfather supplementing his Social Security income making pine trucks.…A lot of young mothers too. There are small shops where they’ve got a handful of people. Sewing rooms or wood shops with six to eight people.” Yet Leibovitz and Secore have more in common with telecommuting information workers than they do with the archetypal grandmother selling doilies at a church bazaar. When their son Liam was born, Secore thought, “Wow, I want to stay here with this little guy.” And so they figured out a way to do that and still make money.

That’s another characteristic of the DIYers: They’re breeders. (At one craft fair, I spotted a maternity T-shirt for sale that read, “I’m so crafty, I make people.”) A visit to Etsy reveals that you can get just about anything printed on a onesie, and that the current generation of stay-at-home moms is an entrepreneurial group. A significant percentage of the products sold on Etsy are for kids, making home producers all the more shocked to have “for the children” rhetoric turned against their livelihood.

The link between technology culture and DIY crafters is not accidental. Make’s Dale Dougherty claims to be the developer of the very first commercial website, and he is a co-founder of the big-think Web firm O’Reilly Media. At the dawn of the Internet age, in 1992, Dougherty helped Tim Berners-Lee (the guy who really invented the World Wide Web) and author Ed Krol write a book about this exciting new world. That book, The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog, was, Dougherty says, “almost an homage” to the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand’s 1968 classic about welding kits, synthesizers, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, and accounting. Brand’s hippie capitalism itself emanated from Menlo Park, in the heart of the Silicon Valley—the same place that saw the first garage meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975, which eventually bred such counterculture-referencing industry powerhouses as Apple. In a 2005 Stanford commencement speech, Apple’s Steve Jobs called the Whole Earth Catalog “Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along,” adding, “It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.”

What Make and Craft take from Brand, Dougherty says, is a sunny outlook. “Where do we get this optimism about technology?” he asks. “I don’t think the ’50s had that feeling. Industrialization was just this large thing. It was going to overtake you, and you had to go along with it.” Dougherty points out that the first Arts and Crafts movement was an adversarial response to Victorian-era industrialization. He says he initially modeled his magazines after early editions of Popular Mechanics, filled with careful instructions for projects like “How to Build Your Own Glider Plane” and a can-do confidence that Americans could be trusted to do things like build and fly homemade planes.

Until the toy testing law hit, entrepreneurial crafters had avoided close encounters of the regulatory kind. The dream for many DIY producers is to have their own shop someday. But this bitter first taste of battle with regulators may keep Etsy sellers and their kin confined for a while longer to the Internet, where they can continue to indulge in the kind of countercultural capitalism that would make their Menlo Park forefathers proud.

‘We Are Not Trying to Advance a Nefarious Political Agenda’

When the lead scandal hit, crafters would have been justified in indulging in I-told-you-sos, but they were ready and eager to do more than criticize. Domestic alternatives to cheap Chinese toys abounded, and they were scaling up quickly—something that’s easy to do when your business lives online. But the new federal rules yanked the hand-loomed rug out from under the crafters’ plans for expansion. As the Handmade Toy Alliance points out on its homepage, “If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.”

In December, when word finally started to get out about the possible ramifications of the law, crafters rallied at websites such as Facebook, CPSIA-Central, and Etsy’s discussion boards. Toymakers had hoped that it was somehow just a misunderstanding, but in the end all they got was a pretty terrible compromise: a one-year delay of the testing requirements, plus a vague promise from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the body charged with administering the law, not to go after domestic handmade toymakers. During that year, toymakers and sellers will still face fines and even jail time if the government discovers their products aren’t up to code. And the postponement does not apply to painted toys or jewelry.

As a direct result of the CPSIA, some business is already drying up. Selecta, a German maker of wooden toys popular with the DIY consumer set, announced that it would no longer export toys to the United States as of the end of 2008, leaving its 1,200 U.S. retailers high and dry. HABA, another German toymaker, has removed its line of jewelry from 2009 catalogs. Since lead is completely banned in all objects intended for children, dirt bikes and other kids’ bicycles containing tiny amounts of lead in their mechanical parts will become illegal. One dealer, Malcolm Smith of the Riverside, California, company Malcolm Smith Motorsports, is defying the law, but other companies have simply pulled their children’s lines off the market.

Jewelry is subject to particularly strict requirements, since most true crystals and rhinestones contain lead—although it poses minimal danger to kids, since the metal remains locked inside the crystal structure of the stones. (A California toy law, which was the model for federal legislation, contains exceptions for rhinestones.) The CPSIA also requires that children’s books printed before 1985 be individually tested to rule out the presence of lead paint or other hazardous materials, a provision that has angered librarians and caused some used bookstores to trash much of their vintage stock. Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association, told the Congress-covering paper The Hill, “We are an industry that looks out for children every day. We are much more concerned [with children’s safety] than that commission or its general counsel.” At this year’s Toy Fair in New York, CPSC Assistant Executive Director John Mullen told bookmakers, “We’re creating a little immunity box for you. You can sell with impunity.” Shortly afterward, however, Mullen noted that if state attorneys general decided to go after publishers under the new law, there was nothing the CPSC could do.

Despite these onerous new burdens on the industry, outlets such as the New York Times editorial page remained hostile to mom-and-pop concerns, writing that the delay in implementation “has caused confusion and allowed opponents to foment needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises like libraries, resale shops and handmade toy businesses.” It’s hard to imagine which was more of a shock to the system of people like Leibovitz: getting the support of congressional Republicans or finding themselves in the crosshairs of a Times editorial.

Jennifer Grinnell, founder of LivingPlaying. com, posted a mini-manifesto at in February, after the law went into effect. Grinnell wanted the world to know that she opposed the law, but not because she and her allies are part of any “right wing business group.” She writes of a political gathering at Toy Fair 2009: “To my left sat a vegetarian from Vermont, to my right a cloth diaper retailer from Arizona. Also at the table were people from New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and three people (me included) from Massachusetts. The sad fact about larger public discussions in the US these days is how politicized almost every subject has become. In an ‘us’ and ‘them’ environment, we seem to have lost [sight] of the fact that perhaps we, the citizens who find fault with this law, actually have a legitimate point and are not trying to advance an ideology or nefarious political agenda.”

Leibovitz says sales have held steady for Craftsbury Kids, even as the economy founders and she struggles to figure out which suppliers, if any, will keep her on the right side of the law. But after a baptism by fire in the political process, she’s not so sure that her side will win. With a one-year grace period for most of the industry, it may be possible to convert the stated sympathies of congressmen like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) into legislation that will carve out an exception for most domestic small-scale toymakers. But Leibovitz’s new cynicism shows through when she sighs and says, “There seemed to be an increase in supportive letters from representatives, but no actual changes.”

Leibovitz and Secore feel betrayed by their government and suspicious of how the system works. If the law is fully enforced, perhaps two or three of the 100 toys they currently sell would be legal. “Anything is possible the way these things work. There are lobbyists and interest groups. There are riders that might have to do with someone’s brother’s business in Minnesota or something,” Secore says. “It’s pretty overwhelming to think that I might not be able to do what I do.”

Correction: Malcolm Smith Motorsports is located in Riverside, California, not Riverdale.

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Morticians Association of America Endorses President Obama's Tough New Fuel Efficiency Standards

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A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad

by Andy Worthington

In all the recent hysteria about the supposed dangers posed by the remaining 240 prisoners at Guantánamo, it has been easy to forget that sensible appraisals of the number of individuals with any meaningful connection to terrorism have long indicated that no more than a few dozen of those still held should be regarded as any kind of significant threat and that, therefore, the prison still holds over 200 prisoners who, at best, were low-level Taliban soldiers with a strong dislike of U.S. foreign policy, and, at worst, should never have been held at all.

To listen to Dick Cheney, or to some self-serving politicians who are prone to similar hyperbole, you would think that every one of the remaining 240 prisoners is just itching to return to the fictional battlefield conjured up in last week’s conveniently leaked Pentagon report about recidivism rates (PDF), which, while published uncritically by the New York Times, has been comprehensively trashed by reporters for the New American, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Firedoglake and many other media outlets.

On Friday, the Times finally made up for its lopsided reporting, allowing Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation to write an op-ed whittling the Pentagon’s figure of 74 (14 percent of the prison’s total population) down to somewhere between 12 and 20, and all the commentators cited above have also pointed out that, in any case, the recidivism rate in U.S. federal prisons is somewhere between 60 and 70 percent.

The prisoners in Guantánamo are human beings, not statistics

Moreover, behind all the bluster and the reckless use of statistics are 240 human beings, who, for the most part, have now been imprisoned for over seven years with little, if any opportunity to answer back. Over the last year or so, I have done my best to profile some of these men: those “approved for transfer” from Guantánamo after multiple military review boards (many of whom are now having their cases appraised yet again, this time by the Obama administration’s inter-departmental review), the 25 prisoners cleared for release by U.S. courts (including the Uighurs and former child prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani), after judges ruled in their habeas corpus cases that the government had failed to establish a case against them, and others whose cases are remarkably similar to those dismissed by the U.S. courts.

Last week, however, I was reminded of another of these prisoners, one of several put forward for trial in the military commission trial system conceived by Dick Cheney and his legal counsel, David Addington, in November 2001, who, it seemed to me after detailed examination of their cases over the last two years, should also have been approved for release from Guantánamo, rather than being put forward for the kind of “war crimes” trials that, if valid at all, should surely have been reserved for the handful of prisoners who were accused of being involved in terrorist attacks on the United States.

These prisoners include Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was just 15 years old when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier (although his defense team discovered, 18 months ago, that there had been a cover-up of information indicating that Khadr did not throw the grenade), and a handful of Afghans, who, like Khadr, were, at most, minor insurgents in a war zone, rather than terrorists plotting atrocities on U.S. civilians.

However, the man I was particularly reminded of — although he, like Omar Khadr, was not a man when he was first seized — is Mohamed Jawad, a young Afghan, accused of throwing a grenade at a jeep containing two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in December 2002, whose long road to justice stalled in January, when the Obama administration froze all proceedings in the tribunals for four months (and is now seeking another four-month freeze).

How the case against Mohamed Jawad collapsed

This was particular harsh on Jawad because, over the previous few months, his military defense lawyer, Maj. David Frakt, had demonstrated to the judge’s satisfaction that the only material that the government was relying on as evidence of Jawad’s involvement in the attack — a confession extracted from him soon after his capture by Afghan forces, and another extracted the day after by U.S. forces — were inadmissible because they had been obtained through death threats that constituted torture.

On October 28, the judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley found that there was “reason to believe Jawad was under the influence of drugs at the time of his capture and forced confession,” and also “accepted the accused’s account of how he was threatened, while armed senior Afghan officials allied with U.S. forces watched his interrogation.” He stated that he believed Jawad’s account of an interrogator telling him, “You will be killed if you do not confess to the grenade attack. We will arrest your family and kill them if you do not confess.” He also made a point of stating that he was accepting Jawad’s account because the government had failed to provide “timely disclosure of evidence” for his trial, which was scheduled to begin on January 5, 2009.

In response, Maj. Frakt noted that Col. Henley was explicitly rejecting the administration’s notorious attempts to redefine torture, and congratulated the judge for “adopting a traditional legal definition of torture, rather than making one up.”

Three weeks later, Col. Henley dealt another blow to the prosecution’s case by ruling that a second confession, made in U.S. custody the day after his Afghan confession, was also inadmissible, because “the U.S. interrogator used techniques to maintain ‘the shock and fearful state’ associated with his arrest by Afghan police, including blindfolding him and placing a hood over his head.” As Col. Henley explained in his ruling,

The military commission concludes the effect of the death threats which produced the accused’s first confession to the Afghan police had not dissipated by the second confession to the U.S. In other words, the subsequent confession was itself the product of the preceding death threats.

How Mohamed Jawad’s case prompted his prosecutor’s resignation

These were not the only blows to the credibility of Jawad’s case. In September, his prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, had become so disenchanted by systemic failures in the prosecutors’ office that he resigned, explaining that he had gone from being a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived,” and damning the commissions as a dysfunctional system, which, both through accident and design, prevented the disclosure of evidence essential to the defense, thereby ensuring that no fair trial was possible.

Lt. Col. Vandeveld also described how evidence proving that Jawad was a juvenile at the time of his capture, that he was tricked into joining an insurgent group and was drugged before the attack, and that two other men had confessed to the crime, had been deliberately suppressed, and also explained that his proposal to negotiate a plea arrangement for Jawad’s release, which would have involved “a short period of additional custody … devoted to rehabilitating him and preparing him to reintegrate into civilian society,” was dismissed out of hand.

In a submission accompanying Jawad’s habeas corpus claim in January this year, Lt. Col. Vandeveld laid out his criticisms in even more detail, describing at length the “chaotic” state of the prosecutors’ office, and explaining how he discovered evidence relating to Jawad’s abuse at Bagram and in Guantánamo, where he was subjected to a sleep deprivation program, which involved moving prisoners from cell to cell every few hours (over a two-week period, in Jawad’s case) and which was known, euphemistically, as the “frequent flier program.” He also noted that Jawad’s continued detention was “something beyond a travesty,” and stated that he “should be released to resume his life in civil society, for his sake, and for our own sense of justice and perhaps to restore a measure of our basic humanity.”

In addition, when Col. Henley excluded Jawad’s first confession because it had been extracted through torture, Lt. Col. Vandeveld explained why the government no longer had a case against him. The confession, he said, was “among the most important evidence for his upcoming war crimes trial,” and he added, “To me, the case is not only eviscerated, it is now impossible to prosecute with any credibility.”

With all this evidence eviscerating the government’s case against Jawad, you would be forgiven for thinking that, seven months later, he would have been repatriated to Afghanistan, to begin to pull together the pieces of his shattered life. Instead, however, he is still in Guantánamo, with no sign of whether his habeas corpus review will be successful, or if President Obama intends to haul him up before a military commission once more.

Was Mohamed Jawad just 12 years old when seized?

In an attempt to inject fresh life into Jawad’s moribund case, another member of his defense team, Marine Maj. Eric Montalvo, last week visited Afghanistan in an attempt to “create political pressure to move the case forward,” as the Associated Press explained, because President Obama's “decision to close Guantánamo and reconsider how detainees should be tried has indefinitely stalled their case in the United States.”

Announcing, “We were in a winning posture in the trial, so to now come along and change the rules in the middle of the game, who knows what's going to happen,” and adding that Jawad’s case was “somewhat of an embarrassment to the American judicial system,” Maj. Montalvo deposited a petition at Afghanistan’s Supreme Court last Monday, acknowledging that a ruling by the Court would “not have legal authority in the United States,” but hoping that it might raise calls for Jawad’s release by ruling that “Afghanistan's constitution at the time did not allow for the extradition of prisoners to another country, making the transfer to Guantánamo illegal.”

However, the most shocking detail to emerge from Maj. Montalvo’s visit to Afghanistan was his announcement that recent research indicated that Jawad was not 16 or 17 when seized (in contrast to the Pentagon’s claim that he was 18), but that he was in fact just 12 years old. Like many of the dirt-poor, illiterate prisoners in Guantánamo, Jawad himself has no idea when he was born, but Maj. Montalvo said that, after representatives of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission visited his family, they were able to “estimate how old Jawad is because they recall he was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan about six months after his father was killed in the battle of Khost,” part of the bloody civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which took place in the winter of 1990-91.

Asked to comment on this latest claim, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, maintained that a bone scan, taken at Guantánamo, indicated that Jawad was 18 at the time of his capture, but even before this latest announcement, his defense team — and Lt. Col. Vandeveld — had disputed this claim. Maj. Frakt acknowledged to the AP that Jawad’s family “might not know his age” and that “they would have an interest in making him seem younger,” but he defended the latest estimate of his age, stating that it was “supported by records showing Jawad was only 5-foot-3 and 124 pounds when he arrived at Guantánamo in February 2003, [but] is now roughly 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds.”

In an email exchange with me on Saturday, Maj. Frakt added that the U.S. authorities were in contact with Jawad’s family for six years through the International Committee of the Red Cross, although they “apparently never bothered to ask them his age,” and defended Maj. Montalvo's efforts to try to determine his age as “the first real concerted attempt that has been made.” He also pointed out that the government “definitely considered Jawad a minor when they transported him to Guantánamo,” because Larry C. James, the author of Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, wrote that he “was sent to accompany minors on the flight from Afghanistan.”

As the AP noted, the estimate of Jawad’s age, if confirmed, would make him “one of the youngest detainees ever sent to Guantánamo.” This is certainly true, but as I have reported previously, at least 22 juveniles — including an Afghan boy who was probably just 11 years old when he was seized — have been held at Guantánamo throughout its long history, and in the end, whether Jawad was 12 or 17 at the time of his capture, what matters most is that he was never treated with the kind of care that is appropriate for juvenile prisoners — as stipulated by the UN Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child (on the involvement of children in armed conflict), to which the United States is a signatory — and, even more importantly, that he is still held, even though it is clear that the government has no case against him.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009


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Obama Should Tell California to Drop Dead

by Peter Schiff

During the height of New York City’s financial crisis in the 1970’s, President Gerald Ford had the good sense to turn down Mayor Abe Beame’s request for a federal bailout. The refusal prompted the famous New York Post headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” More than 30 years later, as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a similar plea to Washington, I hope President Obama will show similar restraint. Unfortunately, given Obama’s recent string of unwise economic decisions, it’s hard to imagine that his judgment will suddenly improve.

A federal bailout would spare California from having to make spending cuts needed to bring its budget into balance. The matter has become urgent since California voters rejected several tax-hiking ballot initiatives. Rather than taking the vote as a signal to dramatically curtail spending, the state turned to the feds. If they get a free pass, the politicians can avoid fixing any of their past mistakes or preparing California for the future.

California, like many states, expended its bureaucracy as the nation’s bubble economy inflated. When condos flipped like hamburgers and homeowners flush with equity spent like lottery winners, extra tax revenue flooded into Sacramento. However, instead of saving the money for a rainy day or paying off prior debts, the state government simply ballooned its spending. Now that the bubble has burst, and revenues are severely depleted, it is time for California to reconsider its excesses.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s claim that a federal guarantee is not a bailout is ludicrous. No one in the private sector will lend California any money because the state can’t pay it back. Just like AIG and GM, it needs federal help to stay solvent. And although the Federal balance sheet is in far worse shape than California’s, there is one crucial difference: Washington has a printing press, and Sacramento does not. With the ability to pay off debts with newly created funds, a federal default is not a concern.

However, if Obama comes to the rescue, none of the needed cuts will be made. Instead, California will continue to operate its bloated bureaucracy and will be in constant need of more bailouts. In other words, if Schwarzenegger gets his bailout, look for him to utter his famous line – “I’ll be back.”

But it’s not just Schwarzenegger who will be back, but governors from all the other states as well. After all, if the Federal government bails out California, by what right can they deny similar aid to other states? The bailout will send a clear message that states do not need to cut spending.

Similar to the reckless behavior that resulted from federally guaranteed mortgages, federal guarantees on state debt will counteract the market’s attempt to force states to act responsibly. As the market accurately prices-in the heightened risk of default, California faces staggering increases in its borrowing cost. Under normal circumstances, this pressure would force the state to act prudently now to diminish the risk of a future default. However, by allowing California to evade the “bond market vigilantes,” the stage will be set for much bigger losses.

The moral hazards created by state bailouts are tremendous. With federal guarantees given to profligate states, those states that had shown greater fiscal responsibility will face higher interest rates –as their bonds lack a federal guarantee. This creates the perverse incentive for all states to act irresponsibly.

Just as government-guaranteed mortgages lead the market to make overly risky home loans, federally guaranteed state obligations will set the stage for yet another crisis.

Federal backing of California bonds would effectively turn them into Treasury bonds, with the added appeal of being exempt from California state income tax. Therefore, the Treasury will be at a competitive disadvantage when it looks to issue its own debt to Californians. If it then has to guarantee the bonds of all the other 50 states, why would any Americans buy Treasuries when they can get identical credit quality on better terms from the states? The only real buyers left would be foreigners, who are already queasy about the Treasuries they own.

The need to make good on state and federal obligations will further depress the appeal of all U.S. dollar-denominated debt. As a result, as real buyers flee the market, the Fed will have to run its printing presses even faster to pick up the slack. This will set into motion a self-perpetuating spiral of money printing and Treasury sales with a predictable result: hyperinflation.

In the meantime, by redirecting credit to California that otherwise would have gone to more credit-worthy borrowers, the government will worsen the credit crunch for the rest of the country. Since there is only a finite supply of credit, money borrowed by California will no longer be available to other borrowers. The effect is a less efficient allocation of capital that further undermines national productivity.

The only rational policy choice for Obama is to send Schwarzenegger packing. If he does, California will have no choice but to cut spending or default on its bonds. My guess is that, with their backs to the wall, the California legislature will choose the former. However, even if they default, at least the losses will be borne by those who freely assumed the risks. With a bailout, the losses will be shouldered by those who were not even parties to the transactions. If we go this route, we can all say “hasta la vista, baby” to our prosperity.

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Recession is the Mother of Invention

Proctor & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, Burger King, General Electric, Walt Disney Corporation, Microsoft along with electric razors, tampax, car radios, Chocolate Chip cookies, and Xerox machines have two things in common.

They were all created or invented during a recession or depression. In fact, over half of the companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were formed during a recession or depression.

The other commonality is not a one was conceived by a politician or bureaucrat, nor were they the product of any tax credits, subsidies or other governmental help.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Did Bernanke and Paulson Commit Bank Fraud?

by sakerfa,

New revelations from the New York State Attorney General’s office have all but proven that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson committed bank fraud crimes in the case of the Merrill Lynch/Bank of America merger that took place last year. New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo revealed that Paulson and Bernanke illegally suppressed adverse financial data on the merger and threatened to replace the Bank of America CEO and board of directors if the company backed out of the Merrill Lynch merger. “Secretary Paulson has informed us that he made the threat at the request of Chairman Bernanke,” Cuomo wrote in an April 23 letter to Congress.

The two companies signed a tentative merger agreement September 15, 2008, but the agreement included a “Material Adverse Change” (MAC) clause that would allow Bank of America (BofA) to escape the merger if BofA financial officers found undisclosed financial information that would hurt BofA while looking at Merrill Lynch’s books. Bank of America shareholders approved the agreement with the MAC clause December 5, 2008. The final merger was to take place January 1, 2009.

But on December 14, BofA financial officers informed CEO Kenneth Lewis that Merrill Lynch’s quarterly losses would be $3 billion more than expected (the $9 billion in expected losses ended up being a $15 billion loss — a $6 billion increase over what stockholders expected and approved). Three days later Lewis informed U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson by phone that Bank of America planned to exit the merger using the MAC clause. Paulson urged Lewis to get on an airplane and visit his office.

Lewis met with Paulson and Bernanke December 21, where Lewis was told he would be replaced if BofA exercised the MAC clause. “I can’t recall if he said ‘we would remove the board and management if you called it’ or if he said ‘we would do it if you intended to,’” Lewis told Cuomo. Then Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis tried to “deescalate” the conflict by saying he’d talk to his board. Lewis also testified he was instructed not to reveal the staggering Merrill Lynch losses to his stockholders: “I was instructed that ‘We do not want a public disclosure,’” Lewis told Cuomo’s office. Lewis took it as a demand to defraud his stockholders, a demand that he and his board of directors complied with.

The BofA board met the next day to discuss the disastrous merger, and the minutes revealed: “The Treasury and Fed state strongly that were the Corporation [Bank of America] to invoke the material adverse change (“MAC”) clause in the merger agreement with Merrill Lynch and fail to close the transaction, the Treasury and Fed would remove the Board and Management of the Corporation.”

That decision by Lewis and his board led financial columnist Jonathan Weil to comment in a particularly insightful column: “As for Lewis and the rest of Bank of America’s board, it’s a foregone conclusion that their word is now mud. The more honorable and legally appropriate path for them would have been to resign rather than participate in the cover-up.”

But more than just honor was violated. The law was violated as well. According to bank fraud laws, Paulson, Bernanke, Lewis, and his board of directors committed bank fraud against their stockholders. The Justice Department’s Criminal Reference Manual says of the bank fraud law: “The elements of the offense of making a false statement are: (1) making a false statement or willfully overvaluing property or security knowing the same to be false, (2) for the purpose of influencing in any way the action, (3) of the enumerated agencies and organizations.”

Bank fraud laws are so severe that an actual loss of stock value needn’t be actualized in order for criminal bank fraud to take place, according to the Justice Department Criminal Reference Manual. “The mere probability of loss to the bank is sufficient to establish intent to injure, and neither a possibility of future benefit to the bank nor restitution is a defense.” Of course, Bank of America did experience a serious financial injury. The stock price tanked from about $30 per share in September down to $5 per share in March, an 87 percent loss of value, and the otherwise financially secure Bank of America needed billions in federal bailout money just to survive.

Senator Chris Dodd told CNN that hearings on Cuomo’s revelations may be warranted, though Weil noted, “Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd took V.I.P. loans from Countrywide Financial Corp., now a subsidiary of Bank of America.” So what are the chances that a serious investigation will take place?

Weil correctly points out: “Knowing what we know now, how could you ever trust anything Bernanke says again?” He also appropriately wonders openly whether current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (then the New York Federal Reserve Bank chairman and number two man on the Fed’s Open Market Committee) was involved in the deal, or if he was somehow incompetently unaware of what was going on right under his nose. Either way, the government’s financial leadership in Washington right now is untrustworthy at best and felonious at worst.

In the mythology of the left, unregulated “free enterprise” as a financial system failed under the Bush administration. The Bank of America/Merrill Lynch fraud case authoritatively proves that mythology false. Laissez-faire free enterprise was pretty much the opposite of what happened on Wall Street during the financial boom and subsequent bust. The failure was caused by government, which in this case nearly bankrupted the largest bank in America when top government officials engaged in criminal fraud and leveled ugly political threats that — if they had been made by Mafia functionaries — would be prosecuted under racketeering laws.

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I own the domain "" and have for some time now. I originally registered the domain and ran a Ron Paul for President site from it focused on truck drivers and their issues. With the end of the campaign, I kind of put the site on hold and have since let the hosting lapse.

The domain is good until July, at which time I will let it lapse. If anyone is interested in this domain, let me know. If you'd like to transfer it to your own registrar/account, I'm willing to authorize that and hand it over at no extra charge.

So if you have a use for and would like the domain, it can be yours. Otherwise, I'll just let the registration lapse in July.

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The Rule of Lore

by Sheldon Richman

“This is a nation of laws not of men (and women).”

With the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, we will be hearing that a lot in the coming weeks. The nomination of a Supreme Court justice occasions much public debate over exactly what judges are supposed to do—and not do. Thus we will hear that it’s Congress’s job to make the laws and the Supreme Court’s job to interpret them, along with the Constitution. Or, to put it in the shorthand: judges should not make the law.

It seems like a tidy division of labor, but there is a certain problem—namely, that the line between making and interpreting law is exceedingly fine—if it exists at all. Indeed, interpreting the law is tantamount to making it. Interpretation is a creative act.

Since in our society it is men and women who write and interpret the laws (and the Constitution), the rule of law is necessarily the rule of men and women.

I realize this is a heretical thought among advocates of individual freedom, but facts are facts and it’s better to face them. A weak argument for liberty is harmful to the cause, so let’s mount the best case we can.

Constitutions and laws do not speak for themselves. People must decide what they mean. This is by nature a controversial truth from which there is no escape. Seemingly clear language is often argued about for years, indeed decades and centuries. As I’ve written elsewhere, “[I]t’s not as if the proper interpretation (whatever that may be) can be hardwired somehow to guarantee that legislators, presidents, and judges will act in certain ways, or that the public will demand it. At every point people will be making the interpretive decisions, including the decision over which interpretation is right.”

Or as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in Philosophical Investigations, “[A]ny interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it any support.”

John Hasnas, a visiting professor at Duke University Law School and a first-rate legal philosopher, has taken up this matter in a paper explosively titled “The Myth of the Rule of Law.” (He has developed his thesis further in “The Depoliticization of Law” [pdf]. Quotations are from the earlier article.)

Hasnas argues that laws can never be determinate because no language is exempt from interpretation. The First Amendment to the Constitution is about as plain as language gets, but after more than 200 years its meaning is still subject to disagreement. Or, the Commerce Clause, which says Congress shall have the power to “regulate … commerce among the several states,” was initially interpreted as limited to interstate commerce, although that meaning is by no means obvious from the text. The framers were perfectly capable of writing “between citizens of different states” when they wanted to and as they did in Article III on the powers of the judiciary.

Thus to interpret law is to make law.
Contradictory Rules

Moreover, in a legal system such as ours, Hasnas writes, there is inevitably a host of “incompatible, contradictory rules and principles…. This means that a logically sound argument can be found for any legal conclusion.” (Hasnas gives several examples.) “Because the law is made up of contradictory rules that can generate any conclusion,” Hasnas writes, “what conclusion one finds will be determined by what conclusion one looks for, i.e., by the hypothesis one decides to test. This will invariably be the one that intuitively ‘feels’ right, the one that is most congruent with one’s antecedent, underlying political and moral beliefs. Thus, legal conclusions are always determined by the normative assumptions of the decisionmaker…. [I]t is impossible to reach an objective decision based solely on the law. This is because the law is always open to interpretation and there is no such thing as a normatively neutral interpretation. The way one interprets the rules of law is always determined by one’s underlying moral and political beliefs.”

The upshot is that interpreting the law is an intrinsically political act.

Hasnas points out that the necessity for interpretation does not mean that the law will be acutely unstable. There is indeed a large degree of stability. The law changes over time, but not day to day. Yet, he writes, “The stability of the law derives not from any feature of the law itself, but from the overwhelming uniformity of ideological background among those empowered to make legal decisions…. [T]o assume that the law is stable because it is determinate is to reverse cause and effect. Rather, it is because the law is basically stable that it appears to be determinate. It is not the rule of law that gives us a stable legal system; it is the stability of the culturally shared values of the judiciary that gives rise and supports the myth of the rule of law.”

Hasnas (who advocates competition in the production of law) concludes, “The fact is that there is no such thing as a government of law and not people. The law is an amalgam of contradictory rules and counter-rules expressed in inherently vague language that can yield a legitimate legal argument for any desired conclusion.”

This need not lead us to pessimism or cynicism. As Thomas Paine recognized, the fundamental order that defines any society—indeed, the order without which we would call a group of people a mob rather than a society—originated not with top-down legislatures but from bottom-up custom, contract, and common-law processes. The great liberal legal scholar Bruno Leoni wrote in Freedom and the Law that a legislature is analogous to a central planner, with all the knowledge problems that plague it, while a common-law system is more like the free market, with far better access to the knowledge of time and place that is scattered throughout society and unavailable to a central authority. Better to progressively shrink the sphere in which legislators can operate so that people are free to govern themselves through voluntary exchange.

Advocates of liberty will ultimately carry the day not by invoking impossible standards like “the rule of law not of men,” but rather by directly upholding the standard of freedom and justice.

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