Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hot Licks for Neurotic Kicks

Much virtue in Herbs, little in Men. --Poor Richard

Dan Hicks is a freaky dude. He was one of the founding members of the psychedlic scene in mid-60s San Francisco. Except Hicks was and is more of a psychedelic soloist than his more communally oriented confreres from the scene like The Grateful Dead or The Jefferson Airplane.

He always seems to be talking to the multiple voices in his head at least as much as he is talking to us in the audience or us listening to his record. He was here in town last winter and I had the same feeling sitting fifteen feet away from him in the audience.

His musical style is quite eclectic. It combines Andrews Sisters style backing vocals (that are so spaced out they occasionally anticipate the Roche Sisters) with light jazz arrangements that probably come closer to sounding like Django Reinhardt's Hot Five from the Club of Paris than anything else I can think to compare them to (the Bob Wills tunes with a rhythm guitar backbeat also come to mind). The guitar comping sounds very 20s-30s, Euro-hot, and it is usually acoustic. Sid Page saws out haunting fiddle solos, just like Stephane Grappelli played with Django. (Did you know Jackson Browne's dad played keyboards with the real Django?)

A lot of his early photo-shoots seem to suggest he had major identification with the singing cowboys (Did you know Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill was originally written for Gene Autry?) Is that where the yodel comes from? But Dan is such a space cowbay, you can't call it camp. It seems a little too close to the surreality he probably lives everyday for that.

Dan is a funny guy, even if he rarely laughs at his own deadpan jokes:
Bad Grammar:
It's bad grammar baby, when you say I ain't been lovin' you good.

The backing vocals are typically written as obsessively looping voices. In perhaps his best song, I Scare Myself, they incessantly repeat over gypsy Flamenco guitar changes:

It's me I'm scared of,
It's me I'm scared of,
It's me I'm scared of

Runnin' runnin' runnin' runnin'
Runnin' runnin' runnin' runnin'

It's a haunting ode to obsessive hyper-self-conscious.

Where The Grateful Dead followed Rilke and Schelling down the path toward a loss of self in the group, Dan Hicks was singing about a neurosis that has a damn firm grip on the freaked out person in question, but it sometimes might let go for a few seconds if you get the 30s jazz groove or your dress-up costume role just right. It doesn't hurt if you throw in a pun while you're at it.

Sometimes there is a moral to the story:
Canned Music promotes live music over the zombified reprocessing of recorded music, but also warns you about the potential downside--if you dance too close to the bandstand, the drummer might go home with your girl.

Slow Movin' lays down a groove with a gypsy feel comparable to I Scare Myself, but the lyrics pull it into the reassuring and comforting stasis of walking down the sidewalk on a sunny California day to nowhere in particular.

When I feel a little too weird for this world, I listen to Mr. Hicks and his Hot Licks and he puts my mind at ease.

There is much virtue in Dan.

The Essential Liberty of the Smooth Blues

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
--Benjamin Franklin

The last few weeks I've been listening to the "smooth" blues and jazz dudes: Nat Cole, Louis Jordan, and T-Bone Walker. I've long thought of myself as a fan of the gospel shout and probably still am. Yet lately, I've been trying to listen another way, partly because I've decided the former is more likely to work with my own voice, partly just because I'm curious.

Those of you familiar with Ray Charles will recall that he spent his youth imitating Nat Cole's piano and vocals, even recording in that style before finding his own voice. While still a solid fan of R.C., this month I like to think of myself as following the road from Nat to Ray in the opposite direction. I was curious what I would find there.

The first thing I found was humor. The Nat "King" Cole trio throws down some funny shit. They are still mining the jazz pun tradition from Armstrong and Waller on Scotchin' with the Soda. They often tell stories, corny stories with a moral as well as a melancholy punchline. This Will Make You Laugh.

It's Only a Paper Moon:
It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me

Sometimes the sound alone is just cool:
Sweet Lorraine:

Just found joy
I'm as happy as a baby boy, whooo
With a brand new choo-choo choy
When I meet my Sweet Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine

A pair of eyes
That are brighter than the summer sky
When you see them you'll realize
Why I love my sweet Lorraine

Even the corny somehow sounds a little cool when this goofy preacher's son lays back and brings it:

Now when it's rainin'
I don't miss the sun
'cuz it's in my baby's smile, whoa ho

Cole's voice is so smooth, when he gets a little grain in his voice I can only compare it to a swingin' jazz trumpet solo with just a little edge on it. I'm also a fan of Cole's model on piano, Earl Hines, but Cole adds worlds of knowledge and depth outside of Hines bag--more blues, more gospel, and an understanding of classical musical composition--all while playing with that exquisitely light touch he brought to everything. When the Cole Trio plays classic changes, they translate them into the jazz idiom even as it turns into no jazz you've ever heard before. Cole's playing never suggests the kind of classics envy that many later jazz pianists seem to fall into. He is close to Waller in this respect.

Another big part of the trio's sound is Oscar Moore the guitar player. This guy comps support like nobody, but even when the solo comes, he's still always playing the song even as he takes it in another direction. He is credited with conceiving a lot of the guitar chord forms that became the foundation of jazz style guitar as we know it now. Moore's guitar is a big hollow body with one pick-up by the neck and no cutaway. You will not find a more musical guitarist than Moore. Above all, along with the lightness of touch he shares with Cole that keeps the tune from taking itself too seriously no matter how ferociously they jam, this guy listens. This is one of the tightest, most mind-reading combos in world music history.

Listening to Moore and T-Bone, (and playing one of these hollowbody Gibson jazz acoustics at Willie's American Guitars) I realized that the contemporary common sense about guitars, that electric is easier to play than acoustic, is all wrong. Most of the main aspects of what makes a Gibson Les Paul easy to play were already a part of these jazz era acoustic arch-top guitars: especially the low action, and the smooth, bound fretboards. It was the feel of these jazz acoustics that the Les Paul type electric guitar designs were building on.

Louis Jordan is most famous for his showman-like, bug-eyed comic delivery that sometimes made jazz classics sound like novelty songs, but he was a righteous sax player, and he wrote some great tunes. Coltrane didn't say Jordan was his favorite for nothing. Is You or Is You Ain't my Baby. Knock Me a Kiss. Caldonia: Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head so hard?
And of course the story songs, Saturday Night Fish Fry, Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens. Jordan's band throws in the same unison backing vocals on the chorus the Cole Trio used on the fun songs.

T-Bone Walker's first recordings were way back in 1929 when he still played acoustic, but it wasn't until he recorded on electric guitar in the mid-40s that he became the figure that he is now. Stormy Monday and Mean Old World Blues both work the same set of jazzy blues licks--half of which turned into the B.B. King type solo, half of which morphed into Chuck Berry's zoomy "du-dut, du-dut" lick. But it's still uptempo or moderate tempo jump band music with Walker. The lyrical tone is light, closer to Jordan or Cole than to gospel, King, or Charles. Both King and Charles have said that they self-consciously started singing church style music with secular lyrics. Walker was bluesy, but it didn't come from the church.

Walker, like Big Bill Broonzy, doesn't fit into the 60s era reconstruction of blues as primitivist folk art. They were part of the jazz world, and part of the urban mass media culture of their time. Later in their careers, both of them had to reshape themselves to fit more easily into the bluesman myths and legends. This is what you hear in Walker's work on Atlantic where his earlier material is rerecorded in a more Chicago style.

I have long thought gospel music was where I could find my essential personal liberty. Over the last two weeks, the swinging grooves of Cole, Jordan, and Walker have taught me that there is also an essential liberty in the smooth jazz/blues. That leaves me with temporary safety as well. Even though I don't deserve it.

Nat King Cole Trio Links:
University of Missouri, Kansas City
NPR Jazz Profiles

Oscar Moore Link:
Classic Jazz Guitar--Oscar Moore

Louis Jordan Links:
R n' B Music Primer
Who is Louis Jordan?

T-Bone Walker Links:
T-Bone Walker
Roots of the Electric Guitar

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Iraqis Support Attacks on US and British Occupation Troops

Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 23/10/2005)

Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country.

Andrew Robathan
Andrew Robathan: Government policy 'disastrous'

It demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation.

The nationwide survey also suggests that the coalition has lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which Tony Blair and George W Bush believed was fundamental to creating a safe and secure country.

The results come as it was disclosed yesterday that Lt Col Nick Henderson, the commanding officer of the Coldstream Guards in Basra, in charge of security for the region, has resigned from the Army. He recently voiced concerns over a lack of armoured vehicles for his men, another of whom was killed in a bomb attack in Basra last week.

The secret poll appears to contradict claims made by Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the Chief of the General Staff, who only days ago congratulated British soldiers for "supporting the Iraqi people in building a new and better Iraq".

Andrew Robathan, a former member of the SAS and the Tory shadow defence minister, said last night that the poll clearly showed a complete failure of Government policy.

He said: "This clearly states that the Government's hearts-and-minds policy has been disastrous. The coalition is now part of the problem and not the solution.

Iraq factfile

"I am not advocating a pull-out but if British soldiers are putting their lives on the line for a cause which is not supported by the Iraqi people then we have to ask the question, 'what are we doing there?' "

The Sunday Telegraph disclosed last month that a plan for an early withdrawal of British troops had been shelved because of the failing security situation, sparking claims that Iraq was rapidly becoming "Britain's own Vietnam".

The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

The opinion poll, carried out in August, also debunks claims by both the US and British governments that the general well-being of the average Iraqi is improving in post-Saddam Iraq.

The findings differ markedly from a survey carried out by the BBC in March 2004 in which the overwhelming consensus among the 2,500 Iraqis questioned was that life was good. More of those questioned supported the war than opposed it.

Under the heading "Justification for Violent Attacks", the new poll shows that 65 per cent of people in Maysan province - one of the four provinces under British control - believe that attacks against coalition forces are justified.

The report states that for Iraq as a whole, 45 per cent of people feel attacks are justified. In Basra, the proportion is reduced to 25 per cent.

The report profiles those likely to carry out attacks against British and American troops as being "less than 26 years of age, more likely to want a job, more likely to have been looking for work in the last four weeks and less likely to have enough money even for their basic needs".

Immediately after the war the coalition embarked on a campaign of reconstruction in which it hoped to improve the electricity supply and the quality of drinking water.

That appears to have failed, with the poll showing that 71 per cent of people rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent never have enough electricity, 70 per cent say their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed.

But Iraq's President Jalal Talabani pleaded last night for British troops to stay. "There would be chaos and perhaps civil war," he said. "We are now fighting a world war launched by terrorists against civilisation, against democracy, against progress, against all the values of humanity.

"If British troops withdrew, the terrorists would say, 'Look, we have imposed our will on the most accomplished armed forces in the world and terror is the way to oblige the Europeans to surrender to us'."

• John Reid, the Defence Secretary will announce next week that 3,100 troops are to deploy to Afghanistan next April as a part of the expansion of the International Sec-urity and Assistance Force. Their job will be to hunt down the Taliban and to take part in anti-narcotics operations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Condi Rice, The Serpent of Reassurance

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Great Albert Pujols

Albert puts away a game for the ages.

Casualties of the Bush Administration

Nick Turse:

In late August 2005, after twenty years of service in the field of military procurement, Bunnatine ("Bunny") Greenhouse, the top official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of awarding government contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, was demoted. For years, Greenhouse received stellar evaluations from superiors -- until she raised objections about secret, no-bid contracts awarded to Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) -- a subsidiary of Halliburton, the mega-corporation Vice President Dick Cheney once presided over. After telling congress that one Halliburton deal was "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career," she was reassigned from "the elite Senior Executive Service... to a lesser job in the civil works division of the corps."

When Greenhouse was busted down, she became just another of the casualties of the Bush administration -- not the countless (or rather uncounted) Iraqis, or the ever-growing list of American troops, killed, maimed, or mutilated in the administration's war of convenience-- but the seemingly endless and ever-growing list of beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who quit their posts in protest or were defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by Bush administration strong-arming. Often, this has been due to revulsion at the President's policies -- from the invasion of Iraq and negotiations with North Korea to the flattening of FEMA and the slashing of environmental standards -- which these women and men found to be beyond the pale.

Since almost the day he assumed power, George W. Bush has left a trail of broken careers in his wake. Below is a listing of but a handful of the most familiar names on the rolls of the fallen:

Richard Clarke: Perhaps the most well-known of the Bush administration's casualties, Clarke spent thirty years in the government, serving under every president from Ronald Reagan on. He was the second-ranking intelligence officer in the State Department under Reagan and then served in the administration of George H.W. Bush. Under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, he held the position of the president's chief adviser on terrorism on the National Security Council -- a Cabinet-level post. Clarke became disillusioned with the "terrible job" of fighting terrorism exhibited by the second president Bush -- namely, ignoring evidence of an impending al-Qaeda attack and putting the pressure on to produce a non-existent link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. (His memo explaining that there was no connection, said Clarke, "got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer. Do it again.'") After 9/11, Clarke asked for a transfer from his job to a National Security Council office concerned with cyber-terrorism. (The administration later claimed it was a demotion). Quit, January 2003.

Paul O'Neill: A top official at the Office of Management and Budget under Presidents Nixon and Ford (and later chairman of aluminum-giant Alcoa), O'Neill served nearly two years in George W. Bush's cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury before being asked to resign after opposing the president's tax cuts. He, like Clarke, recalled Bush's Iraq fixation. "From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," said O'Neill, a permanent member of the National Security Council. "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.'" Fired, December 6, 2002.

Flynt Leverett, Ben Miller and Hillary Mann: A Senior Director for Middle East Affairs on President Bush's National Security Council (NSC), a CIA staffer and Iraq expert with the NSC, and a foreign service officer on detail to the NSC as the Director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs, respectively, they were all reportedly forced out by Elliott Abrams, Bush's NSC Advisor on Middle East Affairs, when they disagreed with policy toward Israel. Said Leverett, "There was a decision made… basically to renege on the commitments we had made to various European and Arab partners of the United States. I personally disagreed with that decision." He also noted, "[Richard] Clarke's critique of administration decision-making and how it did not balance the imperative of finishing the job against al Qaeda versus what they wanted to do in Iraq is absolutely on the money… We took the people out [of Afghanistan in 2002 to begin preparing for the war in Iraq] who could have caught" al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. According to Josef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terror and Unconventional Warfare, Abrams "led Miller to an open window and told him to jump." He also stated that Mann and Leverett had been told to leave. Resigned/Fired, 2003.

Larry Lindsey: A "top economic adviser" to Bush who was ousted when he revealed to a newspaper that a war with Iraq could cost $200 billion. Fired, December 2002.

Ann Wright: A career diplomat in the Foreign Service and a colonel in the Army Reserves resigned on the day the U.S. launched the Iraq War. In her letter of resignation, Wright told then-Secretary of State Colin Powell: "I believe the Administration's policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as I cannot defend or implement them." Resigned, March 19, 2003.

John Brady Kiesling: A career diplomat who served four presidents over a twenty year span, he tendered his letter of resignation from his post as Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. He wrote:

"…until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security."

Resigned, February 27, 2003.

John Brown: After nearly 25-years, this veteran of the Foreign Service, who served in London, Prague, Krakow, Kiev and Belgrade, resigned from his post. In his letter of resignation, he wrote: "I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq. The president has failed to: explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time; to lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties; to specify the economic costs of the war for the ordinary Americans; to clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror; [and] to take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration." Resigned, March 10, 2003.

Rand Beers: When Beers, the National Security Council's senior director for combating terrorism, resigned he declined to comment, but one former intelligence official noted, "Hardly a surprise. We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don't blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel[ligence] resources and the relationships with our allies." Beers later admitted, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure… As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out." Resigned, March 2003.

Anthony Zinni: A soldier and diplomat for 40 years, Zinni served from 1997 to 2000 as commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command in the Middle East. The retired Marine Corps general was then called back to service by the Bush administration to assume one of the highest diplomatic posts, special envoy to the Middle East (from November 2002 to March 2003), but his disagreement with Bush's plans to go to war and public comments that foretold of a prolonged and problematical aftermath to such a war led to his ouster. "In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption," said Zinni. Failed to be reappointed, March 2003.

Eric Shinseki: After General Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told Congress that the occupation of Iraq could require "several hundred thousand troops," he was derided by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Then, wrote the Houston Chronicle, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "took the unusual step of announcing that Gen. Eric Shinseki would be leaving when his term as Army chief of staff end[ed]." Retired, June 2003.

Karen Kwiatkowski: A Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force who served in the Department of Defense's Near East and South Asia (NESA) Bureau in the year before the invasion of Iraq, she wrote in her letter of resignation:

"…[W]hile working from May 2002 through February 2003 in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Near East South Asia and Special Plans (USDP/NESA and SP) in the Pentagon, I observed the environment in which decisions about post-war Iraq were made… What I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline. If one is seeking the answers to why peculiar bits of ‘intelligence' found sanctity in a presidential speech, or why the post-Hussein occupation has been distinguished by confusion and false steps, one need look no further than the process inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense."

Retired, July 2003.

Charles "Jack" Pritchard: A retired U.S. Army colonel and a 28-year veteran of the military, the State Department, and the National Security Council, who served as the State Department's senior expert on North Korea and as the special envoy for negotiations with that country, resigned (according to the Los Angeles Times) because the "administration's refusal to engage directly with the country made it almost impossible to stop Pyongyang from going ahead with its plans to build, test and deploy nuclear weapons." Resigned, August 2003.

Major (then Captain) John Carr and Major Robert Preston: Air Force prosecutors, they quit their posts in 2004 rather than take part in trials under the military commission system President Bush created in 2001 which they considered "rigged against alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Requested and granted reassignment, 2004.

Captain Carrie Wolf: A U.S. Air Force officer, she also asked to leave the Office of Military Commissions due to concerns that the Bush-created commissions for trying prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were unjust. Requested and granted reassignment, 2004.

Colonel Douglas Macgregor: He retired from the U.S. Army and stated: "I love the army and I was sorry to leave it. But I saw no possibility of fundamentally positive reform and reorgani[z]ation of the force for the current strategic environment or the future… It's a very sycophantic culture. The biggest problem we have inside the… Department of Defense at the senior level, but also within the officer corps -- is that there are no arguments. Arguments are [seen as] a sign of dissent. Dissent equates to disloyalty." Retired, June 2004.

Paul Redmond: After a long career at the CIA, Redmond became the Assistant Secretary for Information Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security. When, according to Notra Trulock of Accuracy in Media, he reported, at a congressional hearing in June 2003, "that he didn't have enough analysts to do the job… [and] his office still lacked the secure communications capability to receive classified reports from the intelligence community… [t]hat kind of candor was not appreciated by his bosses and, consequently, he had to go." Resigned, June 2003.

John W. Carlin: According to the Washington Post, Carlin, the "Archivist of the United States was pushed by the White House… to submit his resignation without being given any reason, Senate Democrats disclosed… at a hearing to consider President Bush's nomination of his successor." "I asked why, and there was no reason given," said Carlin, but the Post reported that some had "suggested Bush may have wanted a new archivist to help keep his or his father's sensitive presidential records under wraps." Although he had stated his wish to serve until the end of his 10-year term, and 65th birthday in 2005, Carlin surrendered to Bush administration pressure. Resigned, December 19, 2003.

Susan Wood and Frank Davidoff: Wood was the Food and Drug Administration's Assistant Commissioner for Women's Health and Director of the Office of Women's Health; Davidoff was the editor emeritus of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine and an internal medicine specialist on the FDA's Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee. Wood resigned in protest over the FDA's decision to delay yet again, due to pressure from the Bush administration, a final ruling on whether the "morning-after pill" should be made more easily accessible -- despite a 23-4 vote, back in December 2003, by a panel of experts to recommend non-prescription sale of the contraceptive, called Plan B. In an email to colleagues, Wood, the top FDA official in charge of women's health issues, wrote, "I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled." Days later, Davidoff quit over the same issue and wrote in his resignation letter, "I can no longer associate myself with an organization that is capable of making such an important decision so flagrantly on the basis of political influence, rather than the scientific and clinical evidence." Wood: Resigned, August 31, 2005. Davidoff: Resigned, September, 2005.

Thomas E. Novotny: A deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services and the chief official working on an international treaty to reduce cigarette smoking around the world, Novotny "stepped down," claimed Bush administration officials, "for personal reasons unrelated to the negotiations"; but the Washington Post reported that "three people who ha[d] spoken with Novotny… said he had privately expressed frustration over the administration's decision to soften the U.S. positions on key issues, including restrictions on secondhand smoke and the advertising and marketing of cigarettes." Resigned, August 1, 2001.

Joanne Wilson: The commissioner of the Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), she quit, according to the Washington Post, "in protest of what she said were the administration's largely unnoticed efforts to gut the office's funding and staffing" and attempts to dismantle programs "critical to helping the blind, deaf and otherwise disabled find jobs." On February 7, 2005 the Bush administration announced that it would close all RSA regional offices and cut personnel in half. Quit, February 8, 2005.

James Zahn: According to an article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in the Nation magazine, Zahn, a "nationally respected microbiologist with the Agriculture Department's research service," stated that "his supervisor at the USDA, under pressure from the hog industry, had ordered him not to publish his study," which "identified bacteria that can make people sick -- and that are resistant to antibiotics -- in the air surrounding industrial-style hog farms"; and that "he had been forced to cancel more than a dozen public appearances at local planning boards and county health commissions seeking information about health impacts of industry mega-farms." As a result, "Zahn resigned from the government in disgust." Resigned, May 2002.

Tony Oppegard and Jack Spadaro: Oppegard and Spadaro were members of a "team of federal geodesic engineers selected to investigate the collapse of barriers that held back a coal slurry pond in Kentucky containing toxic wastes from mountaintop strip-mining." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this had been "the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States." Oppegard, who headed the team, "was fired on the day Bush was inaugurated… All eight members of the team except Spadaro signed off on a whitewashed investigation report. Spadaro, like the others, was harassed but flat-out refused to sign. In April of 2001 Spadaro resigned from the team and filed a complaint with the Inspector General of the Labor Department… he was placed on administrative leave--a prelude to getting fired." Two months before his 28th anniversary as a federal employee, and after years of harassment due to his stance, Spadaro resigned. "I'm just very tired of fighting," he said. "I've been fighting this administration since early 2001. I want a little peace for a while." Oppegrad: Fired, January 20, 2001. Spaddaro: Resigned, October 1, 2003.

Teresa Chambers: After speaking with reporters and congressional staffers about budget problems in her organization, the U.S. Park Police Chief was placed on administrative leave. Then, according to CNN, just "two and half hours after her attorneys filed a demand for immediate reinstatement through the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency that ensures federal employees are protected from management abuses," Chambers was fired. "The American people should be afraid of this kind of silencing of professionals in any field," said Chambers. "We should be very concerned as American citizens that people who are experts in their field either can't speak up, or, as we're seeing now in the parks service, won't speak up." Fired, July 2004.

Martha Hahn: The state director for the Bureau of Land Management, "responsible for 12 million acres in Idaho, almost one-quarter of the state" for seven years, Hahn found her authority drastically curtailed after the Bush administration took office. She watched as the administration blocked public comment on mining initiatives and opened up previously protected areas to environmental degradation. After she locked horns with cattle interests over grazing rights, she received a letter stating she was being transferred from her beloved Rocky Mountain West to "a previously nonexistent job in New York City." "It's been a shock," she said. "I'm going through mental anguish right now. I felt like I was at the prime of my career." Hahn was told to accept the involuntary reassignment or resign. Resigned, March 6, 2002.

Andrew Eller: Eller "spent many of his 17 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protecting the [Florida] panther. But when his research didn't jibe with a huge airport project slated for the cat's habitat -- and Eller refused to play along--he was given the boot," wrote the Tucson Weekly. "I was fired three days after President Bush was re-elected," said Eller. "It was obviously reprisal for holding different views than [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] management on whether or not the panther was in jeopardy, and pointing out that they were using flawed science to support their view." Fired, November 2004.

Mike Dombeck: The chief of the Forest Service resigned after a 23-year government career. In his resignation letter, the pro-conservation Dombeck stated, "It was made clear in no uncertain terms that the [Bush] administration wants to take the Forest Service in another direction ...." Resigned, March 27, 2001.

James Furnish: A political conservative, evangelical Christian, and Republican who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 as well as the former Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (who spent 30 years, across 8 presidential administrations working for that agency), Furnish resigned in 2002 due to policy differences with the Bush administration. "I just viewed [the administration's] actions as being regressive," said Furnish. In acting according to his conscience, instead of waiting a year longer to maximize retirement benefits, Furnish lost out on about $10,000 a year for the rest of his life. Resigned, 2002.

Mike Parker: In early 2002, Parker, the director of the Army Corps of Engineers testified before Congress that Bush-mandated budget cuts would have a "negative impact" on the Corps. He also admitted to holding no "warm and fuzzy" feelings toward the Bush administration. "Soon after," reported the Christian Science Monitor, "he was given 30 minutes to resign or be fired." In the wake of the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Parker's clashes with Mitch Daniels, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, can be seen as prophetic. Parker remembered one such incident in which he brought Daniels, the Bush administration's budget guru, a piece of steel from a Mississippi canal lock that "was completely corroded and falling apart because of a lack of funding," and said, "Mitch, it doesn't matter if a terrorist blows the lock up or if it falls down because it disintegrates -- either way it's the same effect, and if we let it fall down, we have only ourselves to blame." He recalled of the incident, "It made no impact on him whatsoever." Resigned, March 6, 2002.

Sylvia K. Lowrance: A top Environmental Protection Agency official who served the agency for over 20 years, including as Assistant Administrator of its Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for the first 18 months of the Bush administration, Lowrance retired, stating, "We will see more resignations in the future as the administration fails to enforce environmental laws." she said, "This Administration has pulled cases and put investigations on ice. They sent every signal they can to staff to back off." Retired, August 2002.

Bruce Boler: An EPA scientist who resigned from his post because, he said, "Wetlands are often referred to as nature's kidneys. Most self-respecting scientists will tell you that, and yet [private] developers and officials [at the Army Corps of Engineers] wanted me to support their position that wetlands are, literally, a pollution source." Resigned, October 23, 2003.

Eric Schaeffer: After twelve years of service, including the last five as Director of the Office of Regulatory Enforcement, at the Environmental Protection Agency, Schaeffer submitted a letter of resignation over the Bush administration's non-enforcement of the Clean Air Act. He later explained:

"In a matter of weeks, the Bush administration was able to undo the environmental progress we had worked years to secure. Millions of tons of unnecessary pollution continue to pour from these power plants each year as a result. Adding insult to injury, the White House sought to slash the EPA's enforcement budget, making it harder for us to pursue cases we'd already launched against other polluters that had run afoul of the law, from auto manufacturers to refineries, large industrial hog feedlots, and paper companies. It became clear that Bush had little regard for the environment--and even less for enforcing the laws that protect it. So last spring, after 12 years at the agency, I resigned, stating my reasons in a very public letter to Administrator [Christine Todd] Whitman."

Resigned, February 27, 2002.

Bruce Buckheit: A 30-year veteran of government service, Buckheit retired in frustration over Bush administration efforts to weaken environmental regulations. When asked by NBC reporter Stone Phillips, "What's the biggest enforcement challenge right now when it comes to air pollution?," the former Senior Counsel with the Environmental Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, and then Director of EPA's Air Enforcement Division, was unequivocal: "The Bush Administration." He went on to note that "this administration has decided to put the economic interests of the coal fired power plants ahead of the public interests in reducing air pollution." Resigned, November 2003.

Rich Biondi: A 32-year EPA employee, Biondi retired from his post as Associate Director of the Air Enforcement Division of the Environmental Protection Agency. He stated, "We weren't given the latitude we had been, and the Bush administration was interfering more and more with the ability to get the job done. There were indications things were going to be reviewed a lot more carefully, and we needed a lot more justification to bring lawsuits." Retired, December 2004.

Martin E. Sullivan, Richard S. Lanier and Gary Vikan: Three members of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee, they all resigned from their posts to protest the looting of Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities. In his letter of resignation, Sullivan, the Committee's chairman, wrote, "The tragedy was not prevented, due to our nation's inaction," while Lanier castigated "the administration's total lack of sensitivity and forethought regarding the Iraq invasion and the loss of cultural treasures." Resigned, April 14, 2003.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, eyes began to focus on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the political appointees running it. What had happened to the professionals who once staffed FEMA? In 2004, Pleasant Mann, a 17-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union told Indyweek:

"Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs. A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies."

Disillusionment with the current state of affairs at FEMA was cited as the major cause for the mass defections. In fact, a February 2004 survey by the American Federation of Government Employees found that 80% of a sample of remaining employees said FEMA had become "a poorer agency" since being shifted into the Bush-created Department of Homeland Security. What happened to FEMA has happened, in ways large and small, to many other federal agencies. In an article by Amanda Griscom in Grist magazine, Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, made reference to the "unusually high" rate of replacement of scientists in government agencies during the Bush administration. "If the scientist gives the inconvenient answer they commit career suicide," he said.

However defined, the casualties of the Bush administration are legion. The numbers of government careers wrecked, disrupted, adversely affected, or tossed into turmoil as a result of this administration's wars, budgets, policies, and programs is impossible to determine. Although every administration leaves bodies strewn in its wake, none in recent memory has come close to the Bush administration in producing so many public statements of resignation, dissatisfaction, or anger over treatment or policies. The aforementioned list of casualties includes among the best known of those who have resigned or left the administration under pressure (although not necessarily those who have suffered most from their acts). Perhaps no one knows exactly how many government workers, at all levels, have fallen in the face of the Bush administration. Those mentioned above are just a few of the highest profile members of this as yet uncounted legion, just a few of the names we know.

Nick Turse works in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University and as the Associate Editor and Research Director at He writes for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch on the military-corporate complex, the homeland security state, and various other topics.

Copyright 2005 Nick Turse

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

When Torture Becomes Policy

Mike Whitney:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government.” Declaration of Independence, July4, 1776

President Bush has made it clear that he will veto the $435 billion Pentagon appropriations bill because it restricts his ability to abuse prisoners in the war on terror. The bill, which forbids the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” of prisoners in US custody, was passed by an overwhelming 90 to 9 majority in the Senate. It was first flagrant rejection of administration policy in nearly 5 years.

Bush’s veto puts the administration on the extreme end of the policy spectrum and links the president to the widely reported incidents of human rights abuses and torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the other American prison facilities. It is now impossible to deny that Bush not only supports a policy of calculated mistreatment of prisoners, but was also directly involved in establishing the current regime. This implicates Bush in violations of treaty requirements under the Geneva Conventions and the 1996 Torture Treaty, as well as the 8th amendment’s provision against “cruel and inhuman” punishment.

Bush’s veto is a clear sign that the administration is a willing participant in war crimes and intends to defend that barbarous behavior before the American people and the world. There’s no longer any reason to dispute the reports from Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, the ACLU, or the many eyewitness accounts from US servicemen or former inmates. The president’s veto clearly establishes that Bush tacitly supports “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” as official policy.

This is a positive development for those who believe that Bush will have to be physically removed from office via impeachment, military coup or revolution. It shows how disconnected the current White House is from the nearly 90% of Americans who do not believe that torture can be justified “for any reason”. It also dispels the foolish notion that Bush communicates with God or is acting on his behalf.

The American people now have a stark choice between good and evil; between those who advocate the “systemic, blatant and sadistic” (Taguba Report) treatment of prisoners or those who don’t. Anyone who continues to support the current administration or who fails to support the efforts to have them removed from office and held accountable for their crimes, is equally complicit in their immoral, unethical and criminal conduct.

This week, former UN chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter compared George Bush and Tony Blair to Nazi war criminals saying that, “Both of these men could be pulled up as war criminals for engaging in actions that we condemned Germany in 1946 for doing.” Bush’s veto removes any doubt about the veracity of Ritter’s comments.

Currently, there are over 25,000 prisoners in American facilities in Iraq who have been exposed to some level of physical brutality. None of these men have been charged with a crime, nor will they be. The Pentagon, acting as the surrogate for the imperial presidency, simply conducts its arrests and interrogations according to its own vicious standards. There are no rules and no constraints; just the vile application of physical coercion.

In Guantanamo, more than 200 inmates are in the 2nd month of a hunger strike. 22 of the prisoners have been hospitalized and are being force-fed by their jailors. The demands of the prisoners are both simple and reasonable; they want to have a fair hearing before an impartial judge so they can know why they are being held. It is most basic of all human rights and one that is guaranteed under international law.

Once again, the administration and the collaborative media have conspired to conceal the horror of what is taking place in Guantanamo behind a wall of government secrecy. If the president is as forthright as he pretends to be, than there should be no problem opening up Guantanamo to independent media so we can see the affects of the policies he so ardently defends.

Whether prisoners are being beaten, humiliated, starved to death or simply held without charges the facts remain the same. The policy originated at the highest levels of government and will only be strengthened by Bush’s veto. The administration is claiming the absolute authority to operate beyond the law and with complete impunity.

Torture is the window that allows us to see beyond the public relations smokescreen into the fetid cesspool of administration thinking. The Bush regime is divorced from any sense of decency or moral compunction. Nothing they say can be trusted. They have generated an ethos of cruelty and vindictiveness that now pervades the myriad offices of government and the defense establishment. The very principles upon which American life depends, and which are laid out in the founding documents, are threatened by their conduct.

Bush’s veto tells us that the administration will not operate within the law or comply with the will of the American people. It shows us that the government now functions beyond its popular mandate and without a shred of moral legitimacy. Bush and his lieutenants are unworthy of high-office and must be removed before it is too late.