August 27, 2008

9th Annual Elite Karate Training Camp

No posts until after Labor Day - I'm headed to Kansas City for the Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai 9th Annual Elite Karate Training Camp. It's one of two major annual events for my karate organization, and I look forward to it every year. It's a great chance to reconnect with my sensei (above left) and old friends from across the country (and around the world), as well as to train under Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki (above right), who is - simply - one of the best in the world.

I have some students going this year who haven't gone before, and I think they'll get a lot out of it. Even better, it's a chance for me to just be a student for at least some of the time I'm there. I love teaching, but it's nice to turn inward a little bit on occasion and work on improving myself.

See you next week!

August 24, 2008

Ending the Use of Ignorance As a Weapon

GOP presidential candidate John McCain's most recent gaffe, in which he admitted being unable to answer a question about the number of homes he owns, has done much to diminish the effectiveness of his claims about his opponent's alleged "elitism." Still, only those for whom 2008 is their first presidential election are likely to believe that this particular charge is gone from the landscape of either the current campaign or future ones. But while elitism has been a favorite characterization of both progressives and Democrats by Republicans for years, the nature of the term - what it actually means - is rarely explored.

Senator McCain, who married into a family worth in excess of $100 million, is - even in comparison to Barack Obama, who made $4 million last year - clearly operating in a financial realm far beyond what the vast majority of Americans will ever even hope to attain. By any objective definition, while both men are unquestionably members of the financial elite, it is Mr. McCain who has been there longer, and who has climbed far further up that particular ladder than Mr. Obama. The charges of "elitism" then, must stem from something else, and they do: the candidate's intellectualism.

Senator Obama hit the nail on the head, when, in response to Republican ridicule of his completely realistic statement that maintaining proper tire pressure improves gas mileage, he noted, "It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant." This is not an earth-shattering revelation, but it is a truism often left unsaid. For while political populism has always contained some degree - often significant - of willful intellectual blindness, the increasingly central role of that ignorance in advancing a particular agenda has rarely been questioned. Susan Jacoby, in a recent interview about her new book The Age of American Unreason, contends that we are plumbing new depths in America, and recounts the following telling example:
Contempt for fact is very important.

I'll give you a great example that's already obsolete. At the end of the primaries, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain endorsed a gas tax holiday for Americans this summer. Every economist, both liberal and conservative, said this would do nothing to help matters. And when Hillary Clinton was asked by the late Tim Russert, "Can you produce one economist to support the gas tax holiday?" she said, "Oh that's elite thinking."

Now to say that economists have nothing intelligent to say about whether a gas tax will give people economic relief is like saying that you don't ask musicians about music; you don't ask scientists about science. It's not just an attack on a political idea; it's an attack on knowledge itself.
Of course, she doesn't believe it for a minute. It shows that a lot of politicians think they have to play to ignorance and label anything that goes against received opinion as elitism.

Although the subject of this example, Mrs. Clinton, is a Democrat, it is the Republican Party that has consistently made the persecution of objective knowledge central to its message and its methodology. Throughout the reign of George W. Bush, there have been countless examples of not just contempt for science and reason and data, but an active effort to crush, suppress and twist reality to conform it to preconceived notions. It is a strategy that has been key to maintaining the GOP's grip on power, and it has often been aided by a spineless press corps more enamored of access to that power than the more punishing pursuit of the truth.

All of that said, however, none of this is solely the fault of either politicians or the news media; ultimate responsibility lies with each of us individually, and anyone who takes either a political leader or a corporate journalist at face value is, to be blunt, a fool. Far too many people receive news uncritically, from a single source, or from a single viewpoint, something which has made FOX News what it is today and given it the influence it continues to enjoy. Simply put, the damage wrought by President Bush and the GOP over the past eight years would not have been possible without a compliant and lazy public.

Recently, a friend of mine expressed the sentiment that modern politics was nothing more than a breeding ground for false hope and repeated disappointment, and for that reason he was disinclined to become re-engaged. (A lifelong Republican, he voted for President Bush twice, but has since become disillusioned.) When I pointed out that, as a father, it would probably be a good idea for him to add his voice to the national conversation, he replied that he believed a higher power would ensure that things work out in the end.

I could not disagree more. Change will only come from the efforts of those who take the time to work for it, and it is the passive acceptance - not of some supreme being's will - but the very earthly machinations of human beings, that has gotten us into our current mess. It is up to us to take the mantle of citizenship far more seriously than we have in recent years, and higher power or no, as they say, "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Senator Obama's calling out of Republican pride in ignorance may be a turning point, but only if every one of us endeavors to make it so.

Below are two videos that are important in a number of ways. The first is from Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films, and it documents some of the repeated falsehoods from FOX News with regard to Barack Obama's campaign platform. It represents exactly the type of grassroots effort to hold corporate media accountable that is so necessary in today's United States.

The second video is from Real Time with Bill Maher, and features some very wise words from actor - and research adviser at Oxford University - Richard Dreyfus on the very fragile nature of the American experiment.

August 20, 2008

John McCain Was Never Tortured by the Vietnamese

In a post today, Andrew Sullivan applies the Bush Administration's definition of torture to Senator John McCain's well-known experiences as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. In applying this simple, but elegant, thought exercise, he thoroughly eviscerates the president's claim that "We don't torture" in a few short paragraphs:
In all the discussion of John McCain's recently recovered memory of a religious epiphany in Vietnam, one thing has been missing. The torture that was deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration's definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.

Cheney denies that McCain was tortured; as does Bush. So do John Yoo and David Addington and George Tenet. In the one indisputably authentic version of the story of a Vietnamese guard showing compassion, McCain talks of the agony of long-time standing. A quarter century later, Don Rumsfeld was putting his signature to memos lengthening the agony of "long-time standing" that victims of Bush's torture regime would have to endure. These torture techniques are, according to the president of the United States, merely "enhanced interrogation."

No war crimes were committed against McCain. And the techniques used are, according to the president, tools to extract accurate information. And so the false confessions that McCain was forced to make were, according to the logic of the Bush administration, as accurate as the "intelligence" we have procured from "interrogating" terror suspects. Feel safer?
Of course, some will argue that Senator McCain also had his arm broken while in captivity, but we all know how the overzealous application of "enhanced interrogation techniques" can turn out, right? You know, kind of like the men who were mistakenly killed at Abu Ghraib prison and Bagram Air Base.

I certainly don't always agree with Mr. Sullivan, but this is a brilliant post, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

August 18, 2008

More Fallout from the Bush Doctrine

In response to Russia's retaliatory invasion of Georgia, Republican presidential candidate John McCain is on record for having stated - more than a little ludicrously, in light of his support for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 - that "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." While there are unquestionably differences in the particulars of Georgia and Iraq, just as certainly, the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive invasion has cut the United States' international standing (not to mention its ability to project power) off at the knees, most noticeably now that it is dealing with another country following its arrogant precepts.

Don't think so? Just ask Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, who was asked on Sunday when his country would withdraw from Georgia, and responded thus:
"If I would ask you in response to the same question how fast the American forces can leave Iraq, for example, the answer would be as soon as we have guarantees for peace and security there. The same answer would be toward this situation."

August 17, 2008

Still Working to Reduce Oversight

[Click on image for full size.]

As the Bush Administration plods through what are thankfully its last days, it would be foolish to believe that the corrupt zealots at the White House are going to coast across the finish line. On the contrary, they are working as hard as they can to provide final handouts to their backers and to inflict as much of their radical agenda on America and the world as they can, even as the clock winds down.

A case in point is last week's announcement from Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne that he was pushing a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These changes would permit federal agencies to sidestep the independent scientific reviews that have been required for more than three decades, and to decide for themselves whether protected species would be imperiled by agency projects. From a report in the Los Angeles Times:
The new rules, which will be subject to a 30-day comment period, would use administrative powers to make broad changes in the law that Congress has resisted for years. Under current law, agencies must subject any plans that potentially affect endangered animals and plants to an independent review by scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the proposed new rules, dam and highway construction and other federal projects could proceed without delay if the agency in charge decides they would not harm vulnerable species.
Despite Secretary Kempthorne's laughable declaration that this wholesale rewriting of the rules is no more than a "narrow regulatory change," there is little doubt that the results would be devastating. In addition to exempting thousands of federal activities from the checks and balances of independent review, they would:
  • Narrowly define what can be considered harmful;
  • Automatically approve any project whose evaluation exceeds a paltry 60-day deadline for wildlife experts to evaluate it in the instances when they are invited to participate;
  • Permit large-scale projects to go unexamined by splitting them into hundreds of smaller projects that remain exempt from review;
  • Prohibit consideration of a project's contribution to global warming.
On top of all that, the administration tried to slip through another proposed rule change limiting protection for species only to where they can currently be found. Under current rules, each species is protected across its entire historical range because many endangered animals have lost substantial portions of their habitat. The effect of this rule is easy to see when one considers that, prior to being reintroduced into the wild, the California Condor would only have been listed as a protected species in zoos.

While the Endangered Species Act has been ridiculed for preventing economic activity - the spotted owl and snail darter, for instance, are two species that have slowed or stopped significant projects in the past, creating significant controversy - it is hard to make the claim that mankind is not permitted a free enough hand when it comes to development. To see the effects of an environmental policy that reduces independent oversight and fails to take a holistic view of the effects of human activity, it is only necessary to look at the expansion of oceanic dead zones. The number of these areas, in which bottom waters are so depleted of oxygen that they cannot support life, has, according to Scientific American, increased eightfold since the 1960s.

Dead zones are caused almost exclusively by burning fossil fuels - which create airborne nitrogen oxides that are washed into the ocean when it rains - and the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer in industrial agriculture:
This fertilizer runoff, instead of contributing to more corn or wheat, feeds massive algae blooms in the coastal oceans. This algae, in turn, dies and sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by microbes, which consume oxygen in the process. More algae means more oxygen-burning, and thereby less oxygen in the water, resulting in a massive flight by those fish, crustaceans and other ocean-dwellers able to relocate as well as the mass death of immobile creatures, such as clams or other bottom-dwellers. And that's when the microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments take over, forming vast bacterial mats that produce hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.
Today, there are dead zones dotting the entire east and south coasts of the United States, and if history is any guide, almost none of them will recover. Vast swaths of coastal fishing grounds are becoming lifeless, and in addition to the environmental impact, the economic damage to the fishing industry is staggering:
This is no small economic matter. A single low-oxygen event (known scientifically as hypoxia) off the coasts of New York State and New Jersey in 1976 covering a mere 385 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of seabed ended up costing commercial and recreational fisheries in the region more than $500 million. As it stands, roughly 83,000 tons (75,000 metric tons) of fish and other ocean life are lost to the Chesapeake Bay dead zone each year—enough to feed half the commercial crab catch for a year.
The Endangered Species Act may not be perfect, but it is far better than the failure that has been unrestrained economic activity at the expense of the environment., and while one can argue that the dead zones indicate that the Marine Fisheries Service has failed in its duty, things would certainly be much worse without the limited monitoring and enforcement that has occurred. Considering the complete lack of oversight championed by George Bush's executive branch - and the results thereof, whether no-bid contracts in Iraq, politicization of the Justice Department or the torture of prisoners in the "War on Terror" - it is clear that the changes advocated by Secretary Kempthorne are nothing more than the latest in a long series of White House efforts to exclude expertise perceived to obstruct ideological goals.

The ESA may, in fact, require revisions - after all, it dates to the Nixon Administration - but any such changes must come by way of honest and thorough evaluation conducted by experts. The last thing the Endangered Species Act, the country, or even the world needs is yet one more instance of this White House forcing its fringe ideology down the throats of the public. A wiser president who had governed well could lead such a review; George W. Bush and his lackeys however, have fully earned the distrust and anger with which this latest move is most deservedly regarded.

August 12, 2008

Driving Our Foreign Policy at 10/10ths

Auto enthusiasts sometimes use an expression involving some number of "tenths" to express how hard a car is being driven. Tootling around town, for instance, might be considered driving at three tenths, while hot-lapping at an autocross where the car is closer to its limits of performance, could be, say, 8/10ths. Experienced drivers - including race car drivers - know that pushing a car to ten tenths is extremely risky, and should only be done for very short periods of time and when there is no other choice. Simply put, one always wants a little bit of cushion in order to deal with the unexpected.

If there was any doubt that foreign policy under the Bush Doctrine of proactive war and foreign adventurism has been running flat out at 10/10ths since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the inability of the United States to respond to Russia's recent invasion of South Ossetia and Georgia have made it extremely clear. Without something in reserve - either militarily or diplomatically - the U.S. has been caught wrong-footed by the Russian response to Georgia's earlier incursion into South Ossetia, and wholly unprepared to deal with it. For while the Russians have declared that they have met their military goals and are no longer advancing, there is little question that that they remain firmly in control of the situation. As one Georgian put it when asked to identify the border of South Ossetia, "The border is where the Russians say it is. It could be here [Tirzini], or it could be Gori.”

Whatever goals Russia may have genuinely had about autonomy for South Ossetia, it has achieved several other, potentially more important aims, as well. Most significantly, Russia has reasserted its dominance in the region and at its borders, and in so doing, established that alliances with the West, training from NATO, and democraticization ultimately count for little when the chips are down. In particular, this message is aimed at counties like Poland, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, and - of primary concern to Russia - Ukraine, all of whom have flirted with Europe and the West to one degree or another in recent years.

Likewise, Russia's action in Georgia is designed to convey to the rest of the world that its interests must be respected. Moscow was deeply stung by the U.S. and Europe's joint decision to back independence for Kosovo, and the invasion of South Ossetia is likely Russia's way of demonstrating that it is every bit as capable of redrawing borders as NATO.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain warned that the Georgia situation would have grave long-range repercussions for Russia, but he, along with Vice President Cheney - who declared that the Russian action "must not go unanswered" - are very clearly operating in the realm of rhetoric rather than reality, to say nothing of the past rather than the present. Not only does the United States need Russia's cooperation in ending weapon sales to Iran and its help in bringing that country's nuclear ambitions to heel, but the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have ensured that - assuming one were desirable - any American military response to the Georgia crisis is impossible.

The weakened Russia of the last two decades did not pursue military action outside its current territorial boundaries. Now, flush with money from booming oil prices and burning with 20 years of wounded pride stoked by renewed nationalist fervor, the Russia of today is clearly poised to project its power, at least locally. To understand just how badly the United States misread that fact, one need only consider that Georgia's attempt to reclaim South Ossetia took several days of preparation, including the mass mobilization of troops. The U.S., as Georgia's closest and most important ally, has a significant number of military and civilian advisors there, as well contractors engaged at all level of the Georgian government; it is virtually impossible that Tblisi's plans for South Ossetia were unknown to them. We can deduce then, that American intelligence believed Russia would simply accept Georgia's invasion, just as it had accepted independence for Kosovo.

Clearly, that evaluation could not have been more wrong, and worse, the gap between the bellicose and intense rhetoric coming from Washington and the actions the United States can actually pursue is enormous, making Russia look even stronger than it actually is. From StratFor:
There is talk that the Russians might want a new government in Georgia. That is probably so, but the Russians have already achieved their most important goals. They have made it clear to their neighbors that a relationship with the West does not provide security if Russia’s interests are threatened. They have made it clear to the West that ignoring Russian wishes carries a price. And finally, they have made it clear to everyone that the Russian military, which was in catastrophic shape five years ago, is sufficiently healed to carry out a complex combined-arms operation including land, air and naval components. Granted it was against a small country, but there were many ways in which the operation could have been bungled. It wasn’t. Russia is not a superpower, but it is certainly no longer a military cripple. Delivering that message, in the end, might have been the most important to Russia.
The implications of Russia's successful and unopposed answer to Georgia's invasion of South Ossetia are far-reaching. A resurgent Russia can no longer be ignored or taken for granted, and the attractiveness of alliance with the United States and Europe for small countries on its borders - especially those once within the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact - has taken a dramatic hit. With American intelligence assets so focused on al-Qaeda and military resources completely consumed by Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing standing between Russian ambition and its achievement in the near term. The United States simply cannot fulfill any promises it has made - or will make - to allies in Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Driving America's foreign policy at 10/10ths for the last 8 years has left us with no margin for error and no means to address the unexpected. As they say, however, the one constant in the universe is change, and the borrowed time on which the Bush Administration's oblivious and over-confident foreign policy has been dependent appears to have run out. While on the positive side, this might smother the bellicose ambitions of the White House for conflict with Iran, it has also exposed the U.S. as little more than an overextended paper tiger incapable of acting on its neoconservative bluster. That's well and good if it only serves to restrain irresponsible aggression, but it is unquestionably damaging if our show of weakness and stupidity in Georgia emboldens our enemies and strengthens our international rivals.

August 8, 2008

AccountabilityNow Moneybomb Today

Become a StrangeBedfellow!
Today is the day for the AccountabilityNow moneybomb!

AccountabilityNow is an initiative launched by Strangebedfellows, a unique coalition made up of people from both the left and right that is dedicated to stopping the creeping eradication of civil liberties in America. Modeled on a similar effort in Britain, the initial Strangebedfellows group encompasses everyone from Ron Paul supporters (, Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman) to leading bloggers on the left (Glenn Greenwald of, Jane Hamsher of to a broad representation of concerned individuals who share the view that warrantless surveillance, telecom immunity and other outrages must end, and end now.

The long term goal for AccountabilityNow is to become a permanent fixture on the political landscape of Washington, DC that serves as a constant reminder to politicians that civil liberties matter. The message is simple: Uphold constitutional rights and we will support you; abridge freedom in America and you have gained an opponent. Democrat or Republican - it makes no difference to us; one standard will be used for all.

If you care about holding your government accountable for the actions it takes - especially those that undermine the Constitution - please take a moment to visit AccountabilityNow and participate in this powerful fundraising effort!

August 5, 2008

The Foolishness of Blind Faith

While it has long been held that random searches of closed containers and their contents at the border are reasonable, the Supreme Court has also advised that, in the interests of human dignity and privacy, reasonable suspicion is required before carrying out intrusive searches of a traveler's person. In April, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that border agents can examine the contents of a laptop or other electronic storage device without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, based on the contention that such devices are no more than personal property, like a bag or a suitcase. In so doing, the Ninth Circuit rejected the idea that electronic storage serves as an extension of human memory and that a search of stored personal data constitutes, essentially, an invasion of the person.

Although it is undoubtedly desirable to apprehend people bringing child pornography or information that can be used to carry out terrorist attacks across the border, random searches of innocent travelers will just as certainly reveal sensitive – albeit legal – personal and corporate information. As noted in a recent article in The Register:
This decision equates computers to a box or a briefcase, but not many briefcases allow you to store all of your written correspondence, family pictures, passwords, credit card numbers, tax returns, medical information, work product, trade secrets, personal journal entries, etc. in the same place.
At the time of the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under which the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency falls, issued no guidelines or rules for travelers who might wish to avoid running afoul of its new approach. That changed in July, when, according to the Washington Post, CBP and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) clarified their policy:
Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.

Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The potential for abuse and error under this system should be apparent, but if it is not, consider that the Department of Homeland Security has already exhibited profound failure to protect its own sensitive data by losing a laptop containing the personal information - including Social Security Numbers - for all 33,000 applicants to the new "Clear" program for expedited security processing at airports. To make matters worse, no standard has been established for searches and seizures by CBP and ICE; they are entirely at the discretion of the agents involved. Literally then, all that is required to end up detained and/or without one's personal electronic effects is that a DHS employee doesn't like the way you look. This is no mere lapse, either, as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff admonished in an opinion piece that appeared in USA Today:
As a practical matter, travelers only go to secondary when there is some level of suspicion. Yet legislation locking in a particular standard for searches would have a dangerous, chilling effect as officers' often split-second assessments are second-guessed.
While, for the sake of argument, we might assume that the Customs and Border Protection agents are well-intentioned, the idea that their individual opinion of right and wrong or even trustworthiness should supersede the Constitution is pretty staggering in its arrogance, no matter the ruling of the Ninth Circuit. The United States was not founded for the convenience of the government and its bureaucrats, or even its policeman and soldiers. It was founded, in fact, on the very opposite principle: that the government is not to be trusted. That principle in turn has been proven wise repeatedly by the efforts of people like J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to operate outside the law, and Secretary Chertoff's protestations are simply more of the same aversion to accountability we have seen as a matter of course during the Bush Administration.

What seems to escape people like Michael Chertoff - again, even assuming his good intentions - is that, as citizens, our sole function is not be "protected." Rather, Mr. Chertoff is an employee of the public in what is supposed to be a nation of laws, rather than one where the judgement of people who are paid at the public till determines how best to treat adults as if they were children. To believe otherwise, by definition, equates to a belief that the American system is either undesirable, a failure, or both.

Any power held by the Department of Homeland Security is derived - or at least is supposed to be derived - from the very people upon whom border agents may look upon as "suspicious" or "untrustworthy." There are certain risks inherent in a free society, and the Constitution, in addition to being the foundational document of the United States of America, is our implicit acceptance of those risks. Our history - indeed the history of all nations - is littered with demands from those with power to simply trust them because they know what is best. Although they may, in fact, be right in any given instance, it is deeply unwise to simply cede control to such individuals or groups. There are far too many examples of abuse to make placing blind faith in their judgement anything but foolish. We are either a nation of laws or a nation of men, and only the first is a democracy.

For a perfect example of what happens when law enforcement and other officials feel they can act at their own discretion with impunity and without adhering to standards or the law, take a look at this video of the abusive arrests made by the New York Police Department (NYPD) during a recent Critical Mass bicycle demonstration in Manhattan. While it can be argued that Critical Mass rides in general are a nuisance and even illegal, there is no question that the officer who is the subject of this video significantly violated the public trust, assaulting at least one rider, arresting another without cause, and filing false reports to justify his actions.

Become a StrangeBedfellow!

On a separate but related note, August 8th is the day for the AccountabilityNow moneybomb. If you care about holding your government accountable for the actions it takes - especially those that undermine the Constitution like the recent capitulation on warrantless wiretapping - please take a moment to visit the AccountabilityNow website and pledge to participate in this powerful fundraising effort!

August 1, 2008

Gitmo 2: Afghanistan

[Click on the cartoon to go to the original image, and click here to visit the Tom the Dancing Bug archive.]

In June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act (MCA), finding that that provision, which empowered the president to suspend habeas corpus on a case-by-case basis, was unconstitutional. The restoration of the long-held legal principle that there must be a mechanism by which those the government imprisons can challenge their detention has resulted in a flurry of activity and publicity around the men incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Ironically, however, other recent news indicates that the detainees at Gitmo may actually be the lucky ones, despite the fact that torture has been a part of the interrogation program there, and that, up until recently, their internment appeared to be indefinite.

After several years pursuing the subject, Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest authored a series of articles in 2005 that detailed the Bush Administration's use of secret prisons on foreign soil - "black sites" - for the detention and interrogation of prisoners in the "War on Terror" to avoid even the minimal constraints at Guantanamo Bay. In 2006, President Bush acknowledged the existence of the black sites - claiming that the "alternative" methods of interrogation used "were tough, and they were safe and lawful and necessary." While Mr. Bush failed to explain the need for either the facilities or the new methods of questioning in light of their alleged safety and legality, shortly thereafter, 14 "high value" prisoners were transferred from the secret prisons to Guantanamo.

It remains unclear whether there are additional prisoners being held and questioned in secret, but there are clearly continuing efforts by the Bush Administration to skirt the law, the Constitution and international treaty with regard to human rights. In Afghanistan, 650 people are currently being held without access to legal redress at Bagram Air Base, and there are reportedly plans to build a sprawling prison complex there similar to Gitmo that would house terror suspects without trial. Worse, foreign journalists who have investigated the Bagram facility or brought attention to the scheme for the new prison have been labeled "enemy combatants" and disappeared into the very detention camps on which they were reporting.

Throughout its history, it has perhaps never been more clear to the entire world that there is a huge gulf between the United States' rhetoric of freedom and its actions. Is it any wonder that the rest of the world feels relief and hope at the prospect of a break from the Bush White House's course of national self-destruction for the richest, most powerful nation on the planet ?