- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Quote of the Day
"I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap."
David Letterman, to Falafel-lover Bill O'Reilly
There are times in which it is easy to be suspicious. We can get to
that feeling fairly quickly if we even pay slight attention. I've
been trying to get over this odd emotion for at least a year. I
can't find any rationale for letting it go, though I want
desperately not to have these thoughts.
This week last year I was preparing for a trip to Ohio to conduct
interviews and research for a new book I was writing. My airline
tickets had been purchased on line and the morning of departure I
went to the Internet to print out my boarding pass. I got a message
that said, "Not Allowed." Several subsequent tries failed. Surely, I
thought, it's just a glitch within the airline's servers or software.
I made it a point to arrive very early at the airport. My
reservation was confirmed before I left home. I went to the
electronic kiosk and punched in my confirmation number to print out
my boarding pass and luggage tags. Another error message
appeared, "Please see agent."
I did. She took my Texas driver's license and punched in the
relevant information to her computer system.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said. "There seems to be a problem. You've
been placed on the No Fly Watch List."
"I'm afraid there isn't much more that I can tell you," she
explained. "It's just the list that's maintained by TSA to check for
people who might have terrorist connections."
"I'm afraid so, sir. Here's an 800 number in Washington. You need to
call them before I can clear you for the flight."
Exasperated, I dialed the number from my cell, determined to clear
up what I was sure was a clerical error. The woman who answered
offered me no more information than the ticket agent.
"Mam, I'd like to know how I got on the No Fly Watch List."
"I'm not really authorized to tell you that, sir," she explained
after taking down my social security and Texas driver's license
"What can you tell me?"
"All I can tell you is that there is something in your background
that in some way is similar to someone they are looking for."
"Well, let me get this straight then," I said. "Our government is
looking for a guy who may have a mundane Anglo name, who pays tens
of thousands of dollars every year in taxes, has never been arrested
or even late on a credit card payment, is more uninteresting than a
Tupperware party, and cries after the first two notes of the
national anthem? We need to find this guy. He sounds dangerous to
"I'm sorry, sir, I've already told you everything I can."
"Oh, wait," I said. "One last thing: this guy they are looking for?
Did he write books critical of the Bush administration, too?"
I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be
told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the
information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting
off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last
year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of
thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been
given to work from has since grown to 80,000.
My friends tell me it is just more government incompetence. A tech
buddy said there's no one in government smart enough to write a
search algorithm that will find actual terrorists, so they end up
with authors of books criticizing the Bush White House. I have no
idea what's going on.
I suppose I should think of it as a minor sacrifice to help keep my
country safe. Not being able to print out boarding passes in advance
and having to get to the airport three hours early for every flight
is hardly an imposition compared to what Americans are enduring in
Iraq. I can force myself to get used to all that extra attention
from the guy with the wand whenever I walk through the electronic
arches. I'm just doing my patriotic duty.
Of course, there's always the chance that the No Fly Watch List is
one of many enemies lists maintained by the Bush White House. If
that's the case, I am happy to be on that list. I am in good company
with people who expect more out of their president and their
Hell, maybe I'll start thinking of it as an honor roll.
JANUARY 6 - 12, 2006
Scandalous! A Year of Republican Treachery
by DOUG IRELAND
You could wait for the book, or check out the darkest shadows of the
past 12 months right here:
Duke of California
In the Department of Plain Old-Fashioned Boodling, let's start with
California's own Congressman Duke Cunningham, who tearfully pleaded
guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes from a defense contractor,
and is now in the slammer. Don't forget that 32 other GOP
congressmen took campaign cash from that same bribe-giving
contractor and have shed no tears.
In Ohio, the sewer of political corruption, Governor Bob Taft
pleaded "no contest" to taking bribes and favors from an indicted
top Republican fund-raiser named Tom Noe. Taft had put the state's
workers' compensation fund in the hands of Noe, who turned around
and invested it in rare coins, as millions disappeared. Many of
Taft's top staffers also wrongfully accepted Noe's favors
and "loans," as did a GOP congressman. Noe was also indicted for
illegal bundling of campaign cash for Dubya. The entire Ohio
Republican Party is reeling from this scandal.
Doctor Is Out
In Washington, the wealthy Dr. Bill Frist, the Senate Republican
leader, is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange
Commission for making a second fortune through illegal insider
trading in the stock of the scandal-plagued company his family owns
HCA (Hospital Corporation of America, America's largest hospital
conglomerate) which had previously been fined a record-breaking
$1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.
Then there's the jolly little band of Republican boodlers who
clustered around indicted megalobbyist Jack Abramoff with their
hands out. Abramoff is now singing to prosecutors after his indicted
henchmen snitched on him and by the time Abramoff is done naming
names, there'll be a hail of indictments of congressmen and at least
three senators, like Idaho's Conrad Burns, a major recipient of
Abramoff's largess. This will be as big, or bigger, than the S&L
scandal back in the '80s.
Abramoff's biggest buddy and water carrier, House Republican Leader
Tom "the Hammer" DeLay, is already under indictment in a different
scandal illegally laundering corporate campaign cash for Texas
legislators who gerrymandered the Democrats out of six U.S. House
seats. If Abramoff gives up his man DeLay, the majority leader will
be in double jeopardy.
Of course, there's an old saying in Washington: The real scandal
isn't what's illegal, the real scandal is what's legal! At the top
of the list of legal boodlers has to be Halliburton, Dick Cheney's
old company. When a Pentagon procurement officer blew the whistle on
deliberate Halliburton cost overruns in Iraq that bilked hundreds of
millions in taxpayer dollars, Bush's man Rumsfeld punished not
Halliburton but the whistle blower! And then the Bushies turned
around and gave Halliburton juicy postHurricane Katrina
reconstruction contracts even as they threw the poorest victims of
Katrina out of their hotel and motel rooms and onto the streets.
Scandalous, but legal.
Also quite legal is Washington's pay-to-play revolving door, where
retired solons are paid lavishly as lobbyists to distribute campaign
cash to their former colleagues in return for special legislative
favors. In fact, 43 percent of the 198 lawmakers who have left for
the private sector since 1998 have become lobbyists, according to a
new study by the public-interest group Public Citizen. Example: When
Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin stepped down as chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he used to regulate the
drug industry among other things, he took a job heading a drug-
industry lobby that reportedly pays him $2.5 million per year.
Scandalous but legal. But there's so much of this sort of thing that
a cynical and blinkered press gives it short shrift, and most voters
don't ever hear about it.
All the others are only about money. The biggest scandal in the long
run is the Republicans' shredding of the Bill of Rights. Bush's
recent admission that he ordered spying on American citizens by the
National Security Agency without a court order clearly an
impeachable crime is only the tip of the iceberg. Just two weeks
ago, NBC got hold of a 400-page Pentagon memorandum revealing that,
under Rumsfeld, the military had been spying on anti-war and other
protest groups and individuals, accumulating a huge database through
this surveillance of Americans exercising their free speech rights.
Many of those targeted were student or religious groups. My fave
among the Pentagon's spying targets: the gay group at the University
of California at Santa Cruz, which to protest military recruitment
on campus because of the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy
that has only increased the number of gays expelled from the armed
forces decided to stage a "kiss-in." When the Pentagons' gumshoes
reported this, their superiors deemed the kiss-in a "credible
threat" of... terrorism! Bush's FBI has also been caught massively
investigating anti-war, environmental and student groups including
those dangerous folks at PETA as possible "terrorists." But the
Pentagon's and FBI's spying hasn't gotten nearly the media attention
of Bush's illegal electronic eavesdropping. Americans fought a
revolution against one King George for the right to criticize their
government when they thought it necessary. This Republican
administration thinks it has royal prerogatives to brush aside the
Constitution's guarantees of that right if it wants to. And if that
isn't scandalous, what is?
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at
Bush Recess Appointments Meet With Protest
By DEB RIECHMANN
Thu Jan 5, 2006
President Bush's decision to bypass the Senate in filling posts at
the State Department, Federal Election Commission and National Labor
Relations Board drew protests Thursday from lawmakers and advocacy
Under the Constitution, the president may avoid the Senate
confirmation process and make appointments while the chamber is in
recess. Such appointments usually are short-term, expiring at the
end of next congressional session.
But because the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then
adjourned, the White House contends the second session of the 109th
Congress has begun. Therefore, the White House believes Bush's
nearly 20 recess appointments are valid until the following session,
which won't conclude until the end of 2007.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the appointments
were necessary to fill vacancies, and that a few posts were empty
because some lawmakers "are playing politics with the nomination
However, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., said
the regular confirmation process should be used so the Senate can be
assured that nominees are qualified.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass., protested
Hans von Spakovsky's appointment to the FEC. Kennedy said von
Spakovsky, a Justice Department lawyer who was Republican Party
chairman in Fulton County, Ga., worked toward requiring Georgia
voters to have a photo identification a requirement critics said
would harm black voters.
Kennedy also contended that von Spakovsky was involved in a decision
that rejected a recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers
in a Texas redistricting case. Those lawyers had concluded that the
redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it
eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting
power and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power.
The president also appointed to the FEC Robert Lenhard, who was part
of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-
Feingold campaign finance law, and Steven Walther, a lawyer with
ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid, Kennedy and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney all expressed
disappointment with Bush's recess appointment of Peter Kirsanow to
the National Labor Relations Board, citing his record as a member of
the Commission on Civil Rights.
"He is an ardent foe of basic worker protections, including the
minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, and is a vehement opponent of
affirmative action," Kennedy said.
Bush's appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to be assistant secretary of
state for refugees, population and migration, was opposed by
advocacy groups that say she lacks experience on refugee issues.
Currently, Sauerbrey is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
Commission on the status of women.
"Sauerbrey's record at the United Nations has been a relentless
effort to foist the administration's anti-choice agenda onto
international bodies dealing with population and reproductive health
and rights," said Jodi Jacobson, director of the Center for Health
and Gender Equity, a group that advocates for the health and rights
of women and girls across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said he was disturbed by the recess
appointments of Julie Myers to head the Bureau of Immigration and
Customs Enforcement and Tracy Henke to lead the Homeland Security
Department's office of state and local preparedness. Myers'
confirmation was stalled because of concerns that she lacks
experience to head immigration and customs enforcement, the federal
government's second-largest investigative force.
Lieberman complained that the president appointed Henke before the
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had a
chance to vote on her nomination. "The recess appointment power
should be sparingly used, and not merely to avoid having to put
administration nominees to a vote," Lieberman said.
The senator had earlier expressed concern about Henke's decision at
the Justice Department to delete statistics about racial disparities
in traffic stops from a draft press release an action that
Lieberman said "may have undermined the office's reputation for
objectivity and independence."
Henke said she edited the press release because it didn't accurately
portray information in a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Did Jesus exist? Court to decide
ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent
design versus evolution.
An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic
Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000
The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from
the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary
school in their teenage years.
The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for
the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal
atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day
in court later this month.
"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow
against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression,"
Cascioli told Reuters.
Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two
Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of
Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or
conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or
"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of
Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who
fought against the Roman army.
A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted,
at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the
case has enough merit to go forward.
"In my book, 'The Fable of Christ,' I present proof Jesus did not
exist as a historic figure. He must now refute this by showing proof
of Christ's existence," Cascioli said.
Speaking to Reuters, Righi, 76, sounded frustrated by the case and
baffled as to why Cascioli -- who, like him, came from the town of
Bagnoregio -- singled him out in his crusade against the Church.
"We're both from Bagnoregio, both of us. We were in seminary
together. Then he took a different path and we didn't see each other
anymore," Righi said.
"Since I'm a priest, and I write in the parish newspaper, he is now
suing me because I 'trick' the people."
Righi claims there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of
Jesus, including historical texts.
He also claims that justice is on his side. The judge presiding over
the hearing has tried, repeatedly, to dismiss the case -- prompting
appeals from Cascioli.
"Cascioli says he didn't exist. And I said that he did," he
said. "The judge will decide if Christ exists or not."
Even Cascioli admits that the odds are against him, especially in
Roman Catholic Italy.
"It would take a miracle to win," he joked.
The God Who Wasn't There
Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture.
Super Size Me did it to fast food.
Now The God Who Wasn't There does it to religion.
Holding modern Christianity up to a bright spotlight, this bold and
often hilarious new film asks the questions few dare to ask.
Your guide through the world of Christendom is former fundamentalist
Brian Flemming, joined by such luminaries as Jesus Seminar fellow
Robert M. Price, professor Richard Dawkins, author Sam Harris and
historian Richard Carrier.
See the movie the Los Angeles Times calls "provocative - to put it
Hold on to your faith. It's in for a bumpy ride.
The movie that has been astounding audiences in theaters around the
world is now available on a high-quality, feature-packed DVD.
In this provocative, critically acclaimed documentary, you will
The early founders of Christianity seem wholly unaware of the idea
of a human Jesus
The Jesus of the Gospels bears a striking resemblance to other
ancient heroes and the figureheads of pagan savior cults
Contemporary Christians are largely ignorant of the origins of their
Fundamentalism is as strong today as it ever has been, with an
alarming 44% of Americans believing Jesus will return to earth in
And God simply isn't there
Dazzling motion graphics and a sweeping soundtrack propel this
uncompromising and taboo-shattering documentary that Newsweek
says "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never
The God Who Wasn't There includes provocative interviews with:
Sam Harris, PEN Award-winning author of The End of Faith
Robert M. Price, Jesus Seminar fellow and author of The Incredible
Shrinking Son of Man
Alan Dundes, Professor of Folklore at the University of California
Richard Carrier, historian and author of Sense and Goodness Without
Barbara & David P. Mikkelson, authors of the Urban Legends Reference
Pages at snopes.com
And many others
The special features on this DVD are both generous and carefully
selected. As DVD Talk puts it: "This DVD delivers the film in a
quality presentation, with extras that quadruple the amount of
content in a positive way with no filler."
The extras include:
Two full-length alternate audio tracks with commentary from
evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (A Devil's Chaplain), scholar
Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle) and popular blogger The Raving
Over one hour of selected additional interview clips with each
person in the documentary
An in-depth slide show on every topic in the film, with active links
to the Web (Windows or Mac computer required for Web features)
Cast and crew biographies
Selected music from the soundtrack album
Full-motion chapter menus
The movie is presented full-screen, with crisp Dolby Digital 2.0
stereo audio. The DVD is playable in all regions, but is English
language only (no subtitles or captions).