December 29, 2008

In Defense of Freedom: Part II

The 1st Amendment

The Free Speech clause of the 1st Amendment directs the federal government to make no laws “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” This was Thomas Jefferson’s baby. As 18th century political philosophers debated restrictions on individual liberties for the good of government, Jefferson remained a staunch advocate of freedom of the press, asserting as much in a January 28, 1786, letter to Virginia physician James Currie. "…our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

The press became very useful in the Federalist efforts to persuade voters in New York to ratify the new constitution. Over a two-year period from 1787-1788, a unique collection of 85 essays, authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Mason, and John Jay, were published in New York newspapers. In Federalist No. 84, Alexander Hamilton declares that “the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved.”

This inviolability would be tested many times over the subsequent 220 years.

The first major test came in 1798 when President John Adams ram-rodded the Alien and Sedition Acts through Congress. These consisted of four bills intended to prevent the publication of anything critical of the government. The acts were opposed by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson as unconstitutional. The unpopular acts were allowed to expire in 1802, and as President, Jefferson pardoned all those who had been convicted under their authority.
The 20th Century

It wasn’t until 1907 that the Supreme Court saw its first freedom of the press case. In Patterson v. Colorado the Court declined to hold that the First Amendment applied to the states. The case involved the contempt conviction of Rocky Mountain New publisher Thomas Patterson for articles and a cartoon that criticized the state supreme court. The decision, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., did not decide the question of whether 1st Amendment guarantees are applicable to the states via the 14th Amendment.

Over the next dozen years Congress passed several laws that were certain to be tested against the 1st and 14th amendments. These included the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it illegal to "willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States", and the Sedition Act of 1918, which forbade “spoken or printed criticism of the U.S. government, the Constitution or the flag.” A new organization called the Civil Liberties Bureau (forbearer of the ACLU) was formed in response to these laws.

The 1919 case Schenck v. U.S. was the first test of these statutes, and Justice Holmes again wrote the opinion. Schenck was accused of urging opposition to the draft by “the mailing of printed circulars in pursuance of a conspiracy to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service.” This is the case that spawned the “clear-and-present-danger test”, with Justice Holmes citing the infamous example of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

Other cases over the next several years were tried on 1st Amendment grounds, but it wasn’t until 1925, In Gitlow v. New York that the Court permitted application of the 1st Amendment to the states through the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It got ugly over the next several years
In 1938 Life magazine was banned in the U.S. for publishing photos of the birth of a baby. In 1940 Congress passed the Alien Registration (Smith) Act, making it illegal to advocate overthrow of the government. In 1951 the Court upheld the conviction of 12 Communist Party members for violation of the Smith Act. Also in 1940 the Court ruled against a Jehovah’s Witness family whose children had been expelled for violating a Pennsylvania statute requiring them to salute the flag. 1941 saw the creation of the federal Office of Censorship.

Censorship came in many forms. The late 1940’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings that lead to Hollywood blacklisting, and the 1953 rise of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy with his Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations were described by former President Harry S. Truman as “…the most un-American in the country today.”

In Cox v. Louisiana the Court ruled that "rights to free speech and not mean that everyone with opinions...may address a group at any public place and at any time."Public order must be maintained or "liberty itself would be lost in the excesses of anarchy." The Court recognized several forms of speech restrictions including: (1) libel and slander that harm reputations; (2) speech that offends public decency by using obscenities or encouraging acts considered immoral; (3) laws against spying, treason, and urging violence that endangers life, property, or national security; and, (4) speech that invades peoples' right not to listen, such as city ordinances limiting the use of loudspeakers on public streets.
21st Century Questions

Lawmakers seem bent on nibbling away at the Jeffersonian ideal of free speech. With the advent of cyberspace and the impending demise of Gutenberg’s medium, Congress seems to have redoubled their efforts. The 1995 Communications Decency Act was challenged and overturned in less than a year. Now we have the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. Representative Gary Ackerman of New York’s 56th District made an impassioned plea on the House floor in an attempt to derail passage of the bill. In his message he illustrated the futility of such attempts to legislate from moral pulpits. The measure passed.

Although we seem to pride ourselves on our strong defense of the freedom of speech, we are obviously not immune from temptation. Neither are we free from repugnant, repulsive speech that tests the limits of our support. The perfect example is the good Rev. Fred Phelps and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church. Due to the adverse public reaction to this crew, 27 states and the U.S. Congress have limited protests at funerals. We have to ask, is this a good thing – or did we cross constitutionally permissible boundaries by imposing overly vague restrictions on free speech and assembly?

By giving the state the power to ban the offensive speech of a few, we give the state the power to limit fundamental rights for us all. Is it worth it?
Part III will address the 2nd Amendment

A Bit of History: Part I

I couldn’t sleep for some reason so I started pouring over archived files on my hard drive. I had thought I’d cull some of them to regain a little space, but instead I took a walk through 20 plus years of my past. It was interesting retracing the path. One folder contained a smattering of Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper columns, titled My Day. Mrs. Roosevelt penned the column six days a week, from 1935 until 1962. She missed only four days in that time, when her husband died.

The War of Booze in the 30's, and the War of Drugs Today:

Interestingly enough, the topic of her July 14, 1939 column was prohibition.

“A number of letters have come to me complaining bitterly about the fact that I said in an article recently that the repeal of prohibition had been a crusade carried on by women. I know quite well, of course that the Democratic Party took the stand in its platform that Prohibition should be repealed. I have always felt, however, that the women's organization for repeal, which was a nonpartisan organization, laid the groundwork which finally brought about the vote for repeal.

I was one of those who was very happy when the original prohibition amendment passed. I thought innocently that a law in this country would automatically be complied with, and my own observation led me to feel rather ardently that the less strong liquor anyone consumed the better it was. During prohibition I observed the law meticulously, but I came gradually to see that laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals concerned and a moral change still depends on the individual and not on the passage of any law.

Little by little it dawned upon me that this law was not making people drink any less, but it was making hypocrites and law breakers of a great number of people. It seemed to me best to go back to the old situation in which, if a man or woman drank to excess, they were injuring themselves and their immediate family and friends and the act was a violation against their own sense of morality and no violation against the law of the land.

I could never quite bring myself to work for repeal, but I could not oppose it, for intellectually I had to agree that it was the honest thing to do. My contacts are wide and I see a great many different groups of people, and I cannot say that I find that the change in the law has made any great change in conditions among young or old in the country today.”

That last line pretty much tells it like it is today. Again I have to wonder why it is we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over.



A Bit of History: Part II

by Art Mauldin

Hollywood and HUAC
My Day
, by Eleanor Roosevelt

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 29, 1947 - I have waited a while before saying anything about the Un-American Activities Committee's current investigation of the Hollywood film industry. I would not be very much surprised if some writers or actors or stagehands, or what not, were found to have Communist leanings, but I was surprised to find that, at the start of the inquiry, some of the big producers were so chicken-hearted about speaking up for the freedom of their industry.

One thing is sure--none of the arts flourishes on censorship and repression. And by this time it should be evident that the American public is capable of doing its own censoring. Certainly, the Thomas Committee is growing more ludicrous daily. The picture of six officers ejecting a writer from the witness stand because he refused to say whether he was a Communist or not is pretty funny, and I think before long we are all going to see how hysterical and foolish we have become.

The film industry is a great industry with infinite possibilities for good and bad. Its primary purpose is to entertain people. On the side, it can do many other things. It can popularize certain ideals, it can make education palatable. But in the long run, the judge who decides whether what it does is good or bad is the man or woman who attends the movies. In a democratic country I do not think the public will tolerate a removal of its right to decide what it thinks of the ideas and performances of those who make the movie industry work.

I have never liked the idea of an Un-American Activities Committee. I have always thought that a strong democracy should stand by its fundamental beliefs and that a citizen of the United States should be considered innocent until he is proved guilty.

If he is employed in a government position where he has access to secret and important papers, then for the sake of security he must undergo some special tests. However, I doubt whether the loyalty test really adds much to our safety, since no Communist would hesitate to sign it and he would be in good standing until he was proved guilty. So it seems to me that we might as well do away with a test which is almost an insult to any loyal American citizen.

What is going on in the Un-American Activities Committee worries me primarily because little people have become frightened and we find ourselves living in the atmosphere of a police state, where people close doors before they state what they think or look over their shoulders apprehensively before they express an opinion.

I have been one of those who have carried the fight for complete freedom of information in the United Nations. And while accepting the fact that some of our press, our radio commentators, our prominent citizens and our movies may at times be blamed legitimately for things they have said and done, still I feel that the fundamental right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what you yourself may say and do.

In our country we must trust the people to hear and see both the good and the bad and to choose the good. The Un-American Activities Committee seems to me to be better for a police state than for the USA.


December 28, 2008

In Defense of Freedom: Part I

The 1st Amendment

The so called Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution, direct the federal government to make no laws regarding the “…establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The intent of this language was to prohibit Congress from making laws establishing a state religion, limiting or preventing the religious practice of the citizens, and to prevent state-sponsored persecution of citizens for religious practices. Effectively, the 1st Amendment should depoliticize religion and irreligion. However, due to zealots of all stripes, this has not been the case.

As it has throughout history, Christianity finds itself at the center of a large number of the controversies. In communities with majorities, common practices such as Christian prayers at state sponsored events are challenged by minority non-Christians. Various laws permitting or requiring prayers in school or at school functions have also been challenged with some cases appealed to the U.S. Supreme court. Inversely, Christians bent on finding some means or another of having their belief system included in governmental functions or public school curriculum have caused many court actions.

Barbarians at the Gates

Attempts to circumvent the Establishment clause have occurred many times. Probably the most famous was Tennessee House Bill 185, passed in 1925. This bill, known as the Tennessee Anti-Evolution statute, forbade state funded educational institutions “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals”. The statute was tested and upheld in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial,” but the trial verdict was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court on technical grounds.

In 1928, the state of Arkansas adopted a statute much the same as that of Tennessee, which remained on the books until challenged in the 1967 case, Epperson v. Arkansas. The Arkansas courts affirmed the statute, so the contest made it to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was overturned. Justice Abe Fortas, writing for the majority, stated, “There is and can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma. In Everson v. Board of Education, this Court, in upholding a state law to provide free bus service to school children, including those attending parochial schools, said: 'Neither (a State nor the Federal Government) can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another”.

Once the Arkansas law was struck down, only Mississippi remained with an anti-evolution law on the book, and that fell some years later.

21st Century Questions

The Christian’s modern day Trojan Horse is Creation Science, or Intelligent Design, and the equivalent of the Scopes trial is Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover Area School District et al. The saga began at a meeting of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board, in which a new biology text was to be discussed. At one point in the meeting, Curriculum Committee chairman William Buckingham complained that the proposed replacement book was "laced with Darwinism," and challenged the audience to trace its roots back to a monkey. Buckingham then recommended the board adopt a textbook that would include biblical theories of creation.

Some brave soul stood and asked whether this might offend those of other faiths, to which Buckingham replied, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such." He further stated, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" And "Nowhere in the Constitution does it call for a separation of church and state."

The desires of the Dover school board were at odds with the state’s academic standards, so eventually the board adopted by a vote of six to three, a resolution that required biology teachers to read a statement to students at the beginning of the school year. The resolution read, in part: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught."

A small number of Dover parents sued the school board, asking that the intelligent design policy be rescinded for fostering "excessive entanglement of government and religion, coerced religious instruction, and an endorsement by the state of religion over non-religion and of one religious viewpoint over others." Plaintiffs were represented by the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Of course, the Dover school board lost the case.

What Did the Founders Mean?

James Madison left the room a long time before the referenced court battles occurred, but I cannot help believing the good gentleman would take pride seeing the government he helped found testing itself and coming out clean. In a December 3, 1821 letter to Rev. F.L. Schaeffer regarding the laying of a cornerstone at New York’s St. Matthew’s church, Madison writes; “The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.”

The desires of the Founding Fathers to maintain a complete seperation is abundantly clear. These modern challenges, if debated by enlightened, honest folk in the bright light of public scrutiny, are of great benefit to our legal system and our collective sense of fairness. At this point in our history, the Establishment and Free Exercises clauses of the 1st Amendment have served us well.
Christians are free to practice their faith, while those of other faiths and the irreligious are free not to.

Part II will address the Freedom of Speech clause

December 26, 2008

Why Prohibition Doesn’t Work

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
- - George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, 1902

The Noble Experiment:

In 1898, while a law student at Ohio Western Reserve University, Wayne Bidwell Wheeler became engaged in the temperance effort. This particular cause was very popular with many of the influential people of the time, allowing the ambitious young Wheeler opportunities to mix with the power players of the day. Following graduation, Wheeler joined the Ohio Anti-Saloon League; working his way through the ranks and eventually becoming the League’s Superintendant. With Wheeler at the helm, the League waged a campaign to defeat incumbent Governor, Myron Herrick in 1906.

Wheeler did not campaign FOR John Pattison (who died in office in June of the year he was elected). Instead Wheeler and his gang from the Anti-Saloon League utilized pressure politics to defeat Herrick and ensure his own personal pro-prohibition candidate would win. Young Wheeler was fast gaining a reputation propelling him on to national prominence.

In 1919-20, as the 18th amendment to the Constitution was being debated, Wheeler conceived of and authored a house bill aimed at enacting the prohibition of alcohol as a federal mandate. The bill, sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Andrew Volstead, became known as the Volstead Act.

The bill passed congress but was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson. However, on October 28, 1919, the very day the veto was signed, it was immediately overridden by Congress. With Wheeler’s triumph and the ratification of the 18th amendment, prohibition (euphemistically called the Noble Experiment) became the law of the land.

One of the first responses to prohibition was bootlegging. Bootlegging started rather innocently with rum running from the Bahamas, but the mob quickly recognized an opportunity. It can be argued that prohibition gave the mob their first really profitable business, allowing for expansion into other lucrative criminal enterprises and institutionalizing organized crime.

We (the people) eventually recognized the 18th amendment to be a horrible mistake. On December 5, 1933 Prohibition was officially repealed with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which also established state-based regulatory systems for alcohol. The months and years that followed produced a fair and equitable system of regulation and taxation.

Prohibition Part II

To a large degree, drug prohibition has paralleled the prohibition of alcohol. During the 19th century there was a smattering of attempts at controlling various types of drugs, mostly on the state level. The first substantial federal legislation for drug control was the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which regulated importation, distribution and production of opiates and cocaine and effectively made anything except physician use of several substances illegal.

In 1932 the first federal law prohibiting the use of cannabis was enacted. The Uniform State Narcotic Act also encouraged the states to pass similar laws, however it wasn’t until 1937 that all states eventually complied. The 1932 law is the first known legislation labeling cannabis a narcotic.

In 1970 Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act to replace the 1965 Drug Abuse Control Act, organizing federally controlled substances into schedules, with varying limits and penalties. In 1986, and 1988, Congress passed Anti Drug Abuse Control Acts, which mandated minimum sentences for a variety of drug offenses. In 1988 we also saw the first “Drug Czar” appointed to a cabinet level position.

Prohibition was in full swing once again.

What Did We Learn?

The turn of the century alcohol prohibitionists were utopian moralists who believed that eliminating the legal manufacture and sale of alcohol would solve America’s social and economic problems.[i] The result proved just the opposite; people continued to drink and through illegal bootlegging the crime element increased.

The alcohol experiment and drug prohibition experiences of the latter part of the 20th century have close parallels. Beginning in the late 60’s, the ineffectiveness of drug prohibition was beginning to be recognized, and still later we would witness the futility of drug prohibition sheer cost, and damage being done to our own citizens. As a result of this ineffective prohibition, Americans ranging from politicians to homemakers to university presidents have advocated changing our approach. Decriminalization and even outright drug legalization has been proposed.

The Solution Remains the Same:

Legalization of drug importation, production and sales, and the establishment of regulation and taxation paralleling what has been done with alcohol are reasonable and practical. The prohibitionists of the last century proclaimed alcohol a substance too dangerous and addictive to be effectively regulated. We now hear the same cries from drug prohibitionists; however our past experience has proven them incorrect.

Like alcohol, drug prohibition is making the situation worse; not better. One interesting observation of the efforts of the drug prohibition experiment is the shift of usage habits from the milder drugs (cannabis) to harsher substances (cocaine, heroin). This can be attributed to the interdiction efforts making it more difficult to smuggle bulky and less profitable marijuana; enticing the smugglers to turn to the more compact, concentrated and lucrative substances. [ii]

The United States places the greatest stigma on drug use, applies the harshest punishment, and expends the greatest effort (and money) on drug prohibition efforts of any western nation. Other countries have prohibition policies that fall somewhere between our heavily criminalized policies and the regulated, decriminalized system of the Netherlands. Since the early 1990s the drug policy in Europe, Canada and Australia clearly shifted away from criminalization; however, these countries are bound by international treaties to have formal, legal, drug prohibition laws in place. [iii]

America’s drug policies are generally ineffective and bewildering, but our official attitudes toward marijuana are particularly incomprehensible. For years the voices in opposition to prohibition have grown louder. The American College of Physicians joined other medical groups this year in calling for legalization of medical marijuana. In a position paper titled Supporting Research into the Medical Role of Marijuana, ACP is asking our federal government to drop pot from the list of substances with “no medicinal value and a high chance of abuse.”

A change in this policy would be a step toward sanity, but the clamor is unfortunately falling on deaf ears. It is not surprising that the White House rejected this recommendation. Berta Madras, Deputy Director of the Whitehouse Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) stated, “What this would do is drag us back to 14th century medicine. It’s so arcane.”

The arguments against legalization or decriminalization of drugs are far from arcane. They can be perfectly understood. The continued prohibition of cannabis is an unsustainable experiment, just as was the 18th amendment.

The very fact that possession of cannabis has resulted in the prosecution of, and exaggerated prison sentences for close to half a million of our children should be sufficient cause for tremendous outcry.

There is no justification for maintaining the prohibition. History and research have proven prohibition a failed experiment, yet we continue very expensive interdiction efforts. Times are tough and we have better ways to spend our money.

The Terrorism Connection:

How do we justify financing a fruitless “war on drugs” when we have the oft trumpeted “War of Terror” to support? It has been estimated that a onetime expenditure of $2 billion would provide the necessary security for our seaports to prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons into this country, and yet we have only budgeted $93 million to that effort. Marijuana interdiction programs drain an estimated $4 billion annually, and yet school children, who can’t buy a beer or a pack of smokes, have no trouble locating a dealer from which to buy a joint or dime bag.

Where do illegal drugs come from? Who profits from the vast sums of money made possible by our prohibition? By following the supply chains we have found that the very people we are fighting in our “War of Terror” are major traffickers. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban, and Shining Path are all large-scale illegal drug producers and exporters. The demand is here, and they are the suppliers.

America should reexamine her priorities. Through the very cause and effect of prohibition we are financing terrorist organizations that would destroy us, and imprisoning our children as a byproduct. This is insanity.
i. Gusfield, J R. 1968. "Prohibition: The Impact of Political Utopianism." In Change and Continuity in Twentieth Century America , eds. Braeman et al. Columbus : Ohio State University Press.
ii. Brecher, E. M. 1972. Licit and Illicit Drugs. Boston : Little Brown.
iii. Levine, H. G. and C. Reinarman, 1998. The Transition from Prohibition to Regulation. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc.

The War on Drugs ~ Another Victim

From Jim Rongstad's Preserving Freedom:

Friday, December 26, 2008
What Is It That They Don't Understand About This?

Charlie Lynch opened a medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo, California. Under the laws of California, medical marijuana dispensaries are entirely legal. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
doesn't care about California laws nor the health of patients helped by medical marijuana.

The oh so brave drug warriors of the DEA only care about fighting their counterproductive war that accomplishes nothing but burdening society with massive costs. Costs of the DEA, prison space, police corruption and gang warfare.

Dr. David Bearman who has 40 years of professional experience in the drug abuse treatment and prevention field including being the Co-Director of the Haight-Ashbury Drug Treatment Program, being a member of Governor Reagan's Inter Agency Task Force on Drug Abuse, a member of both the Santa Barbara and the San Diego County Drug Abuse Technical Advisor Committees, and a consultant to Hoffman-LaRoche, Santa Barbara County Schools and the National PT, says "The Federal Government is a disgrace to science on this issue."

Here is the story of Charlie Lynch:

The trial:

Contrary to what the jury foreperson Kitty Meese says, the jury did have a choice not to convict Charlie Lynch. Under the system of government set up by the founders, a jury is another check on the tyranny of government. Jury nullification is a power jurors have, likely don't know about and certainly aren't told about by the government.

Sentencing for Charlie Lynch is now scheduled for January 12, 2009.

If you would like to express your opinion of the vile actions of San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges, the sheriff's phone number is (805) 781-4540.

More on Charlie from Friends of Charles C. Lynch:

Charles C. Lynch is the former owner and managing Caregiver for Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay.

The dispensary opened on April 1 2006 with the blessing of the city and even joined the Chamber of Commerce. In July 2006 the dispensary was granted a Conditional Use Permit from the City of Morro Bay to include a Medical Cannabis Nursery at the dispensary.

The Dispensary operated for almost one year without any major problems or complaints to the owner. On March 29, 2007 the Local Sheriff and DEA agents raided the Dispensary and Home of Charles Lynch. Lynch was not arrested at the time and reopened the dispensary on April 7 2007 with the blessing of the City of Morro Bay. A week after reopening the dispensary the DEA called the Landlord and threatened him with Forfeiture of his property unless he evicted the Dispensary from the building. On May 16, 2007 the Dispensary closed permanently.

On July 17, 2007 Lynch was arrested at his home and charged with Federal Marijuana Distribution. Now Lynch faces federal Prosecution for operating the Dispensary.

On August 5, 2008 Lynch was convicted in Federal Court for operating the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers. On November 17, 2008 Charles will appear before Judge Wu to request a new trial on the grounds that he was not allowed to get his defense before the jury. On November 24, 2008 Charles will be sentenced in Federal Court and will most likely appeal the conviction and sentencing. Charles is currently out on a $400,000 bail posted by his loving and trusting family.

December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so Happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so Happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now Happy Christmas

December 23, 2008

Evolve Your Beliefs…

What’s an atheist to do on Christmas?

Along about this time of the year I find myself amused with the perennial accusations of secularists perpetrating “war on Christmas”. Bill O’Reilly's seasonal schmaltz, an annual event for Bill, appeared on the December 3rd Factor. Poor Bill is forever attempting to crucify some Heinous devil worshiper in his quest to out the godless liberals at the root of American decay. This year’s target is Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann took O’Reilly to task in a most humorous commentary:

Being one of O’Reilly’s devil worshipers, I feel at least somewhat vindicated, and more than a little amused. But still I remain confused. Why is it that we have these ongoing controversies?
My philosophies do not allow for belief in much of anything, certainly not a diety or creator, but I find little reason to fight the religionists. Other than the pre-holiday commercial onslaught and it being overall a pretty boring day, I find little in Christmas to dislike.

I’m by no means alone in this country when I identify myself as non-theist. Surveys have indicated that somewhere around 15% of Americans tic off the “non-religious” box where such is offered. Approximately the same percentage of date-seekers registered with choose either, atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, or other when asked the faith question.
Personally I’d like to see the results of a survey offering only two choices: Monotheistic or Not Monotheistic.

Christmas is here to stay and the militant in our rank should just lay back and enjoy the inevitable. The Jews have done a good job of adapting, as have immigrant populations of various other faiths.
Some recent surveys have indicated up to 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas in one form or another. Take that earlier 15% into consideration and you can figure about two thirds of the non-believers still celebrate the holiday. The remaining third are just noisy stinkers trying to rile O’Reilly.

There is even a company offering atheistic Christmas cards that can be ordered over the WWW []. Judging by the prices I would speculate the owner is Jewish, but that is one of the ways the Jews have adapted to the Christian holiday.

Plenty of well known secularists and big name atheists celebrate Christmas. Heck, it’s a Federal holiday, you get presents, get off work most years, are encouraged to drink alcohol...
So what’s not to celebrate?

December 22, 2008

I'm impressed too!


From NPR Newsroom

Krulwich On Science
by Robert Krulwich

'Falling For Science': Obeying All The Signs
Morning Edition, December 22, 2008 ·

Me? I fall for stories. Tell me a tale about some guy climbing Mount Everest, and in my head, I'm with him — grabbing at the ice, slipping, breathing the thin air. I'm there. I've always hitchhiked by reading or listening to other people's yarns. But that's only one way to fall in love with the world. Another way, says Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT (whew!) is to play with things.

Turkle thinks that when you get your first microscope, or your first set of Legos, or take apart your first broken radio, you become an explorer. She says that for some kids, the thrill of touching, fastening, examining, rebuilding and unbuilding is life changing, mind changing and never goes away.

She recently published a book, Falling For Science, that collects essays written by senior scientists (artificial intelligence pioneer Seymour Papert, MIT president and neuroanatomist Susan Hockfield, and architect Moshe Safdie, for example) and by students who passed through her classes at MIT over the past 25 years. They were all asked the same question: "Was there an object you met during childhood or adolescence that had an influence on your path into science?"

And after a tidal wave of Legos (7 different essays), computer games and broken radios, I found a few wonderful surprises. One MIT student reported how she couldn't stop braiding her My Little Pony's tail, weaving the hairs into endlessly repeating patterns (a clue, perhaps, to her fascination with mathematics). But this one … this one is a gem.

It tells the story of a little boy (now a software designer) and a stop sign.

Excerpt: 'Falling For Science': 'Stop Signs'
by Joseph Calzaretta (1992), December 3, 2008 ·

By the age of two, I could recognize certain shapes as letters and identify them by name. Not long after I read the letters on the red sign at the end of my block: STOP. When I asked my parents about the sign, they told me it was a stop sign and that people had to stop for it. They pointed to a moving car and told me to watch the car's actions. The car came to the sign, slowed to a halt, and then turned the corner. My parents had told the truth.

I fell in love with the stop sign. Every time we passed one on foot I would stop for a few seconds. I would point them out in the car and was delighted when we stopped, respecting the sign's wishes. I owned a picture book and I would always turn to the page with the stop sign and cry, "Stop!" Noticing my fascination with the sign, my parents bought me a stop sign piggy bank. My aunt knitted me a stop sign rug and my father eventually gave me a real stop sign that had fallen off its pole after a car accident.

After the stop sign taught me to read, I discovered letters and words everywhere. But signs had words that commanded people.

I couldn't understand why anyone would ever purposely disobey signs, although I saw that my fellow children sometimes pretended to fool signs by pretending not to see them. As for me, for a while I was obsessed with following the rules. Once when my family went to a local restaurant I noticed a sign in an ominous red font: OCCUPANCY OF THIS ESTABLISHMENT BY MORE THAN 232 PERSONS IS DANGEROUS AND UNLAWFUL.

"Mommy," I asked, "what's 'occupancy'?" She told me, and I immediately began to count all the people in the restaurant. I was plagued by the thought that my family's arrival would doom us all to an awful punishment.

Now I hardly think of stop signs, but something about my childhood fascination has stayed with me. In signs I saw the natural laws of my environment. A world of fixed and simple principles appealed to me. When the rules of the stop sign and its cousins lost their infallible status, others took their place. My favorite subjects are physics and mathematics. I still feel satisfaction when I behold the universe obeying its own "signs," such as: Speed Limit—671 Million MPH, Entropy—One Way, and Quantum Leaps—Exact Change Only. These universal signs give commands that cannot be broken by careless children or reckless drivers; they are unwavering principles.
I tend to see our existence governed by some simple rules written on signs posted in the very fabric of space.

When I encounter a confusing situation or a seemingly impossible task I break it down and make a mental sign with instructions for its completion. I know my method has its drawbacks. It lets me enjoy physics because of rules, but I quickly became intolerant of biology, which starts with the final products of unknown rules. I view the world in narrow pieces—a way of thinking that I know can be arbitrary and inaccurate. In the real world, everything is firmly attached to everything else. My method of rules would tell me now that I need to go beyond it to have the fullest appreciation of the world. I should probably throw away the big red sign hanging in my dorm room. Life isn't that simple. Joseph Calzaretta received an SB and SM from MIT in Mechanical Engineering and now works in Information Services and Technology at MIT as a software developer.

Excerpted from 'Falling For Science: Objects in Mind,' edited and with an introduction by Sherry Turkle, published in May 2008 by The MIT Press. Copyright: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008, all rights reserved.

December 20, 2008

Book Report

How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative
By Allen Raymond
Simon & Schuster, 2008

The 1988 Orange County, California Republicans received high marks for dirty tricks when they placed uniformed guards at polling places. This idea successfully intimidated immigrant voters and diminished the turnout in spite of a huge Democratic get-out-the-vote effort. Blue uniformed and blue-eyed guards were dispatched to polling places with instructions to remind Hispanic-appearing voters that they were being watched. Unpopular GOP assemblyman Curt Pringle won re-election by a hairline margin. A lawsuit was settled by Assemblymen Pringle and John R. Lewis, as well as the Orange County Republican Committee, for the amount of $400K. The GOP admitted no wrongdoing, of course.

This particular intimidation practice has a long history. Author Allen Raymond, in his book How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative, tells us that original credit should go to New Jersey Republicans and the RNC. In 1981 they dispatched uniformed and armed guards with black armbands to polling places in largely minority districts. GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Keene won the election by a similarly fine margin. This lawsuit cost them a cool million, but won the Governor’s Mansion for the GOP. Raymond’s tome is rife with similar dirty tricks designed by campaigns to sway voters and win elections by deception – ethics be damned.

The author is a graduate of Georgetown’s Baruch Graduate School of Politics. He relates the central philosophy of the school to be "The candidate who asks, 'Is it fair to get me elected this way?' is a candidate who's never won". Politics at Georgetown is taught as a “blood sport.”

Before reading this book I pictured those who would manipulate elections as some sort of starry-eyed idealists bent on saving the world. This was not the case for the author. Politics was nothing more than a job. He freely admits his greed, stating that he went with the GOP because “That’s where the money was.” It didn’t take long for me to understand I really wouldn’t want this guy over for dinner. His tale is filled with adventures where he derives sadistic pleasure by cutting the legs from under an opponent.

Raymond’s political involvement started with the Steve Forbes presidential campaign of 2000, and ended with his 2005 conviction for conspiracy to commit telephone harassment. Under contract by the GOP, his telemarketers bombarded Manchester, New Hampshire Democratic phone banks with thousands of hang-up calls, jamming the lines just as they were gearing up for an election day get-out-the-vote effort. In that 2002 contest, Republican John Sununu ousted Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen by a razor thin margin.

Raymond tells of starting the web-enabled telemarketing service following the failed Forbes campaign, selling his services to a variety of unsavory characters and utilizing the most underhanded tactics. He describes attempts to anger undecided voters with spoof calls during the Super Bowl supporting the opposition; demographically targeted push polls (which are now illegal); and a variety of other dirty tricks. When contacted by GOP officials offering the Manchester contract, Raymond barely hesitated. The money was too good.

Raymond was convicted and sentenced to five months imprisonment, of which he served three. The person who hired Raymond’s firm and directed the effort, New Jersey GOP executive director Charles McGee received a seven month sentence for his part. Also convicted was James Tobin, Northeast Field Director for the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee). Tobin refused to cooperate with investigators and has since had his conviction overturned on appeal. Raymond feels he was “thrown under the bus” by the GOP. Neither Raymond nor McGee received any support from the GOP. Their effort was labeled “rogue”, while records indicate the RNC footed all legal bills for Tobin (in excess of $1 million), and later Tobin’s wife was employed by the NRSC as a consultant.

Of interest are telephone records for Tobin, indicating several hundred coincidentally timed calls to the White House office of Political Affairs, at the time headed by Kenneth Mehlman. Mehlman later headed the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign, and still later became Chairman of the RNC. Kind of a neat little package for a conspiracy buff.

Greed and selfishness drip from the pages of the book, all of which tends to color a reader’s perception of the author. In Raymond’s narrative he describes a not-at-all surprising prison conversion to the ministry of truth, but his bitterness is enough to give the GOP cause to deny the claims. The GOP’s denial of support was obviously the prime motivator in Raymond’s sudden change of heart. While the tales may be valid, the messenger’s rap sheet steals his thunder.

The villains in this story run deep and broad, with almost every candidate, and the author, guilty of some deeply unethical behavior. Statements such as, “When I was working, the main thing was to win, not to be moral”, leave the reader questioning the character of all who would run for office or work in a campaign. One is left to remember Raymond conspiring with GOP strategists and gleefully counting coup on the opposition.

Raymond deserves no respect, but is certainly correct about one thing. In closing he identifies with whom the ethical and moral responsibilities must lie – the voter.

An informed electorate may not always spot the shill or the new game, but neither will they be as easily led as the ignorant. Once burned, twice skeptical. We should seek truth – no matter what the popular media blazes across the front page. At the very least, this book should serve to reveal some of the dirty tricks so we might be vigilant.

As the right changes their definition of liberalism, so do the liberals alter the definition of conservatism. Both seem to be running toward the poles, leaving political moderates a large playing field. Hard core partisans on either side will gain no benefit from this book, but skeptics might.


Not so amusing


Stolen from An Earth-Bound Misfit:

December 19, 2008

Santa Claus Will Take You to Hell???

This seasons greeting brought to you by the good folks of the Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas.

Teach your children well….

Swiftboat, Part V

In the comments of my previous missive, and as argument with my position that the tales of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were falsehoods perpetrated in a scandalous attempt to rig an election, a gentleman calling himself Old Man states the following:

"I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary of the SBV claims. Surely there is some documentary or even anecdotal evidence refuting the charges"

The letter quoted below is written by some of Kerrys crewmates in response to a challenge by T. Boone Pickins. Mr. Pickins, a wealthy Texas oilman, who offered $1 million to anyone who could offer evidence contradicting the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The signatories of this letter, along with the documentation supplied, more than answered the challenge. The letter is very long so I've published it in sections over several days. This is the 5th and last post, containing responses to falsehoods 8 - 10.
Eighth Falsehood: Perhaps your group’s single most cynical lie was the deliberate deceit and misuse of Captain George Elliott, who was John Kerry’s commander at Coastal Division 11. In Vietnam and at all times up until SBVT’s slander in 2004, Captain Elliott expressed praise for John Kerry’s performance and service in Vietnam, in both authoritative Navy records and public statements, as detailed above and below. Despite deep disagreement with Senator Kerry over his testimony to Congress in 1971, Captain Elliott always separated Kerry’s service and ability as an officer from his views about the war.

Despite all this history, SBVT, without ever interviewing those present or otherwise checking the truth, enlisted Captain Elliott into signing a statement questioning LTJG Kerry’s award of the Silver Star by means of false “facts” concerning the nature and circumstances of the VC fighter Kerry personally killed and by falsely treating this encounter as the totality of the action. SBVT then featured this criticism in its first advertisement, as mentioned above. Asked about the total contradiction between SBVT claims and his own past endorsement of LTJG Kerry’s medals and service, Captain Elliott acknowledged he had made “a terrible mistake” in signing the affidavit SBVT prepared for him. [Veteran retracts criticism of Kerry,” Boston Globe, 8/6/04] He retracted his criticism on the Silver Star, including the false notion LTJG Kerry had shot the VC in the back and that retraction appeared in the press. (In an attempt at damage control, SBVT then crafted a second affidavit for Elliott, purporting to retract his retraction but which, when read closely, actually says nothing.) Captain Elliott is an honorable man highly regarded by the officers and men who served under him, including us and Senator Kerry. He deserved far better than to have been drawn into your group’s web of lies and deception for political gain.

Ninth falsehood: Not content to misstate the facts of the action on 28 February, 1969, and mischaracterize its effectiveness, your group next takes aim at the Navy awards process itself. Your group claims “virtually all documentation required for a Silver Star in 1969 is missing… [including] the nomination form for a Silver Star, the required official investigation, or the required statements of two witnesses.” (Unfit, p. 204-205) You falsely try to assert something wrong when nothing has ever been deemed, or could have been deemed, to be wrong. This particular innuendo is insulting to the United States Navy, to Admiral Elmo Zumwalt who personally made the award and ironically, to Captain Roy

Hoffmann who as we said attended and concurred in the award ceremony. Many of those in Coastal Division 11 not on patrol or duty were assembled at the ceremony on An Thoi while the crews and officers of PCF-23, PCF-43 and PCF-94 were all personally decorated and congratulated by Admiral Zumwalt, Captain Hoffmann and Commander Elliott. How totally ridiculous and insulting that despite his entire Chain of Command being present for and themselves making the award at a special ceremony at their base in Vietnam, you try to challenge the award for lack of documentation!

Your group’s underhanded tactic was definitively pre-refuted by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander Naval Forces Vietnam. Responding to an earlier campaign smear on Senator Kerry, Zumwalt traveled to Massachusetts in 1996 to tell press and public that he had personally considered and authorized Kerry’s award. This is what he said at that time: “My firm recollection of that event is that in Saigon we believed he deserved the Navy Cross. It would have taken a number of months to get it up through the system. I had the authority to award a Silver Star.” George Elliott has likewise vouched for the process: “In this particular case and in all cases, there are after action reports. They were read. Men were interviewed who were eyewitnesses…And the award was recommended, the paperwork was filled out and it was forwarded up the chain of command.” (Admiral Zumwalt and Commander Elliott’s witness is available on videotape, should you doubt our account of it.) Your group’s false claims in this regard were additionally reviewed and rejected by the United States Naval Inspector General in 2004, in response to a complaint lodged by one of your conservative allies, “Judicial Watch.” The Naval Inspector General wrote, and we quote: “Our examination found that existing documentation regarding the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Hearts medals indicates the awards approval process was properly followed.”

It is no wonder Admiral Zumwalt said of this particular attack on Kerry: it is “a disgrace to the United States Navy that there is any inference that that process was other than totally honest. It is a disgrace to the honor and memory of the people who served there.”6 Admiral Zumwalt’s words have particular meaning to us as the men who were there. Three of us signed below (Langhofer; Medeiros; Hirschler) were awarded Bronze Stars Medals for our actions on 28 February 1969; while four others of us received Navy or Army Commendation Medals (Sandusky, Short, Thorson and Reese). Bill Rood and Don Droz both received Bronze Star Medals, as did Tom Belodeau. Don Droz, a Naval Academy graduate, who was subsequently killed in action in another river on another day, wrote home to his wife how proud he was of what he and his crew did that day with John Kerry. So, your group’s attack on Kerry’s Silver Star is not only a flagrant, disgraceful assault on the integrity of Admiral Zumwalt and the United States Navy which had previously confirmed the appropriateness of these awards, 6 October 1996 press conference it is also an attack on the courage and honor of all of us who were there, including those who are not alive to defend themselves, and on the decorations we received for our own roles in this same action.

Tenth Falsehood: As shown again and again by records and eyewitnesses as set forth above in one through nine, your flagrantly false assertion that the Silver Star award “was based on false and incomplete information provided by Kerry himself” and that this event “was nothing out of the ordinary” (Unfit p.81) is an outright lie. First, if it was nothing out of the ordinary, then why the contemporary statements of Captain Hoffman and Admiral Zumwalt to the contrary? Were they not telling the truth in 1969 ? Were they not honorable Navy commanders doing their job according to their oaths?

And as to your ridiculous claim that the information was “false and incomplete,” we tell you unequivocally that not only was there was no relevant information missing from any report, but you have no evidence of anything missing. And far from being based on information “provided by Kerry,” none other than Captain Elliott has said that the Silver Star award came after “men were interviewed who were eyewitnesses.” [Statement of Captain Elliott, Charlestown, MA 10/27/96] You also completely ignore the reality of such an event.

After a successful combat action with such consequences, all the men involved, enlisted and officers, talked excitedly and at length amongst one another about the event. In this case, moreover, there was a description of the event copied to all involved (Hoffmann’s congratulatory message), and even a press release! In such a setting, there is simply no reality whatsoever for reports to be filed and awards to be made – given and accepted by all concerned – if the facts were not as set forth. Your attempt thirty five years later to just make things up is beyond disgraceful and beyond credibility.

What we have set forth here documents beyond any possible reasonable doubt SBVT used ten individual lies to concoct one big lie about one of the most significant events of LTJG Kerry’s tour in Vietnam and his highest military honor: the action leading to the Silver Star Medal. In doing so, we have more than met your standard of showing “anything the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said in 2004 was false” – the standard set by you in your Washington dinner challenge, as originally reported.

We state for the record, however, that we know your group’s many other major character attacks on Kerry are just as false, lies calculated to damage Senator Kerry and influence an election. The attempt to denigrate the circumstances of Kerry’s first Purple Heart, for example, is disproved by the two enlisted men, Pat Runyon and Bill Zaladonis, together with Kerry, who state categorically your so-called eyewitness, William Schachte, was not on the skimmer in the action that night. (Responding to this lie, Zaladonis has quipped: “me and Pat aren’t the smartest, but we can count to three.” [New York Times, 8/20/04]) Should William Schachte ever consent to sit in a room with them, which he has thus far refused to do, or to be interviewed publicly with them present, which he has also avoided, they will offer further proof of his lie.

The slander that Kerry acted improperly in not reporting the death of a youth in a sampan is a falsehood directly refuted by the skipper of the accompanying PCF and Officer in Tactical Command of the mission and person responsible for filing the report, LTJG Rich McCann.

The innuendo that Kerry “put himself in” for his Bronze Star Medal on a mission where there was no hostile fire, is completely disproved by the man, Lieutenant James Rassmann, USASF, who, after LTJG Kerry had departed the area and without Kerry’s knowledge, personally recommended Kerry for saving his life; by all of the other crew members who were actually on the boat in this ambush; by the original document of recommendation for the Bronze Star by LTJG Kerry’s Commanding Officer, Commander Elliott; by the first hand observations of the Psychological Operations Officer, Lt. Jim Russell, riding on PCF 43, who unsolicited wrote a public article in 2004 confirming enemy fire as well as LTJG Kerry’s actions; and finally, by the awkward-for-you fact that one of your leading members, OINC of PCF-51, Larry Thurlow, himself received a medal for heroism under fire during the same incident and whose statements are completely contradicted by his own gunnersmate, Robert Lambert. The fact is that the procedures in place in Coastal Division 11 would never have permitted any Officer in Charge of a Swift Boat to “put themselves in” for a medal and surely the senior officers in command who controlled and signed off on such matters would acknowledge this truth.

Finally, the continued insistence that Kerry has not released his full military record is refuted by the Navy, which has publicly certified he has, and by three newspapers which have independently received signed releases and reviewed those records. In fact, all of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s major assertions regarding each of Senator Kerry’s medals and his service in Vietnam are false and can be disproven.

Swiftboat, Part IV

In the comments of my previous missive, and as argument with my position that the tales of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were falsehoods perpetrated in a scandalous attempt to rig an election, a gentleman calling himself Old Man states the following:

"I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary of the SBV claims. Surely there is some documentary or even anecdotal evidence refuting the charges"

The letter quoted below is written by some of Kerrys crewmates in response to a challenge by T. Boone Pickins. Mr. Pickins, a wealthy Texas oilman, who offered $1 million to anyone who could offer evidence contradicting the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The signatories of this letter, along with the documentation supplied, more than answered the challenge. The letter is very long so I've published it in sections over several days. This is the 4th post, containing responses to falsehoods 5 - 7.
Fifth falsehood: In hopes of diminishing Kerry’s (and our) achievement still further, your group asserts that not only was the VC killed by Kerry a “lone, wounded, fleeing young Viet Cong” (Unfit, p. 84) but no sizeable enemy force was present beyond this supposedly pathetic individual and the environment was one of “little or no fire.” As eyewitnesses, all of us signed below can tell you this is categorically false. Among our collective observations: multiple VC scrambling to get away and a half dozen or so enemy KIA at the site of the first beaching (Hirschler, who went ashore there); and a rocket attack and fire from both banks (Thorson and others) at the site of the second. We note also that Bill Rood wrote in the article cited above that there were multiple VC at the site where Kerry and one of us (Medeiros) got off the boat and chased the VC with the rocket launcher:

“It was not the work of just one attacker.” You do not need to take our word for it, however. Incredibly, the only member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who was there on 28 February, 1969 has testified the exact opposite of what you allege. Larry Lee, a crewman on PCF-23, has publicly said: “I have no problems with [Kerry] getting the Silver Star,” because he recognizes the courage shown by Kerry in the event. [Courier-Journal (Louisville), 8/26/04] Then there are the Vietnamese eyewitnesses located by Nightline. “Tam,” a VC commander during the war, says at least twenty Vietcong were in the village, including an elite 12-man squad sent specifically to target Swift boats. According to the villagers, seven of their local men died fighting our forces that day.

The official Navy records likewise debunk the claim that the enemy consisted of a single combatant. The after action report, based on the debriefing of all present and drafted/submitted by the senior officer on the Coast Guard Cutter, records “heavy small arms fire” preceding the first charge of the bank and three confirmed enemy dead even before the troops were landed and the “enemy was overrun.”

The second charge of the bank—the one involving Kerry’s chase of the VC—came in the face of “heavy small arms fire” and a rocket attack, with “sniper fire” and “small arms fire” also present, per the report. As always, in any military operation, those present were debriefed by a senior officer responsible and the report prepared on that basis. The citations accompanying the Bronze Star Medals awarded Don Droz, Tom Belodeau, and Mike Medeiros speak of their heroic achievement under “a barrage of enemy small arms fire” and “heavy automatic/semi-automatic weapons fire.” Additionally, there are photographic images of other dead VC taken after the ambush had been suppressed, evidence we will show you. Most importantly, we the men who were there at the time are telling you now, today, that we were under fire from multiple sources and that events happened on 28 February, 1969 exactly as set out in the records.

Sixth falsehood: In addition to lumping together a group of false assertions, as above, your group sought to denigrate our achievement and that of John Kerry through phony allegations about the tactical wisdom of turning the boat into the beach and the circumstances of how it came about. Depending on what serves your purposes, you sometimes claim the operation was reckless and a wanton endangerment of our lives, even as elsewhere you dismiss it as a preplanned operation involving no more than mere ordinary degrees of courage. Your claims contradict each other on this point, so both cannot be true. In reality, neither is.

There was no “plan” to charge the bank that particular day. During their tours, officers and men often had discussions about tactics, real and speculative. For us, some of these included the idea that charging the bank could be an effective—if unorthodox—way to take the fight to the enemy in the face of a small arms ambush. After an ambush preceding this event, LTJG Kerry and several members of our crew inspected “spider holes” on the river bank and saw firsthand how the enemy used them to duck down to avoid our return fire. LTJG Kerry did indeed have conversations with the other officers and men on these boats to explore the possibility of employing this new tactic–if the circumstances were right because he was convinced it might be a more effective way of beating the enemy. He proved correct. There was no predetermination as to where or when those right circumstances might present themselves. The choice was in this case totally Lt. Kerry’s discretion. As Officer in Tactical Command, he alone chose to employthe tactic on 28 February, 1969, because he judged the circumstances were right for it. And about this he was also correct.

Seventh falsehood: It would be inappropriate for us personally to show the lie of your group’s assertion that our actions required only an ordinary degree of courage and were militarily insignificant. They really need no further rebuttal in light of the extensive factual discussion above, but we forcefully and happily note that none other than Admiral Zumwalt, Commander of all Naval Forces in Vietnam, differed with you, saying this event “stood out among heroes as acts of total heroism.” And not only did LTJG Kerry’s immediate Commander at the time, George Elliott, praise him for his leadership and tactical thinking, but none other than Captain Roy Hoffmann personally sent a message of congratulations to the officers and men for a “shining example of completely overwhelming enemy forces”, ate breakfast with LTJG Kerry the morning of the awards ceremony and flew with him together with Admiral Zumwalt to An Thoi to join in the awarding of medals for the accomplishments of PCFs 23, 43, and 94 and their crews. In fact, in Commander Elliott’s evaluation of LTJG Kerry, which was publicly available at the time of these smears, he stated:

“In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action LTJG Kerry was unsurpassed. He constantly reviewed tactics and lessons learned in river operations and applied his experience at every opportunity. On one occasion while in tactical command of a three boat operation his units were taken under fire from ambush. LTJG Kerry rapidly assessed the situation and ordered his units to turn directly into the ambush. This decision resulted in routing the attackers with several enemy KIA. LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group…”

Likewise, then Captain Hoffmann was so pleased with this operation he sent a message up and down the chain of command stating:

1. The extremely successful raid and land sweep conducted along the Rach Dong Cung which demonstrated superb coordination and aggressive tactics stands as a shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy.

2. The tactic of attack and assault thoroughly surprised the enemy in his spider holes and proved to be immensely effective in rousting him into the open. This devastating application of the firepower of the Swifts may be the most efficacious method of dealing with small numbers of ambushers….

3. This operation did unreparable (sic) damage to the enemy in this area. Well done.

It was precisely because of his leadership, direction and coordination of this raid in its entirety that LTJG Kerry was awarded the Silver Star – not simply his courage in chasing an enemy with a loaded rocket launcher and killing him. And it was our execution of his orders and effectiveness at twice charging and overrunning an enemy ambush position – something no other Swift boat crew had done – that earned us our decorations. Captain Hoffmann’s message makes clear the immediate high regard this action was held in. More important, the fact that the Admiral in Command of all Naval Forces in Vietnam saw fit to personally intervene and, within days of the ambush, fly to An Thoi solely to make these awards, states in no uncertain terms the significance of the action. You and SBVT recklessly set out to portray this unique tactic and major naval success as something less than what it was. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and you should be ashamed for engaging in this indefensible tactic.

Swiftboat, Part III

First falsehood: To begin with, your group chose to characterize the enemy fighter Kerry chased down and killed as “a young Viet Cong in a loincloth” (Unfit for Command, p. 82), a description obviously employed to conjure up images of a person too young or primitive to truly endanger Kerry, us, or our boats. This description is completely false. At least four of us—Medeiros; Reese; Sandusky; and Short – (not to mention Tom Belodeau and John Kerry) got good looks at this man with our own eyes. He was holding a loaded B-40 rocket launcher. He – or one of the other ambushers- had just fired on the 94 boat blowing out all the port side windows and as an armed enemy combatant he was capable of killing us all.

We observed him to be a man of normal military age, some of us judging him to be in his late teens, others in his twenties. Additionally, we can assure you this man Kerry killed was absolutely not in a “loincloth” but rather was wearing the pajama type pants normally found on VC fighters. (Just for good measure, we note that PCF-23 skipper Bill Rood and his leading petty officer, Jerry Leads, also concur on this point of the VC fighter’s dress and maturity.)

As it turns out, this VC fighter was 26 or 27, according to a Vietnamese eyewitness who knew him and was located in 2004 by the ABC News program “Nightline.” Yet despite all this evidence, your group chose to perpetuate this myth of a “kid” in loin cloth in interviews and advertising, even after your group had been put on public notice on multiple occasions by eyewitnesses that your belittling description—originally lifted from an erroneous sentence in a 2003 newspaper account—was entirely false and incorrect.

While we hope you would not question the truthfulness of four of us, or of Mr. Rood and Mr. Leeds, the fact is photographic evidence also exists and confirms our collective memory. Once the area had been secured and all action was over but prior to departing, the small 8mm camera carried aboard PCF-94 recorded scenes including a look down the trail on which the VC in question had fled and been shot. In this footage, the dead VC is plainly visible wearing black pants, lying on his back with his feet upright. His body lays head toward the hooch, with a wound on the side. Lieutenant Charles Gibson who was assigned to LTJG Kerry’s PCF-94 for indoctrination specifically remembers seeing the exit wound on the side of the VC as well as judging him to be a mature adult guerilla fighter in his late teens or early twenties. Mr. Gibson will confirm this today.

Second falsehood: Your group claims one of our PCF-94 crewmen, Tom Belodeau, “shot the Viet Cong with an M-60 machine gun as he fled” (Unfit, p. 83), insinuating that the fleeing VC was already significantly incapacitated when Kerry killed him. In fact, Belodeau has stated publicly, on the record to the Associated Press, that even after he fired at the VC: "This man was not lying on the ground. This man was more than capable of destroying that boat and everybody on it.” [Associated Press, 10/27/96]

While Belodeau sadly passed away some years ago and can’t reiterate this point himself, one of us (Short, GM2) had a clear view and vividly recalls Belodeau’s fire striking the VC: the rounds nicked the fleeing VC in the leg but he recovered after an instant and kept on going, just as Tom Belodeau said in 1996. Two others on the boat (Medeiros, QM2 and Sandusky, QM1) did not see Belodeau’s fire strike the VC—they were otherwise occupied—but did see the VC continue to run away from Kerry and our position at a high rate of speed. We note that Mr. Rood and Mr. Leeds are also on the record disputing your group’s insinuation that the VC was significantly wounded prior to being killed by Kerry.

Third falsehood: Your group contends Kerry acted to conceal Belodeau’s role in this event, saying Kerry sought to conceal this circumstance, saying “there is no indication that Kerry ever reported that the Viet Cong was wounded and fleeing when dispatched.” (Unfit, p. 83). Dead wrong. Another lie. This is preposterous and underscores the extremes SBVT resorted to in order to make up anything they wanted to smear Senator Kerry. We say this because the original after action report, filed within hours of the event and maintained in the US Navy archives, reported precisely the following: “forward M-60 gunner wounded man in leg,” destroying your thesis Kerry or anyone else denied credit to Belodeau, and proving the Navy was not misinformed on this point when evaluating Kerry’s actions for possible recognition. If your group cared about the truth they could have easily checked this document on file in the Navy archives, and also available on However, they didn’t want to find nor did they care about the truth.

Fourth falsehood: Your group introduces a completely made up claim that the rocket launcher carried by the Viet Cong soldier “may or may not have been loaded” (Unfit, p. 82), intentionally creating innuendo around something that has never, ever been in question. Multiple eyewitnesses confirm the launcher to have been loaded, the after action report states it, and photographic images show the loaded rocket launcher. No one who was there recalls it as anything but loaded or ever reported otherwise. The tactic of SBVT to make up anything for their purposes is conduct unbecoming of members of the Navy family and fellow veterans.

Other than John Kerry, three people were best positioned to see whether the VC’s rocket launcher was loaded when we beached the boat: the man who joined Kerry in chasing the VC (Medeiros); the man in the gun tub (Short); and the man on the forward gun (Belodeau). Two of those three are signatories to this letter (Belodeau has passed away) and can assure you the rocket launcher was indeed loaded. In fact, one of us, Fred Short, had the best seat in the house to the four engagements we had that day. Fred has said: “On the second engagement when we charged the bank, I locked eyes with an enemy combatant who stood up from his fighting hole.

This was not a ‘teenager in a loincloth’ as John O’Neill claimed in 2004, [ABC News, “Nightline,” 10/14/04] but a fully grown man with a B40 rocket-propelled grenade that was designed to take out armor. I was so close I could see his wispy moustache.”

The fourth eyewitness, the late Tommy Belodeau, also weighed in on this point, having said in 1996: "The soldier that Senator John Kerry shot was standing on both feet with a loaded rocket launcher, about to fire it on the boat from which (Kerry) had just left, which still had four men aboard" [Associated Pres, 10/27/96] Bill Rood has written publicly that he, too, observed the rocket launcher to have been loaded, and a photograph taken after the action shows Mr. Rood standing next to Kerry, who is seen holding this loaded weapon. In the after action, many others saw this loaded rocket launcher which was ultimately disarmed by a Navy Seal.

December 18, 2008

Swiftboat, Part II

Dear Mr. Pickens:

We are the crew and individual servicemen who served on or with Patrol Craft Fast 94 (PCF-94) in Vietnam in early 1969. All of us are intensely proud of our service. We put our lives on the line for our country without reservation. We fought hard under difficult circumstances. Each of us was a volunteer for the United States military. We are patriotic, concerned veterans and this past Memorial Day – a holiday to honor all those who gave their lives in service to country – we were reminded of a challenge you made publicly in Washington, D.C., regarding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) and their lies about our service in Vietnam.

Regrettably the lies of the SBVT, which you helped bankroll and apparently still defend, tarnished the sacrifices we made, called into question the medals we were awarded and challenged the very authenticity of our service. In countless radio talk shows, television appearances and ads, newspaper and magazine interviews, not to mention political speeches and group appearances, SBVT lied about our skipper’s and our service In Vietnam and in so doing, damaged our reputations and attacked the quality of our service to country. We have children and families who were deeply affected by these lies and we believe you and the SBVT whom you supported owe us and the American people an apology for the tactics you bankrolled.

We are aware of media reports that at a dinner in Washington, D.C. on November 6th, 2007, you made a public challenge that you would give a million dollars to anyone who could show that anything the SBVT said was false. We also know that Senator John Kerry, who was the skipper of PCF-94, contacted you to take you up on that challenge. We are writing to you now as a group to accept your challenge and document how you funded lies and character assassination. Those of us who served with John Kerry on PCF-94 were personally there, on the boat and with him in the actions for which he was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two of his purple hearts. Many of us were decorated for some of these same actions and we are outraged that thirty five years later, for political purposes, people lied so outrageously about what we did, attacking our character and the Navy’s integrity—lies told by people who were not there and never bothered to talk with us. How can your group call itself the Swift Boat Veterans “for Truth” when you never interviewed the PCF-94 boat eyewitnesses?

Mr. Pickens: the lies put forward by SBVT are so plentiful and outrageous, from the significant to the trivial, that we would lose your attention going through all of them. Page after page of the SBVT book, Unfit for Command, is filled with unbelievable falsehoods piled on top of falsehoods. You’ve only challenged us to show one thing was false but this is important enough to all of us that we will do that and more so that you fully comprehend the nature of the people you’ve been dealing with and the consequences of your support for them.

The Silver Star

Perhaps the biggest lie is the one asserted without even any contrived evidence or phony testimony – an assertion out of whole cloth – that tried to smear the events surrounding the award of a Silver Star to John Kerry and in doing so, tarnished the Bronze Stars and Navy and Army Commendation Medals earned by many of the rest of us. In addition, this lie was featured in the very first attack on Senator Kerry in your group’s first and most infamous television advertisement. According to SBVT’s own cover letter and associated materials provided to TV stations in support of the spot, Captain George Elliott’s assertion in that advertisement that “John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam,” referred to the alleged fact that “in connection with his Silver Star, I (Elliott) was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back”. Captain Elliott knows that LTJG Kerry was awarded the Silver Star not just for chasing down and killing an armed enemy soldier (who was shot in the side not the back) but for his leadership role as Officer in Command of one of the most successful Swift boat raids ever.

So let us examine the events of February 28th, 1969 and what we did and faced, and what John Kerry did and faced, by testing the SBVT claims against our own experience and memories as eyewitnesses there on the scene, against authoritative Navy records, against photographic evidence and against the public testimony of other men present that day.

Navy records: the after action reports submitted based on the verbal debriefing of officers and enlisted men present; a contemporaneous document secured from Navy archives which we possess and can show you; the United States Army advisor’s personal recollections, as well as the individual award citations; photographs taken at the scene when the ambush was over; an independent investigation conducted by ABC TV’s Nightline; and an article written by William B. Rood, Officer in Charge of PCF-23 that day which appeared in the Chicago Tribune August 22nd, 2004—all confirm that every single event on that day occurred exactly as reported at the time. There is not one piece of evidence to the contrary – not one. This underscores the degree to which SBVT lied about this significant action.

The records and testimony of everyone involved that day show that John Kerry was serving as Officer in Tactical Command of a three boat unit engaged in inserting Vietnamese regional force troops on a reconnaissance in force mission.

As our boats approached the target area we all came under intense fire from the right hand river bank. LTJG Kerry ordered all the boats to turn and attack the banks of the river. Each boat followed his orders instantaneously and the three boats beached in the middle of the ambush, over-running it and routing the enemy.

LTJG Kerry subsequently ordered his boat and PCF 23 to investigate gun fire from further up stream. While doing so, we were again taken under fire and a B-40 rocket landed right next to the 94 boat, blowing out the windows on the port side. LTJG Kerry again ordered the boats in to the river bank. When an enemy soldier armed with a loaded B-40 rocket leapt out of a spider hole in front of the boat, initially aimed his weapon and then turned to run, he was taken under fire, wounded by the forward gunner but continued to run for cover towards a hooch to our left. LTJG Kerry, followed closely by one of us (Medeiros,QM2), pursued him ashore and killed him. Despite all the evidence, your group chose to manufacture complete fabrications to smear Kerry and purposefully sought to create doubt where in fact none ever existed from the moment the ambush took place thirty nine years ago and none deserves to exist today.
To be continued:

December 17, 2008


In the comments of my previous missive, and as argument with my position that the tales of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were falsehoods perpetrated in a scandalous attempt to rig an election, a gentleman calling himself Old Man states the following:

"I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary of the SBV claims. Surely there is some documentary or even anecdotal evidence refuting the charges"

I've replied in the comments section, and now I offer a letter written by some of Kerrys crewmates in response to a challenge by T. Boone Pickins. Mr. Pickins, a wealthy Texas oilman, offered $1 million to anyone who could offer evidence contradicting the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The signatories of this letter, along with the documentation supplied, more than answered the challenge.

The letter is very long so I will publish it in sections over several days. Below you will find the closing paragraphs. Tomorrow I will start from the top. Many of the documents they offered can be found at:

Mr. Pickens: You should know that even some of us on his crew differed with John Kerry when he spoke out against the war. But that has never affected our respect for his leadership as a Naval officer. We also believe that unlike some of his detractors, John Kerry earned the right to speak his mind. As Lt. Jim Russell, the Psychological Operations Officer wrote in a letter of August 20th, 2004 speaking about your group: “If they are against him for his stance against the Vietnam War, that certainly is their right, but to spread lies and malicious innuendos about his time on the rivers of Vietnam is not morally right and does a disservice not only to Kerry, but to all those who served and were wounded or died in that war.” (letter attached)

We are prepared now to come to Texas to see you, or meet somewhere else mutually convenient. We are telling you, that we will bring with us a Navy/Pentagon certified copy of Senator Kerry’s full military record and his writings and the movie footage you have requested. We will sit with you while you go through them page for page, frame by frame and answer any questions you may have. We know the truth because we were there on the boat. We believe you will find this truth unavoidable and hope you will feel the right thing has been done in keeping your promise to write a check for one million dollars to anyone who can show anything SBVT said was false. We believe it would be appropriate for this money to go to the veteran’s charity of our choice.

While our reply to you concerns principally the overwhelming evidence of many falsehoods regarding just the Silver Star events specifically, we will also bring other documentary and eyewitness evidence that prove the breadth of SBVT lies should you be interested in the full measure of your friends’ deception.

Please address your reply to us in the care of Del Sandusky, 1040 Main Street #78, Dunedin, FL 34698.

Yours in truth and honor,

Del Sandusky
Dunedin, FL
(QM1, PCF-94)

Fred Short
North Little Rock, AR
(GM3, PCF-94)

David Alston
Columbia. SC
(GM2, PCF-94)

Michael Medeiros
San Leandro, CA
(QM2, PCF-94)

Eugene K. Thorson
Ames, IA
(EN2, PCF-94)


William Hirschler
Alta Loma, CA (US Army, CPT. Participant, 28 Feb 69 mission)

Wayne Langhofer
Herrington, KS (USN, PCF-43, Participant, 28 Feb 69 and 13 March 1969 missions)

James Rassmann
Florence, OR
(US Army Special Forces. 1st LT. Participant, 13 Mar 69 mission)[SIGNED]

Doug Reese
Saigon, Vietnam (US Army, 1st LT. Participant, 28 Feb 69 mission)

Peter Upton
Unionville, CT (USN, UDT-13. Participant, 28 Feb 69 mission)


28 February 1969 after-action report
Hoffmann congratulatory message
Kerry citation
Droz citation
Belodeau citation
Short citation
Medeiros citation
Hirschler citation
Awards ceremony picture
Rood account and accompanying photograph
Gibson account
Upton account
Lt. Jim Russell Letter to the Editor Telluride Daily Planet
Nightline, “What They Saw,” 14 October 2004
Naval Inspector General letter in response to “Judicial Watch” complaint
1996 statements of Adm. Zumwalt, et al.


Pres. George H.W. Bush
Sen. Max Cleland
Sen. Robert Dole
Sen. Jim Webb
Sen. John Warner
Cong. John Murtha
Adm. Mike Mullen