Monday, April 30, 2007

America: Addicted to Guns & Violence

An American Addiction
The New York Times | April 25, 2007
By Bob Herbert

Two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech, a mentally disturbed man with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun opened fire in a house in Queens, killing his mother, his mother's disabled companion and the disabled man's health care aide. The gunman then killed himself.

Sixteen months ago, in the basement of a private home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, four aspiring rappers, aged 19 to 22, were summarily executed in a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire. Two teenagers were arrested five months later, and one was charged as the gunman.

I had coffee the other day with Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, and she mentioned that since the murders of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, well over a million Americans have been killed by firearms in the United States. That's more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in all of American history.

"We're losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence," she said. "As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech about every four days."

The first step in overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge it. Americans are addicted to violence, specifically gun violence. We profess to be appalled at every gruesome outbreak of mass murder (it's no big deal when just two, three or four people are killed at a time), but there's no evidence that we have the will to pull the guns out of circulation, or even to register the weapons and properly screen and train their owners.

On the day after Christmas in 2000, an employee of Edgewater Technology, a private company in Wakefield, Mass., showed up at work with an assault rifle and a .12-gauge shotgun. Around 11 a.m. he began methodically killing co-workers. He didn't stop until seven were dead.

An employee who had not been at work that day spoke movingly to a reporter from The Boston Globe about the men and women who lost their lives. "They were some of the sweetest, smartest people I've ever had the chance to work with," he said. "The cream of the crop."

The continuing carnage has roused at least one group of public officials to action: mayors. "We see the violence that is happening in America today," said Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. "Illegal guns are rampant. Go into almost any classroom in Boston — sixth and seventh grade, eighth grade, high school — and 50 percent of those kids know somebody who had a gun."

The mayor noted that since the beginning of the year, more than 100 people have already been killed in Philadelphia, and nearly 80 in Baltimore. Most of the victims were shot to death.

Last year Mayor Menino and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, at a meeting they hosted at Gracie Mansion, organized a group of mayors committed to fighting against illegal firearms in the U.S. "It is time for national leadership in the war on gun violence," Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. "And if that leadership won't come from Congress or come from the White House, then it has to come from us."

The campaign has grown. There were 15 mayors at that first gathering. Now more than 200 mayors from cities in 46 states have signed on.

When asked why Mayor Bloomberg had become so militant about the gun issue, John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, mentioned the "human element." He said: "I think it's because he's watched eight police officers be shot. And because, like all mayors, he's the one who gets awakened, along with the police commissioner, at 3 in the morning and 4 in the morning, and has to rush to the hospital and break the news that can break somebody's heart."

Those who are interested in the safety and well-being of children should keep in mind that only motor vehicle accidents and cancer kill more children in the U.S. than firearms. A study released a few years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health compared firearm mortality rates among youngsters 5 to 14 years old in the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership with those in the five states with the lowest rates.

The results were chilling. Children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership were 16 times as likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, nearly seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and more than three times as likely to be murdered with a firearm.

Only a lunatic could seriously believe that more guns in more homes is good for America's children.

Reagan NSA chief to Bush: Sign Dems' Iraq bill

Retired general urges Bush to sign Iraq withdrawal bill

April 28, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush should sign legislation starting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on October 1, retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom said Saturday.

"I hope the president seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill Congress has sent him," Odom said, delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address.

Odom, an outspoken critic of the war who served as the Army's top intelligence officer and headed the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration, delivered the address at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. He said he has never been a Democrat or a Republican.

The general accused Bush of squandering U.S. lives and helping Iran and al Qaeda when he invaded Iraq.

"The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place," he said.

"The president has let [the Iraq war] proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued. He lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies."

Odom said he doesn't favor congressional involvement in the execution of foreign and military policy but argued that Bush had been derelict in his responsibilities.

This week Congress passed an Iraq war spending bill that would require Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on October 1.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Essay: Are We Winning or Losing in Iraq?

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

April 28, 2007

Are we winning in Iraq? Understandably, this is a question to which the American people, who are told we are at war, have demanded an answer. In December 2006, Commander-in-Chief Bush told The Washington Post: "We're not winning, we're not losing."

This neutral non-statement was the most honest thing Bush has said about Iraq.

As Bush sometimes cares to define it, "victory" in Iraq means "…for Iraq to be a democracy that can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself, a country which will be an ally in the war on terror, a country which will deny safe haven to the al Qaeda, and a country which will serve as a powerful example of liberty and freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for liberty and freedom."

That's a pretty tall order. It's a good thing Bush doesn't require any other Mideast states to meet these seven – count 'em, seven – criteria, because all these states, I daresay, would fail. Thus we must understand one basic fact: What President Bush requires of Iraqis, with the help of our armed forces, is nothing less than a miracle. And unfortunately, until that miracle is achieved, according to President Bush, we can't go home. We're stuck.

In this context, the success or failure of the "surge" strategy meant to decrease the violence in Iraq is nearly irrelevant. The surge is doing nothing to achieve President Bush's Seven Criteria for victory. Many Iraqis vote, but voting a democracy does not make. Iraq still cannot sustain or govern or defend itself without U.S. support. Iraq is not an ally in the war on terror – indeed, it is "the central front in the war on terror," according to Bush. Al Qaeda continues to enjoy safe haven and stage attacks in many parts of Iraq. And Iraq is not an example of liberty and freedom to other countries in the region, but rather a cautionary tale of chaos, corruption, and sectarian strife.

Conservative pundits and war supporters continually make comparisons to World War II: What if America had just "given up" in the fight against Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany before achieving victory, they ask? What would have been the fate of the world then?

Such crudely oversimplified and disingenuous reasoning ignores one key difference between those past wars and the "war" in Iraq: Those wars were wars against other aggressor states. In Iraq in 2007, we are "at war" with… what? With whom? The more you think about it, the more the list of enemies grows and grows until… you reach the only possible conclusion: We are at war with the Iraqis themselves.

We are at war with the same people we came to liberate, the same people we're now trying to help, and the same people whom we must rely on greatly to establish democracy and freedom, and root out al Qaeda. The U.S. mission in Iraq is, therefore, a perfect paradox.

The only way to unravel this paradox is to admit we are not involved in a war. At least not anymore. The war in Iraq was won and done when Saddam's regime was toppled. Wars are fought among states, and that state ceased to be. "Mission accomplished," indeed.

Today there may be fighting, tanks, mortars, bombs, and machine gun fire in Iraq, but our current involvement there is not a war. It is an occupation.

Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, but it is nonetheless an important matter to recognize that there is no such thing as a "victorious" occupation. Occupations usually follow military victory, yes. But occupations themselves are not wars. Occupations simply are, or they aren't. It is the victor's prerogative to decide whether he will occupy a defeated nation, how long that occupation will last, and what kind of occupation it will be.

In the case of Iraq immediately post-Saddam, President Bush decided to establish a basically benign, laissez-faire occupation, because it was cheaper and easier. But that occupation was too hands-off, too ineffectual, and too tolerant of criminals and terrorists, and Iraqis who resented the foreign occupiers took advantage.

Today, Bush is spending more money, sending more troops to occupied Iraq, and getting tougher on Iraqis. Nevertheless, our military operations in Iraq today have more in common with police operations and nation building than real warfare. In a real war, U.S. forces would seek and hold territory, destroy vital infrastructure, bomb civilians and combatants alike, and destroy Iraq's government (if at all possible), with the ultimate goal of making the enemy lose the will or the wherewithal to continue fighting.

In the course of our occupation, we are doing nearly the opposite. We are giving up territory to Iraqi police and security forces whenever possible. We not only avoid destroying vital infrastructure, but we pay to build (and re-build) it while our enemies continually blow it up. We conscientiously avoid killing civilians directly, or as collateral damage, even as they provide cover and safe haven for insurgents. We prop up and encourage an Iraqi government that is at times openly hostile to the U.S. occupation, and quietly supports the insurgents. And despite all this, or perhaps because of it, Iraqi insurgents maintain the will and wherewithal to attack U.S. forces. Meanwhile, about half of Iraqis sympathize with the insurgents and believe their attacks are justified.

So the U.S is not fighting a "war" as wars are meant to be fought; and the occupation is not achieving the operational goal of a war: to destroy the enemy, or make him give up fighting.

So if we insist on asking, nonsensically, whether the U.S. is winning this non-war, the answer is, "No." But ask a stupid question and you'll get a stupid answer.

Or more precisely: Ask a psychologically loaded question, and you'll get a bogus, psychologically motivated answer. Nobody likes to use the words "lose" or "defeat." Nobody. As events have shown, we will attempt nearly any physical or psychological contortion, no matter how awkward or painful, to avoid admitting defeat.

Fortunately for us, there is no reason to ask or answer this loaded question, since it's based on a false premise. Thankfully, we are not confronted in Iraq with an either/or choice between glorious victory (some variation on the Seven Criteria) and humiliating defeat (withdrawal).

The question that Congress, the media, and we citizens ought to be asking is: "Is the occupation worth it?" Has it really been worth all of the lost blood, treasure, and prestige? (Make no mistake, we are losing prestige on the world stage: Four years of "not winning" a non-war against a non-country is embarrassing. America looks weak, confused, and ineffectual.)

It seems that the American people have asked and answered this question, reasonably. Recent poll figures suggest that 21% of Americans support an immediate withdrawal; another 37% want withdrawal within one year; and 52% think Congress should block funding for any new deployment of troops. More than half of Americans think that "victory" in Iraq isn't possible.

Maybe if politicians who have so far supported the occupation of Iraq will look at it from the same cost-benefit perspective as the American people, they won't be so obsessed with silly, macho notions of World War II style victory. After weighing what is achievable there vs. how much it will cost, I think – I hope – that reasonable politicians will elect for withdrawal.

To throw those pro-war politicians a bone, I will even admit that "victory" – let's call it success – i.e. achieving the Seven Criteria, is conceivably possible in Iraq. But the cost of achieving such success would run into the trillions of dollars over decades, and require much more brutal and morally questionable counterinsurgency tactics than we are using now. We the American people, realizing this colossal moral and material cost even as our deluded politicians only think from one "emergency" appropriations bill to the next, have rejected the Iraq occupation altogether.

But let's not put too much faith in our politicians' ability to reason. We've already done the thinking for them; now it's their turn to act on it. We mustn't give them any choice.

Corporate media have lost the will to dig deep

This op-ed clearly belies the myth of the Lib'rul Media. In America we have a Corporate Media. The Corporate Media wants to turn a profit for their shareholders. So, they cut costs by keeping a small staff of journalists, who are not expected to try very hard, plagiarize from each other shamelessly, and are not given the time or money to investigate important stories.

To minimize risk of alienating advertisers and losing profits, the Corporate Media is basically conservative, adhering closely to whatever the status quo happens to be at the moment. The only problem is, a risk-averse, uncurious media is no good to us citizens of a democracy, who depend on accurate, timely information to make correct political decisions.

U.S. media have lost the will to dig deep

A changed news culture has let several important investigative stories slip through the cracks.

By Greg Palast
April 27, 2007 | LA Times

IN AN E-MAIL uncovered and released by the House Judiciary Committee last month, Tim Griffin, once Karl Rove's right-hand man, gloated that "no [U.S.] national press picked up" a BBC Television story reporting that the Rove team had developed an elaborate scheme to challenge the votes of thousands of African Americans in the 2004 election.

Griffin wasn't exactly right. The Los Angeles Times did run a follow-up article a few days later in which it reported the findings. But he was essentially right. Most of the major U.S. newspapers and the vast majority of television news programs ignored the story even though it came at a critical moment just weeks before the election.

According to Griffin (who has since been dispatched to Arkansas to replace one of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department), the mainstream media rejected the story because it was wrong.

"That guy is a British reporter who accepted some false allegations and made a story up," he said.

Let's get one fact straight, Mr. Griffin. "That guy" is not a British reporter. I am an American living abroad, putting investigative reports on the air from London for the British Broadcasting Corp.

I'm not going to argue with Rove's minions about the validity of our reporting, which led the news in Britain. But I can tell you this: To the extent that it was ignored in the United States, it wasn't because the report was false. It was because it was complicated and murky and because it required a lot of time and reporting to get to the bottom of it. In fact, not one U.S. newsperson even bothered to ask me or the BBC for the data and research we had painstakingly done in our effort to demonstrate the existence of the scheme.

The truth is, I knew that a story like this one would never be reported in my own country. Because investigative reporting — the kind Jack Anderson used to do regularly and which was carried in hundreds of papers across the country, the kind of muckraking, data-intensive work that takes time and money and ruffles feathers — is dying.

I've been through this before, too many times. Take this investigative report, also buried in the U.S.: Back in December 2000, I received two computer disks from the office of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Analysis of the data, plus documents that fell my way, indicated that Harris' office had purged thousands of African Americans from Florida's voter rolls as "felons." Florida now admits that many of these voters were not in fact felons. Nevertheless, the blacklisting helped cost Al Gore the White House.

I reported on the phony felon purge in Britain's Guardian and Observer and on the BBC while Gore was still in the race, while the count was still on.

Yet the story of the Florida purge never appeared in the U.S. daily papers or on television. Until months later, that is, after the Supreme Court had decided the election, when it was picked up by the Washington Post and others.

U.S. papers delayed the story until the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued a report saying our Guardian/BBC story was correct: Innocents lost their vote. At that point, protected by the official imprimatur, American editors felt it safe enough to venture out with the story. But by then, George W. Bush could read it from his chair in the Oval Office.

Again and again, I see this pattern repeated. Until there is some official investigation or allegation made by a politician, there is no story.

Or sometimes the media like to cover the controversy, not the substance, preferring an ambiguous and unsatisfying "he said, she said" report. Safe reporting, but not investigative.

I know some of the reasons why investigative reporting is on the decline. To begin with, investigations take time and money. A producer from "60 Minutes," watching my team's work on another voter purge list, said: "My God! You'd have to make hundreds of calls to make this case." In America's cash-short, instant-deadline world, there's not much room for that.

Are there still aggressive, talented investigative reporters in the U.S.? There are hundreds. I'll mention two: Seymour Hersh, formerly of the New York Times, and Robert Parry, formerly of the Associated Press, who uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal. The operative word here is "formerly." Parry tells me that he can no longer do this kind of investigative work within the confines of a U.S. daily newsroom.

One of the biggest disincentives to doing investigative journalism is that it jeopardizes future access to politicians and corporate elite. During the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, the testimony of Judith Miller and other U.S. journalists about the confidences they were willing to keep in order to maintain access seemed to me sadly illuminating.

Expose the critters and the door is slammed. That's not a price many American journalists are willing to pay.

It's different in Britain. After the 2000 election, when Harris' lawyer refused to respond to our evidence, my BBC producer made sure I chased him down the hall waving the damning documents. That's one sure way to end "access."

Reporters in Britain must adhere to extraordinarily strict standards of accuracy because there is no Bill of Rights, no "freedom of the press" to provide cover against lawsuits. Further, the British government fines reporters who make false accusations and jails others who reveal "official secrets."

I've long argued that Britain needs a 1st Amendment right to press freedom. It could, of course, borrow ours. We don't use it.

GREG PALAST is the author of "Armed Madhouse: From New Orleans to Baghdad -- Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Penitent Tenet assails Cheney on Iraq

"Now put this on and shut up."
It's too little, too late for Tenet to play the "outsider" in the Bush Administration. 

He let Bush give him a Presidential Medal as "hush money" before he resigned in 2004. 

But now, three years later, Tenet is tired of being known as the guy who said proving Iraq's possession of WMD would be a "slam dunk." 

He deserves none of our sympathy.

Ex-C.I.A. Chief, in Book, Assails Cheney on Iraq

By Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti
April 27, 2007 | New York Times

George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a "serious debate" about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, "At the Center of the Storm," is to be published by HarperCollins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president's inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war.

"There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Mr. Tenet admits that he made his famous "slam dunk" remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush's decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

A copy of the book was purchased at retail price in advance of publication by a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of "Meet the Press" last September in which Mr. Cheney twice referred to Mr. Tenet's "slam dunk" remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.

"I remember watching and thinking, 'As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war with Iraq,' " Mr. Tenet writes.

As violence in Iraq spiraled beginning in late 2003, Mr. Tenet writes, "rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration's message was: Don't blame us. George Tenet and the C.I.A. got us into this mess."

Mr. Tenet takes blame for the flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's weapons programs, calling the episode "one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure." He expresses regret that the document was not more nuanced, but says there was no doubt in his mind at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons. "In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible," he writes.

Despite such sweeping indictments, Mr. Bush, who in 2004 awarded Mr. Tenet a Presidential Medal of Freedom, is portrayed personally in a largely positive light, with particular praise for the his leadership after the 2001 attacks. "He was absolutely in charge, determined, and directed," Mr. Tenet writes of the president, whom he describes as a blunt-spoken kindred spirit.

But Mr. Tenet largely endorses the view of administration critics that Mr. Cheney and a handful of Pentagon officials, including Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith, were focused on Iraq as a threat in late 2001 and 2002 even as Mr. Tenet and the C.I.A. concentrated mostly on Al Qaeda.

Mr. Tenet describes helping to kill a planned speech by Mr. Cheney on the eve of the invasion because its claims of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq went "way beyond what the intelligence shows."

"Mr. President, we cannot support the speech and it should not be given," Mr. Tenet wrote that he told Mr. Bush. Mr. Cheney never delivered the remarks.

Mr. Tenet hints at some score-settling in the book. He describes in particular the extraordinary tension between him and Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, in internal debate over how the president came to say erroneously in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa.

He describes an episode in 2003, shortly after he issued a statement taking partial responsibility for that error. He said he was invited over for a Sunday afternoon, back-patio lemonade by Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state. Mr. Powell described what Mr. Tenet called "a lively debate" on Air Force One a few days before about whether the White House should continue to support Mr. Tenet as C.I.A. director.

"In the end, the president said yes, and said so publicly," Mr. Tenet wrote. "But Colin let me know that other officials, particularly the vice president, had quite another view."

He writes that the controversy over who was to blame for the State of the Union error was the beginning of the end of his tenure. After the finger-pointing between the White House and the C.I.A., he wrote, "My relationship with the administration was forever changed."

Mr. Tenet also says in the book that he had been "not at all sure I wanted to accept" the Medal of Freedom. He agreed after he saw that the citation "was all about the C.I.A.'s work against terrorism, not Iraq."

He also expresses skepticism about whether the increase in troops in Iraq will prove successful. "It may have worked more than three years ago," he wrote. "My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence."

Mr. Tenet says he decided to write the memoir in part because the infamous "slam dunk" episode had come to define his tenure at C.I.A.

He gives a detailed account of the episode, which occurred during an Oval Office meeting in December 2002 when the administration was preparing to make public its case for war against Iraq.

During the meeting, the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, unveiled a draft of a proposed public presentation that left the group unimpressed. Mr. Tenet recalls that Mr. Bush suggested that they could "add punch" by bringing in lawyers trained to argue cases before a jury.

"I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a 'slam dunk,' a phrase that was later taken completely out of context," Mr. Tenet writes. "If I had simply said, 'I'm sure we can do better,' I wouldn't be writing this chapter — or maybe even this book."

Mr. Tenet has spoken rarely in public, and never so caustically, since stepping down in July 2004.

Asked about Mr. Tenet's assertions, a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, defended the prewar deliberations on Thursday. "The president made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein for a number of reasons, mainly the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and Saddam Hussein's own actions, and only after a thorough and lengthy assessment of all available information as well as Congressional authorization," the spokesman said.

The book recounts C.I.A. efforts to fight Al Qaeda in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Mr. Tenet's early warnings about Osama bin Laden. He contends that the urgent appeals of the C.I.A. on terrorism received a lukewarm reception at the Bush White House through most of 2001.

"The bureaucracy moved slowly," and only after the Sept. 11 attacks was the C.I.A. given the counterterrorism powers it had requested earlier in the year.

Mr. Tenet confesses to "a black, black time" two months after the 2001 attacks when, sitting in front of his house in his favorite Adirondack chair, he "just lost it."

"I thought about all the people who had died and what we had been through in the months since," he writes. "What am I doing here? Why me?" Mr. Tenet gives a vigorous defense of the C.I.A.'s program to hold captured Qaeda members in secret overseas jails and to question them with harsh techniques, which he does not explicitly describe.

Mr. Tenet expresses puzzlement that, since 2001, Al Qaeda has not sent "suicide bombers to cause chaos in a half-dozen American shopping malls on any given day."

"I do know one thing in my gut," he writes. "Al Qaeda is here and waiting."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ala. militiamen arrested for weapons arsenal

Why on earth did federal agents arrest these guys?? They didn't hurt anybody. And as everybody knows, more guns make us safer. They were a militia for goodness sake, not terrorists or criminals! The 2nd Amendment was made for guys like them, with their homemade bombs, silencers, machine guns, and thousands of rounds of ammo. God bless America, and God protect our right to keep and bear arms!

April 26, 2007 | FOXNews

COLLINSVILLE, Ala. — Federal and state agents swooped down Thursday morning on a group calling itself "The Free Militia" and uncovered a small arsenal of home-made weapons that included a rocket launcher, 130 hand grenades and 70 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) similiar to the kind used by insurgents against American GIs in Iraq.

Agents also recovered enough live ammo to fill a U-Haul trailer, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said.

Eric Kehn, a spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive, said four search warrants were executed in the operation, and six arrests were made.

Those arrested include: Raymond Kirk Dillard, a.k.a. Jeff Osborne, 46 of Collinsville, Ala.; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41, also of Collinsville; Bonnell Hughes, a.k.a. Buster Hughes, 57, of Crossville, Ala.; Michael Wayne Bobo, 30, of Trussville, Ala.; Randall Garrett Cole, 22, of Gadsden, Ala.; and James Ray McElroy, 20, of Collinsville.

All six of the suspects belonged to "The Free Militia," officials said without releasing any information about the group.

"Deadly explosives have been removed from these communities due to outstanding investigative efforts," Martin said. "All evidence developed will be presented quickly to a federal grand jury. We will also ask that those arrested be detained without bond."

At least five bomb teams were on the scene in case explosives were found during the searches.

Officials said ATF agents encountered booby traps at one of the search sites.

The weapons cache also included a machine gun, a short barreled shot-gun, two silencers, numerous other firearms, 2500 rounds of ammunition, explosive components, and commercial fireworks. Agents also found more than 120 marijuana plants, Martin said.

One of the raids took place at a trailer and another at a house not far from Collinsville School.

School district officials cancelled classes for about 650 students from grades kindergarten through 12 because of the swarm of police vehicles.

"We were going to delay school but because of the possibility of explosives at the residences, we felt it was safer not to have school," DeKalb Sheriff Jimmy Harris said.

Sources told FOX News that the six suspects were involved in manufacturing homemade weapons and explosives, and that one of the suspects had tried to sell hand grenades to undercover federal agents. The group has also allegedly been involved in the sales and distribution of other types of explosive devices and weapons, but the nature of these has not yet been revealed.

"Today's arrest and search warrants have been significant due to the success of the combined efforts by ATF, as well as our state, local and federal partners," said James Cavanaugh, ATF Special Agent in Charge. "The communities in the area are safer, considering the fact that large quantities of live grenades and other explosive materials have been safely removed. Excellent investigative team work led us to this point in our investigation."

Taibbi: Yeltsin: Death of a Drunk

THE LOW POST: Death of a Drunk
By Matt Taibbi
April 23, 2007 | Rolling Stone

Boris Yeltsin was always good for a laugh, which is probably why on the occasion of his death people outside of Russia are not calling him words like scum and monster, but instead recalling him fondly, with a smile, as one would a retarded nephew who could always be counted on to pull his pants down at Thanksgiving dinner.

Like most people who lived in Russia during the 1990s -- and Russia was my home throughout Yeltsin's entire reign as Russian president -- I have a wide variety of fond memories of the Motherland's drunken, bloblike train wreck of a revolutionary leader. My favorite came in 1995, at a press conference in Moscow, when a couple of American reporters perfectly captured the essence of Yeltsin by heckling him as he stumbled into the room. As he burst through the side entrance with that taillight-red face of his, hands wobbling in front of him in tactile search of the podium, the two hacks in the back called out: "Nor-r-r-r-r-r-m!" Such a perfect moment, I almost died laughing. Boris Nikolayevich, of course, was too wasted to hear the commotion at the back of the room.

Boris Yeltsin probably had more obituaries ready in the world's editorial cans than any chronically-ill famous person in history. He has been dying for at least twenty consecutive years now -- although he only started dying physically about ten years ago, he has been dying in a moral sense since at least the mid-Eighties. Of course, spiritually speaking, he's been dead practically since birth...I once visited Boris Yeltsin's birthplace, in a village in the Talitsky region of the Sverdlovsk district in the Urals, in a tiny outhouse of a village called Butka. I knocked on the door of the shack where Yeltsin was born and stepped in the soft ground where his room had once been. Boris Yeltsin was literally born in mud and raised in shit. He was descended from a long line of drunken peasants who in hundreds of years of non-trying had failed to escape the stinky-ass backwater of the Talitsky region, a barren landscape of mud and weeds whose history is so undistinguished that even the most talented Russian historians struggle to find mention of it in imperial documents. They did find Yeltsins here and there in the Czarist censuses, but until the 20th century none made any mark in history. The best of the lot turned out to be Boris's grandfather, a legendarily mean and greedy old prick named Ignatiy Yeltsin, who achieved what was considered great wealth by village standards, owning a mill and a horse. Naturally, the flesh-devouring Soviet government, the government that would later make Boris Yeltsin one of its favored and feared vampires, liquidated Ignatiy for the crime of affluence, for the crime of having a mill and a horse.

In those early days of the revolution, you see, the most worthless, drunken and lazy of the peasants became temporary big-shots with puffed-up communist titles and accompanying important-looking little red vinyl badges just by ratting out the rich farmers, called kulaks, of which Ignatiy was one. They would "razkulachivat" (de-kulak) the kulaks by denouncing them to the secret police and having them sent to prison camps -- and once they were safely gone, the little bastards would appropriate the boss' shit for themselves and spend their days getting drunk in his haystacks, a peasant version of paradise on earth.

That was what Marxism looked like in the 1930s in Russia. Boris Yeltsin's father Nikolai saw this happen to his family and so he moved away from Butka, to the city of Kazan, to work construction at the site of a machine-building plant. During that time the Yeltsin family lived in a workers' barracks where men, women, children and the elderly slept on top of each other like animals and fought, literally fought, with fists and lead pipes, for crusts of bread, or a few feet of space upon which to sleep at night. The communist government found its leaders among the meanest and greediest of the children who survived and thrived in places like this. Boris Yeltsin was such a child. As a teenager he only knew two things; how to drink vodka and smash people in the face. At the very first opportunity he joined up with the communists who had liquidated his grandfather and persecuted his father and became a professional thief and face-smasher, rising quickly through the communist ranks to become a boss of the Sverdlovsk region, where he was again famous for two things: his heroic drinking and his keen political sense in looting and distributing the booty from Soviet highway and construction contracts. If Boris Yeltsin ever had a soul, it was not observable in his early biography. He sold out as soon as he could and was his whole life a human appendage of a rotting, corrupt state, a crook who would emerge even from the hottest bath still stinking of booze, concrete and sausage.

It's worth noting that Yeltsin's future political adversary, Mikhail Gorbachev, grew up in almost identical conditions of mud, misery and starvation in the Stavropol region. But while Gorbachev's childhood turned him into a pathologically self-hating wannabe, a scheming, two-faced party intellectual who privately lusted after French villas and foreign-tailored suits and would eventually be undone by his habit of parading in public with a wife who wore jewels and furs, Yeltsin never left the mud and never tried to. He remained a mean, thieving country drunk his whole life.

Some historians will disagree, pointing to the fact that in the end, Yeltsin held huge Swiss bank accounts, sent his grandkids to school in Europe and was rich beyond Gorbachev's wildest dreams, but those people misunderstand what it is to be a sovok, or pure Soviet philistine, as Yeltsin was. The swelling Swiss bank accounts that Boris Nikolayevich lived off of as he drank his gurgling elderly self to death in the last eight years were just a modern version of the stolen haystacks the lazy Butka peasants slept on eighty years ago. Like them, Yeltsin stole whatever he could get his hands on and then lived out his days rolling in his bounty like a human pig -- because a sovok doesn't know how to enjoy anything except to roll around in it like a pig. Yeltsin was just better at it than the rest of his peers . And he survived longer than the rest of them because his "life" was, until today, just a biological technicality -- it is hard to kill what has, inside, been dead all along.

Everything about the historical figure Boris Yeltsin reeked of death and decay; it was his primary characteristic as a human being. I remember clearly talking with former general and Secretary of the Security Council (who served under Yeltsin) Alexander Lebed at Lebed's dacha in Siberia -- here is what Lebed had to say about Yeltsin the man:

He's been on the verge of death so many times...His doctors themselves are in shock that he's still alive. Half the blood vessels in his brain are about to burst after his strokes, his intestines are spotted all over with holes, he has giant ulcers in his stomach, his heart is in absolutely disgusting condition, he is literally rotting... He could die from any one of dozens of physical problems that he has, but contrary to all laws of nature -- he lives.

I still remember the way Lebed pronounced the word "rotting" -- gnilit -- scrunching up his smashed boxer's nose in moral disgust. He was shaken by the memory of just having been near Yeltsin. This from a hardened war veteran, a man who had coldly taken lives from Afghanistan to the Transdniester. The stink of Boris Yeltsin was the first thing capable of giving Alexander Lebed shell-shock.

Yeltsin outlived Lebed, a physically mighty man who could break rows of jaws with his fists but was chewed up and spit out like a sardine when he took on the Russian state. He likewise outlived the Petersburg Democrat Galina Starovoitova, the reporter Anna Politkovskaya, the muckraker Artyem Borovik, the Duma deputy Yuri Shekochikhin, the spy Alexander Litvinenko -- they were all too human in one way or another for today's Russia, and died of unnatural causes at young ages, but not Yeltsin. While all of those people were being murdered or dying in mysterious accidents, Yeltsin spent his golden years in an eerie state of half-preserved, perpetual almost-death. I saw an intern cutting video for a Yeltsin obit at my father's offices at NBC Dateline a full ten years ago. They expected him to go at any minute. He didn't. A few years later Yeltsin got sick and again the papers here and in Russia prepped the obits. He survived, and his handlers -- people like the ball-sucking Valentin Yumashev (the real author of at least two Yeltsin "autobiographies," by the way) -- tried to prove to the Russian people (and Yeltsin's enemies) that the boss was still viable by releasing video footage on state channel ORT of the prez driving a snowmobile in the country. I remember that footage, it was one of the funniest things ever put on television. I am certain that they stapled Yeltsin's hands to the handlebars; the boss had a blank face and a little ski-hat and seemed crudely propped up on the snowmobile seat. They gave him a push and Yeltsin drifted aimlessly across the snow. The footage lasted for about ten seconds and the last thing you saw was Yeltsin's back. So much for the death-watch.

This pattern repeated itself over and over again, and eventually I got so fed up with it that, when he got sick again in 1999, I ran a cover in my Moscow newspaper The eXile that showed a picture of a wobbling Yeltsin over the headline, "DIE, ALREADY!!!" But he didn't. He survived and lived to turn over power to the next vampire, the Thief Mark VII, Vladimir Putin. Then he disappeared somewhere to spend seven glorious years drinking himself to death -- a Soviet version of Leaving Las Vegas, set in Switzerland and the south of France. Like all the great Russian monsters, like Stalin and Lenin and Brezhnyev and Andropov and a million other czars big and small, he died peacefully of natural causes while murders raged all around him, a piece of fat noiselessly clogging his heart while he slept in his stolen bed.

The obituaries this morning I read with great amusement. Here is a line from the Associated Press:

Yeltsin steadfastly defended freedom of the press, but was a master at manipulating the media...

Boris Yeltsin, defender of the freedom of the press! That should be news to Dmitri Kholodov, erstwhile reporter for Moskovsky Komsomolets, who was killed by an exploding briefcase in 1994 while investigating embezzlement of the Western army group connected with Yeltsin's close drinking buddy, then-defense minister Pavel Grachev. The day after Kholodov was killed, Yeltsin got up on national television and called Grachev "one of my favorite ministers." That was what Yeltsin thought of reporters and the free press.

Here's another line from the Yeltsin obit:

But Yeltsin was an inconsistent reformer who never took much interest in the mundane tasks of day-to-day government and nearly always blamed Russia's myriad problems on subordinates...

"Inconsistent reformer" is exactly the kind of language the American media typically used when describing Yeltsin during a period when he and his friends were robbing the Russian state like a gang of New Jersey truck hijackers. When I sent bits of this obit to a friend of mine who had also been a reporter in Russia during Yeltsin's reign, here's what he wrote back:

Yeah, it's a hoot. He simply had no power, for example, to prevent the misuse of the $1-$3 billion a year that his tennis partner at the National Sports Fund (Shamil Tarpishev) was getting from duty-free cigarettes...much of which inexplicably ended up in his daughter's foreign bank accounts.

What we were calling "reform" was just a thinly-veiled mass robbery that Yeltsin perpetrated with American help. The great delusion about Yeltsin was that he was a kind of Democrat and an opponent of communism. He was not. He was, like all politicians who grew up in that system, an opportunist. He read the writing on the wall and he threw his weight behind a "revolution" that turned out to be a brilliant ploy hatched by a canny group of generals and KGB types to privatize Soviet assets into the hands of the country's leaders, while simultaneously cutting the state free of its dreary obligations toward the rank-and-file Russian people.

The word "corruption" when applied to Boris Yeltsin had both specific and general applications. Specifically he personally stole and facilitated mass thefts at the hands of others from just about every orifice of the Russian state. American journalists, when chronicling Yeltsin's "corruption," generally point to minor cash-bribery deals like that involving the Swiss construction company Mabetex, which was given the contract to renovate the Kremlin in exchange for cash payouts to Yeltsin (at least $1 million to a Hungarian bank, according to some reports) and no-limit credit cards in the names of his two daughters, whose bills ultimately were paid by Mabetex. (According to reports, charges on the Eurocards in the names of the two women ran to $600,000 in 1993 and 1994 alone). This is the kind of simple, Boss-Tweed/Tammany Hall corruption that Americans understand, and in the eyes of most of the Western world, for a Yeltsin to dip his beak in a few million here and there in the midst of such a violent societal transformation was not really a big deal. A guy's gotta get paid, right?

Well, not exactly. What Americans missed during Yeltsin's presidency -- and they missed it because American reporters defiantly refused to report the truth of the matter -- was that under Boris Yeltsin the Russian state itself became little more than a cash factory for gangland interests. This was corruption on the larger scale, a corruption of the essence of the state, corruption at the core. Some of the schemes hatched by Yeltsin's government were so astonishing and audacious in scope that they almost defy description.

The FIMACO scandal was a great example. An extraordinarily complex affair, the broad strokes go as follows: in the midst of a Russian financial crisis in 1998, Yeltsin's government received $4.8 billion of an eventual $17 billion loan from the IMF. Shortly after receiving that money, two things happened; the ruble devalued, and huge masses of hard currency mysteriously fled Russia. IMF officials were subsequently forced to make statements along the lines of "IMF director Michael Camedessus emphasized that there was no proof of a link between these operations and IMF loans," even though everyone knew exactly what had happened.

Subsequently, huge masses of the IMF money appeared in the accounts of a tiny Jersey Islands-based company called FIMACO, which had started with only $1,000 in capital. FIMACO then began buying up huge masses of Russian T-bills, also known as GKOs. The Russian state, in other words, was stealing hard currency from the West -- if you go back far enough, from you and me -- and using that money to artificially create market demand for its own securities.

Here in America we call that kind of economics a pyramid scheme, and that is exactly what the Russian treasury was used for during those years. The state's coffers under Yeltsin were ritualistically raided for mass orgies of self-dealing, filtering tax revenues through tawdry offshore accounts, chiefly using two classes of people -- Westerners and the Russian public -- as marks in the con. It is worth noting that the economic crash that ensued after the theft of this IMF money (and the collapse of the pyramid-pumped T-bills) left more than 11 million Russians unemployed, an extraordinary amount when compared to the less than two million Americans who lost jobs after the 1929 crash. So we know who the victims were.

The beneficiaries? Well, in 1999, reports surfaced that a company belonging partially to Yeltsin's daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko, had received a payment into its Australian bank account of $235 million, and that that money had been taken from the $4.8 billion IMF credit. Maybe that was the carrying charge for the FIMACO transaction, who knows. The source for that story was Viktor Ilyukhin, a much-despised "dirty commie," as one friend of mine described him, but the details still ring true, if only because we ended up hearing so many similar stories with similar endings before Borya and his daughters stepped down from the throne.

In addition to those payments, we also now know that the revenues from FIMACO's T-bill machinations were used for all sorts of ill deeds, including the financing of election campaigns. There are even stories suggesting that Yeltsin himself received funds for his re-election from other T-bill scams.

Ah, yes -- Yeltsin's elections. The proof positive that Our Man in Moscow was a "Democrat." There were two big ones, the constitutional referendum of 1993 and the re-election of 1996. About the referendum it is worth saying only that evidence has surfaced suggesting that that vote was rigged and that Yeltsin actually lost -- but he got away with it, and the vote was close anyway, so mazel tov.

But 1996 was a historic event. The short version of the story is that Yeltsin originally looked likely to lose the election to the dreary communist Gennady Zyuganov. Panicked, Yeltsin's cronies, in particular privatization chief Anatoly Chubais, brokered (at Davos in 1995) a deal with the seven chief "bankers" of the new Russia, gangsters like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Potanin and Vladimir Vinogradov, who were really Russia's version of the five families. In exchange for their massive financial and media support (these men owned most of the new Russian media outlets) in the election, Yeltsin would hold a series of auctions of state properties called "Loans-for-Shares."

Essentially, Yeltsin agreed to a sell-off of Russia's major industries, in particular the great state oil and energy companies, for pennies on the dollar. In some cases, Yeltsin's government even lent the money the mobsters needed to make their bids. Bank Menatep, for instance, run at the time by Khodorkovsky, had $50 million in Finance Ministry funds transferred into its accounts just before it submitted the winning bid of $100.3 million for the oil giant Yukos, control of which of course was worth at least ten times that amount. Yukos eventually grew into one of the most powerful private companies in the world, but few people know it was born as a back-room favor in an election season.

Yeltsin, in other words, single-handedly created a super-gangster class to defend his presidency against an electoral challenge. He had also restored a system of despotic government-by-tribute that had reigned in Russia for centuries and even throughout the worst years of Soviet rule. In Russia there survives a style of leadership dating back to the local Khans of the East in which the leader is a pathologically greedy strongman who takes everything for himself, and then rules by handing out "gifts" to an oligarchy of ruthless underlings dependent upon his political survival. Stalin himself, an ethnic Georgian, used to physically re-enact this political style by walking around the room during feasts and breaking off pieces of chicken or hunks of mutton for his more important guests. Without me, you don't eat; with me, you eat good... Americans will recognize this form of rule because they see it every Sunday night in The Sopranos. You send the envelope upstairs every week, rain or shine (had a fire? Fuck you, pay me!), and once in a while the boss buys you a Hummer. That was Russia after 1996. Loans-for-shares formalized Russia's transformation from a flailing Weimar democracy into an organized mafia state; Boris Yeltsin was the Don.

And the Don had a lot of funds to play with. Back in 1993, Yeltsin created the Kremlin Property Department and decreed that all assets that had once belonged to the Soviet Communist Party now belonged to this office. Assets included everything from dachas to resorts to foreign property and cash, jewels, paintings, practically everything of value the Soviet state owned, minus its industrial holdings (and even a few of those, including the "Rossiya" airline). He then placed his buddy, Pavel Borodin, in charge of the office. Borodin was a fat pig and a crook to the bottom of his shoes; he was the man who brokered the Mabetex construction deal, the one that landed Yeltsin's daughters the magically repaid Swiss credit cards. Borodin once estimated that the Kremlin Property Department had over $600 billion in assets -- twice the size of Russia's GDP in the last year of Yeltsin's reign. He had over 3 million square meters of office space in Moscow alone. Basically, whenever Yeltsin needed to send a gift to a "friend," he picked up the phone and called Borodin. Give X this dacha, Y that river property overlooking the Kremlin, etc... It just never ends, the corruption tied to Yeltsin. That's why the Kremlin Property Department was so frequently described as an "octopus." Its legs were everywhere.

Let's not forget also Yeltsin's role in starting two wars in Chechnya. Obviously there were political reasons for starting both wars, some of them possibly even legitimate, but at their roots both Chechen conflicts ended up basically being bloodbaths and cash boondoggles. Americans who follow the contracts handed out to the likes of Bechtel and Halliburton in Iraq understand the dynamic here. Only in America, the companies at least have to build something for the money they get. In the case of Chechnya it was simpler; Yeltsin could simply hand Chechen Reconstruction Funds to an "authorized bank" that would be trusted to distribute them, and the money would just disappear.

Bank Menatep, for instance, was trusted with the task of supplying food to the military, cleaning up Chernobyl and rebuilding destroyed areas of Chechnya. According to state auditors, over $4 billion dollars disappeared in the accounts of these "authorized banks." One auditor told stories of seeing a piece of Finance Ministry paper in which 500 billion rubles of Chechen Reconstruction money was transferred to a single individual, for no apparent reason...

Meanwhile, in Chechnya, undermanned teenage Russian soldiers -- straight from being sodomized and forced to suck off drunken officers during the notorious dedovschina hazing period of basic training -- would be forced to sell socks and blankets and even rifles to the enemy to pay for the food their commanders now no longer had money to buy. And when that didn't help military morale enough to secure victory, the state would simply cut costs and drop fuel-air "vacuum bombs" on Chechen civilian areas as a way of showing "progress." Estimates of the Chechen disaster now range from 50,000 to 200,000 civilian deaths and from 10,000 to 50,000 Russian servicemen dead -- an endless cycle of military stalemate, atrocities and robbery, a situation that makes the Iraq war look like the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Finally, let's not forget perhaps the most ironic victims of Yeltsin's reign. Few today remember that the make-or-break moment for Yeltsin as a "democratic" leader came when coal miners in places like Cherepovets and Vorkuta went on strike in support of the revolution. Yeltsin rewarded those same miners by telling them to go fuck themselves when ruthless mine owners in his newly capitalist "reform Russia" turned them into slave laborers and left them unpaid for months and years on end. I visited Vorkuta in 1998 and found the same people who had protested in favor of Yeltsin's "democratic" revolt years before now living off tiny daily rations of rotten eggs and bacon fat. I was with one miner who brought home a single package of a boiled egg, a piece of sausage and a hunk of cheese given to him in lieu of salary at the mine, and solemnly divided it up with his wife and his two kids at dinner. The food came from past-due stocks of old food that the mine owners had traded for with a local store in exchange for coal.

Those same steam-boiler-bellied mine executives -- Yeltsin lookalikes -- proudly showed me a new slate pool table they had had imported from St. Petersburg that day and which they kept in the mine's newly-furnished executive lounge, where they hung out boozing all day while everybody else worked in dangerous prehistoric conditions. I visited that mine in June of 1998; 37 people had already died in mines in Vorkuta that year.

That was Boris Yeltsin's Russia. It was a place where pigs got fat and everyone else sucked eggs. Yeltsin wasn't a "reformer" any more than he was a human being. He was born in a Russia where the mean ones got the house with the mill and the wood floors and the losers worked themselves to death in pits and outhouses. He left behind exactly the same country. There will be some Russians who will mourn him today, because for all his faults, he was what the Russians call nash -- "ours." With his drunkenness, his talent for making a slobbish spectacle of himself in front of the civilized leaders of the world, his apelike inability to wear a suit, his perfect and instinctive amorality, his effortless thievery, and his casual use of lethal force, he represented a type intimately familiar to all Russians. There is a famous story in Russian history in which a Russian general who has been living in France for years after the Napoleonic wars meets a fellow countryman, who has just arrived in France from home. "Well, so what are they doing in the Motherland?" the general asks. The traveler pauses, then finally answers: "Stealing." Russia even back then was run by Yeltsins, and it will be again, even though this particular one is finally dead.

Boris Yeltsin, reformer*, 1931-2007. Sleep it off, you drunken slob.

* The headline in the print edition of The New York Times was "Boris Yeltsin, Reformer, Who Buried the U.S.S.R., Dies at 76." Look what word they took out by the afternoon.

Rush: Iraq is all about 9/11 (Sigh)

Why can't they stop tying Iraq to 9/11? What's it going to take – an 11th Commandment etched in a stone tablet held aloft by Charlton Heston's resurrected corpse? "Thou shalt not equate Iraq with 9/11," sayeth the Lord God Almighty.

Jesus Christmas! Yeah, we had 3,000 people killed in an hour and a half – and 3,334 killed over the past 4 years in the slow motion train wreck that is Iraq. What's your point, Rush?

What good are we doing in Iraq, for Iraqis or Americans? For the life of me, I can't figure it out.

Why We're In Iraq

April 25, 2007

RUSH: That's the point! That's the point, and we would be making a lot more progress on poverty and crime if we hadn't had to deal with 50 years of liberal social problems such as the Great Society and Head Start and this kind of thing. I don't have enough time left in the program to go into great detail with you, but my point to you is that defending the nation and protecting our national security -- we're not in Iraq to stop crime there. We're not in Iraq to stop pollution there. We're not in Iraq to fix poverty. We're in Iraq for American national security. This is about the defense of this country, and if that ever gets put to secondary or tertiary status, in order to fix these domestic problems, we're not going to have the domestic problems, period, or else everything will be that way. This is a great country. We can do all kinds of things at the same time.

CALLER: All right.

RUSH: Well, I can tell you with your tone of voice that you disagree, but you don't know what to say.

CALLER: Well, I think -- I think it's a matter of we like -- we're too busy sticking our nose where I don't think it necessarily belongs. You know, even in the Bible it says to take the plank out of your eye before you try to take the sawdust out of somebody else's eye, but --

RUSH: Well, wait a minute! They didn't just pick our eye. We had 3,000 people killed in less than an hour and a half on 9/11. Now, really, I just gave you the answer. This is about US national security, and we're too busy sticking our nose where you don't think it belongs? You can have that view. You can have that opinion, but if it's wrong, it means you're wrong, and this is about US national security. There's a war on terror out there, and you have got this misguided notion in your head that we're over there trying to make Iraq into some sort of utopia while at the same time ignoring our own problems. We no more ignore our problems... Life in this country is getting better each and every day. I wish I had more time with you. I really do, Melissa, because you have potential. Get her number, Mr. Snerdley, if she will let us have it, and we'll try again some other time.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Darwinism is uplifting

For those of you who ask, "How can there be morality without religion?" maybe the answer is that morality is innate in our nature – not because of our souls, but our genes. Isn't it a wonderful discovery to know that love is hardwired into us genetically? And if love is natural, then surely so too is a human morality based on empathy and self-sacrifice. Christ himself summed up the 10 Commandments thusly: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 19:16-19).

Continue on, intrepid readers!...

By Robert Wright
April 23, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

Scientists have discovered that love is truth.

Granted, no scientist has put it quite like that. In fact, when scientists talk about love - the neurochemistry, the evolutionary origins - they make it sound unlovely.

More broadly, our growing grasp of the biology behind our thoughts and feelings has some people downhearted. One commentator recently acknowledged the ascendancy of the Darwinian paradigm with a sigh: "Evolution doesn't really lead to anything outside itself."

Cheer up! Despair is a plausible response to news that our loftiest feelings boil down to genetic self-interest, but genetic self-interest actually turns out to be our salvation. The selfishness of our genes gave us the illuminating power of love and put us on the path to a kind of transcendence.

Before hiking to the peak, let's pause for some sobering concessions. Yes, love is physically mediated, a product of biochemistry. (Why this would surprise anyone familiar with alcohol and coffee is something that has long baffled scientists.) And, yes, the biochemistry was built by natural selection. Like it or not, we are survival machines.

But survival machines are unfairly maligned. The name suggests, well, machines devoted to their survival. In truth, though, natural selection builds machines devoted ultimately to the survival of their genes, not themselves.

Hence love. A love-impelled grandparent sacrifices her life to save a child's life. Too bad for the grandparent, but mission accomplished for the love genes: They've kept copies of themselves alive in a vibrant vehicle that was otherwise doomed, and all they've lost is a vehicle that, frankly, didn't have the world's most auspicious odometer anyway. Love of offspring (and siblings) is your genes' way of getting you to serve their agenda.

Feel manipulated? Don't worry - we get the last laugh.

Genes are just dopey little particles, devoid of consciousness. We, in contrast, can perceive the world. And how! Thanks to love, we see beyond our selves and into the selves around us.

A thought experiment: Suppose you are a parent and you (a) watch someone else's toddler misbehave and then (b) watch your own toddler do the same. Your predicted reactions, respectively, are: (a) "What a brat!" and (b) "That's what happens when she skips her nap."

Now (b) is often a correct explanation, whereas (a) - the "brat" reaction - isn't even an explanation. Thus does love lead to truth.

So, too, when a parent sees her child show off and senses that the grandstanding is grounded in insecurity. That's an often valid explanation - unlike, say, "My neighbor's kid is such a showoff"- and brings insight into human nature.

Yes, yes, love can warp your perception, too. Still, there is an apprehension of the other - an empathetic understanding - that is at least humanly possible, and it would never have gotten off the ground had love not emerged on this planet as a direct result of Darwinian logic.

Some people, on hearing this, remain stubbornly ungrateful. They hate the arbitrariness of it all. You mean I love my child just because she's got my genes? So my "appreciation" of her "specialness" is an illusion?

Exactly! If you'd married someone else, there would be a different child you considered special - and if you then spotted the child that is now yours on the street, you'd consider her a brat. (And, frankly but I digress.)

O.K., so your child isn't special. This doesn't have to mean she's not worthy of your love. It could mean instead that other people's kids are worthy of your love. But it has to mean one or the other. And - especially given that love can bring truth - isn't it better to expand love's scope than to narrow it?

I'm a realist. I don't expect you to get all mushy about the kid next door. But if you carry into your everyday encounters an awareness that empathetic understanding makes sense, that's progress.

Transcending the arbitrary narrowness of our empathy isn't guaranteed by nature. (Why do you think they call it transcendence?) But nature has given us the tools - not just the empathy, but the brains to figure out how evolution works, and thus to see that the narrowness is arbitrary.

So evolution has led to something outside itself - to the brink of a larger, more widely illuminating love, maybe even to a glimpse of moral truth. What's not to like?

Robert Wright, author of "The Moral Animal," is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and runs the Web site