Thursday, September 22, 2011

Love Those Indy Weblogs...

Well, hell. I swear I truly tried to watch the Repubs' debate tonight. I guess I lasted about ten minutes before turning away and doing the recommends on the Indy Weblogs. The Indys are a group of Dem political bloggers. Altogether there are 425 of them at last count. Thank heavens they don't all post at once. Usually about 30 of them post. Less on weekends. Often mighty stringent opinions. Good people. In case anyone would like to read some of them, the URL is:

My apologies for not making that URL a link, but I never learned how to do that. :(((

Ralph, who lives in New Jersey, gathered up those bloggers and he ships the posts to Lana up in San Francisco and Lana gets them all in order and I have the URL to get them down here in San Diego so I can do the recommends. Posts are up every 4 hours, 24 hours a day. I do the recommends at 11AM, 3PM, and 7PM. Do them 7 days a week.
And they're bloggers from all over the USA so there's certainly different opinions of what's going on in our country. Wouldn't give them up for love nor money.

And the poor East Coast is getting rained on something terrible again. Sure do feel for them.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things To Watch Out For....

*Heaven forbid, but if you have a family member who is about to die, and if you intend to have a notice of that death in your newspaper's Obituaries page, you'd better have enough money in the bank to pay for it. They cost a fortune. Just check that out and prepare to be shocked.

*The Southern California Writers Conference convenes this weekend in Anaheim, California. If you're a writer...beginning or is definitely worth attending. Not only are the workshop leaders excellent, but agents are accomplished and if you've written a book, gotten it polished, and need an agent (it's a very tough market out there) do try and attend. Check details at

*Be very sure that you want to access the sites of either Linked In or Facebook. Once you get in, you may never find a way to get out. I tried, with zero success. Have come to the conclusion that if either pops up on my email again, I'll simply delete them. Also have decided that the reason deleting is almost impossible is because they can then trap enough people on their sites to be able to say they have one huge number of folks who use their sites.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Open Government or No?.....

From Secrecy News:


The White House reiterated its support for open government in a new report issued Friday afternoon. But curiously, the 33-page document on "The Obama Administration's Commitment to Open Government" (pdf) downplays or overlooks many of the Administration's principal achievements in reducing inappropriate secrecy. At the same time, it fails to acknowledge the major defects of the openness program to date. And so it presents a muddled picture of the state of open government, while providing a poor guide to future policy.

"At the President's direction, federal agencies have promoted greater transparency, participation, and collaboration through a number of major initiatives," the new report says. "The results of those efforts are measurable, and they are substantial. Agencies have disclosed more information in response to FOIA requests; developed and begun to implement comprehensive Open Government plans; made thousands of government data sets publically available; promoted partnerships and leveraged private innovation to improve citizens' lives; increased federal spending transparency; and declassified information and limited the proliferation of classified information."

Most of that is true, in varying degrees. (However, there is no evidence that the proliferation of classified information has in fact been limited; the opposite is the case.)

And yet despite the abundance of itemized detail in the new report, it misses or misrepresents crucial aspects of what has been accomplished and what has not.

Particularly within the domain of national security secrecy, the report leaves out the Obama Administration's boldest departures from past secrecy policies, suggesting that the White House itself is ambivalent or perhaps remorseful about them. For example, the report does not mention these groundbreaking measures:

In April 2009, the President broke with prior policy and declassified four Office of Legal Counsel opinions on interrogation and torture that had been tightly held by the previous Administration. ("OLC Torture Memos Declassified," Secrecy News, April 17, 2009). This act finally exposed the purported legal basis for some of the government's most controversial actions of recent years, and for a while it seemed to promise a new attitude toward the use of secrecy.

In May 2010, the Obama Administration declassified the current size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal for the first time ever. ("Size of Nuclear Stockpile to be Disclosed," May 3, 2010). This is a category of information the disclosure of which had been sought without success for more than half a century, and its release created the potential for greater transparency and accountability in nuclear weapons policy.

In May 2011, the President personally ordered the declassification of an excerpt of a 1968 edition of the President's Daily Brief -- over the objections of intelligence agencies. ("Obama Declassifies Portion of 1968 President's Daily Brief," June 3, 2011). This act alone lent new substance to the otherwise rhetorical statement that "no information may remain classified indefinitely" and prompted a revision of entrenched prejudices concerning secret intelligence records.

For the first time ever, the Administration this year declassified and disclosed the size of the intelligence budget request for the coming year. ("A New Milestone in Intelligence Budget Disclosure," February 15, 2011). In 1998, the Director of Central Intelligence declared under penalty of perjury that disclosure of such information would cause damage to national security. But in the Obama Administration, that Cold War perspective has finally been abandoned even by the most senior intelligence officials.

These are among the most important changes in national security secrecy that have been accomplished in the Obama Administration. So it is puzzling and disturbing that in its own "review of the progress the Administration has made" in promoting greater openness, the new report does not mention any of them. For whatever reason, the White House does not seem to want to take "credit" for these actions, or to remind readers of them.

If the report minimizes the most positive achievements of secrecy reform to date, it also declines to acknowledge the serious failures of the President's openness initiative.

Thus, it does not mention that during the first full year of the Obama Administration, the number of new national security secrets (or "original classification decisions") actually increased by 22.6 percent, according to the latest annual report of the Information Security Oversight Office. ("Transforming Classification, or Not," May 18, 2011). Because it does not include such significant adverse data, the White House report more closely approximates a public relations exercise than a candid account of the current status of openness.

The report alludes to new requirements in the President's 2009 executive order 13256 that dictate "clarified, and stricter, standards for classifying information." But it does not mention that the Department of Defense, the largest classifying agency, failed to meet the President's deadline for issuing implementing guidance for the new executive order. The upshot is that many of those new requirements are not being fulfilled in practice, more than a year after the President's order came into effect. ("Secrecy Reform Stymied by the Pentagon," February 24, 2011). By not admitting such problems, the report also misses the opportunity to identify solutions to them.

Nor does the term "state secrets privilege" appear in the new report, although the Administration's use of the privilege has been an impenetrable barrier to the resolution of many festering disputes on torture, rendition and surveillance. Can one even speak of open government when individuals who have been victims of torture like Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri are barred by secrecy from presenting evidence in a court of law or seeking some other lawful remedy?

The White House report demonstrates that the Obama Administration not only wants to be perceived as open, but that it actually has a commitment to open government. In addition to the precedent-setting breakthroughs noted above, many of the openness initiatives discussed in the report, such as the access to agency information provided through the website, are commendable and worthwhile.

But the report also shows that the Administration's commitment lacks clarity, consistency, and self-confidence. This makes it harder to build on the most notable and successful achievements of the past few years.

On Tuesday, September 20, President Obama will participate in the launch of the Open Government Partnership, a multi-national effort to foster open government practices around the world.

Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

The Secrecy News Blog is at:


Monday, September 05, 2011

I Absolutely Hate....

...the phrase, "Just sayin'". It's a copout if ever there was one. Saying the person speaking is not responsible in any way, shape, or form for whatever the hell is coming outta their mouth. Noooo. They're just repeating what someone else is saying or has said or done...but they're not giving it as their opinion or anything else. Just an absolutely cowardly phrase.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: The 19th Wife....

This was first published in Secular Humanist Briefs, a newsletter of the Council of Secular Humanism.

The 19th Wife

a novel by David Ebershoff

Published by Random House 2008

ISBN: 987-1-58836-748-8


An Irreverent look at Mormons and their weird church


Keith Taylor

Religions fascinate atheists and skeptics. The 19th Wife, a novel covering the antics of Mormons of the nineteenth and of the twenty-first centuries, will do more than fascinate you. It will grab you and refuse to let go.

All Christian religions stress taking things on faith and come up with some strange beliefs. But the Mormons! That religion is a wonderment unto itself. In less than a couple centuries the Saints came up with as many impossible ideas as had the Catholic Church in twenty.

Joseph Smith threw out most of the irrational Christian ideas and replaced them with a new set of even more irrational ones. None were tested by dispassionate examination. Religious things are above that with the old "higher power" copout they all claim guides their lives.

Books critical of the Mormon church such as Trouble Enough by Ernest Taves, Secret Ceremonies by Deborah Laake, and A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tell compelling stories of a strange religion. But none impressed me as did the tale by David Ebershoff. He told the story of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham's nineteenth, or, maybe fifty-fourth wife..

Ann divorced her husband and asked for money from him, possibly the richest man in the country. The resulting tumult resulted in polygamy being banned.

Ebershoff not only told the story of Ms. Young, he told it convincingly from the viewpoints of herself, her mother, her father, Brigham Young, and a young twenty-first century man who was excommunicated by later version of the church which insisted it was the first.

The 19th Wife keeps the reader on his toes by shifting from one point of view to another, one story line to another, and by moving between the mid 19th century to the 21st. century Somehow Ebershoff does a superb job of it.

The reader's hardest job is to keep track of the century and the narrator. It is a culture shock to leave the 19th century with the problems of a young, pious 19th century polygamous bride, then try to empathize with a 21st century young, recalcitrant, excommunicated, Mormon who is trying to save his mom from execution for killing his dad.

The book is rightly described as a page turner, so finishing a chapter isn't hard. What's hard is to resist starting the next where the reader will land in a different century and in the mind of a different point of view. Bring along the forbidden drink, coffee, because you'll read longer than you planned. and find yourself still reading far into the morning.

Although his life is the secondary story line Jordan Scott, the young recalcitrant guy, is the most compelling character in the book. As a doddering geezer I take a perverse delight in imaginative cussing. Thus I laughed when Jordan used the term "fuck log" to describe the notes his father kept to remind himself who was the next wife he'd sleep with. And for empathy we can feel Jordan's discomfort in explaining the term to his pious mother.

If a humanist or skeptics group had a list of "must read" books, this one would be near the top. As with Huckleberry Finn and all other great novels it is much more than a good story. It takes the gentiles, as we're called, inside a church recently created out of whole cloth and lets us see the damage done by deliberate ignorance.


//Keith Taylor is a former president and program chair for the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry. He can be reached at //


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Our Secret Government...

From Secrecy News...


Most people can vaguely recall that there was once no U.S. Department of Homeland Security and that there was a time when you didn't have to take your shoes off before boarding an airplane or submit to other dubious security practices.

But hardly anyone truly comprehends the enormous expansion of the military, intelligence and homeland security bureaucracy that has occurred over the past decade, and the often irrational transformation of American life that has accompanied it.

The great virtue of the new book "Top Secret America" by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (Little Brown, September 2011) is that it illuminates various facets of our secret government, lifting them from the periphery of awareness to full, sustained attention.

Top Secret America, which builds on the series of stories the authors produced for the Washington Post in July 2010, delineates the contours of "the new American security state." Since 9/11, for example, some 33 large office complexes for top secret intelligence work have been completed in the Washington DC area, the equivalent in size of nearly three Pentagons. More than 250,000 contractors are working on top secret programs. A bewildering number of agencies - more than a thousand -- have been created to execute security policy, including at least 24 new organizations last year alone. And so on.

But the vast scale of this activity says nothing about its quality or utility. The authors, who are scrupulous in their presentation of the facts, are critical in their evaluation:

"One of the greatest secrets of Top Secret America is its disturbing dysfunction."

"Ten years after the attacks of 9/11, more secret projects, more secret organizations, more secret authorities, more secret decision making, more watchlists, and more databases are not the answer to every problem. In fact, more has become too much."

"It is time to close the decade-long chapter of fear, to confront the colossal sum of money that could have been saved or better spent, to remember what we are truly defending, and in doing so, to begin a new era of openness and better security against our enemies."

(From this point of view, it was disappointing to hear the former chair of the 9/11 Commission, Gov. Tom Kean, declare yesterday that "we are not as secure as we could or should be." We need to accelerate along the path we have been following, Gov. Kean seemed to say, not to fundamentally change course.)

According to Priest and Arkin, "The government has still not engaged the American people in an honest conversation about terrorism and the appropriate U.S. response to it. We hope our book will promote one."

Despite the sobering subject matter, Top Secret America actually makes for lively reading. It is full of the authors' remarkable insights, anecdotes and encounters. Dana Priest explored some of the physical geography of the classified world, taking elevators to unmarked floors in suburban office buildings and driving up to guard booths at secret facilities to innocently ask for information. She accompanied police in Memphis while they conducted neighborhood surveillance with newfangled automatic license plate readers. She was polygraphed at her request -- and found to be a poor liar. Bill Arkin, whose painstaking research informed the entire work (which is narrated by Priest), spent ten days in Qatar at the U.S. military facility that controls air operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and somehow got himself invited to classified briefings.

One question that lurks throughout the book is whether the excesses and misjudgments that constitute so much of Top Secret America can be corrected or reversed. The authors are not very optimistic, particularly since there are so many people who benefit from current arrangements, however wasteful, useless or pointless they might be.

By way of illustration they cite U.S. Northern Command, the newest military command that is nominally responsible for defense of North America but in practice is largely subordinate to other agencies and organizations. "The fact that Northern Command would even continue to exist as a major, four-star-led, geographic military command, with virtually no responsibilities, no competencies, and no unique role to fill, demonstrated the resiliency of institutions created in the wake of 9/11 and just how difficult it would be to ever actually shrink Top Secret America," they wrote.

Secrecy is naturally a persistent theme throughout the book. As is often the case in national security reporting, the authors relied on unauthorized disclosures to complement their own research and reporting. And in this case, such disclosures served as a particularly effective antidote to overclassification.

"Most of those who helped us did so with the knowledge that they were breaking some internal agency rule in doing so; they proceeded anyway because they wanted us to have a more complete picture of the inner workings of the post-9/11 world we sought to describe and because they, too, believe too much information is classified for no good reason," they wrote.

At the same time, the authors noted that they "have left out some information" based on national security considerations.

Top Secret America will be featured on PBS Frontline on September 6, the book's official release date.

from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 83
September 1, 2011

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