Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thoughts on Ferry Boats and Music in Public Schools

Working with some of our Mat-Su Valley music educators this week at the district music festival, I've been told that many school music programs will be diminished next school year.  In Anchorage, the 2012-2013 school budget recently came close to considering eliminating music in elementary schools all together.  It seems like these threats or actual cuts happen almost every year.

Meanwhile, the Mat-Su Borough is spending wads of money on this:
 Bills for the Mat-Su Borough’s M/V Susitna are beginning to come due.

Although the borough doesn’t officially assume financial responsibility of the vessel until April 1, assembly members voted 6-1 this month to approve $93,941.26 to cover costs to guard, maintain and provide a two-member crew for the vessel.

That will get the assembly to May 31.
If there was some rational use for the ferry sometime in the future, I might feel a bit better about where this money is going, but I don't think they've found a way to implement anything worthwhile:
The Susitna is a prototype of a fast-moving shore-landing craft for the U.S. Navy. Though designed with tanks in mind, the borough took it on with plans to start a ferry system shuttling cars and drivers between Point MacKenzie and Anchorage. But so far, neither Cook Inlet shore has a ferry dock and the borough lacks funding to build one, let alone two.
I'd rather that money be spent in our local schools, teaching young kids in integrated programs like the STEM program we've started (my wife volunteers there) at Machetanz Elementary.  Here's how they describe the program at the school:
Science topics will stimulate curiosity and questioning. Icicles, rocks, airplanes, larvae…. provide motivation to read and collect data. Working with your hands is a plus. Hope you like to get dirty.

Technology is used as a tool to gain knowledge, organize systems, and to problem solve for purpose. Who knows, we may even take a trip to Japan, or visit Italy via our computers.

Engineering is all about creating, building, and making things better! So what does it take to be an engineer? If you like math and science, you are off to a great start. If you enjoy discovering new things, solving problems, and learning how things work – even better!

Math can be interesting. Can you imagine measuring the thickness of a bear skull, or the height of a mountain before you climb it? Just because it's math doesn't mean it can't be fun.
In Juneau, at Glacier Valley Elementary, they have combined STEM with the arts, to create a "STEAM" program. Earlier in the month, when in Juneau to address he legislature, Sen. Mark Begich visited the program:
Begich has been working on efforts to include the arts into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative, making it STEAM.

“I’ve actually believed this before I saw what was going on there (Glacier Valley), adding arts is an important part,” he said.

Begich said his son has been playing the piano and didn’t really care for it until he saw the mathematical connection. Now, the thing he wants to do the most when he comes home is play the piano. He’s even memorized a song that starts as a classical piece and transitions into a song by Lady Gaga.

Begich said Alaska needs to step up to the plate with STEAM. He also spoke about improving education and what he’s working on at the federal level to achieve that.
 With kids educated to solve Alaska's problems through Science, Technological innovation, Engineering, Math acuity, and - YES! - the arts, Alaskans might find better solutions than pouring money out of state to prop up a useless ferry boat blocked up in a drydock.

Thoughts on John Philip Sousa

I'll be conducting the Mat-Su School District High School Honor Band this early evening - 6:00 pm - at Wasilla High School.  I spent much of Thursday and Friday rehearsing the 45 young musicians in the band.  What a treat!  Their renditions come close to perfect in the four compositions we're going to perform:
The Free Lance by John Philip Sousa
A Yorkshire Ballad by James Barnes
A Night in the Tropics by Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Pageant by Vincent Persichetti
The march that will open the program is one of John Philip Sousa's little-known gems. The Free Lance was the eighth of Sousa's nine completed operettas.  He completed the fairly unsuccessful stage work in 1905, and soon afterward re-orchestrated the march for band. I posted a youtube here earlier in the week of the Italian Army band performing it. 

Sousa is known mostly for the dozen or so of his most famous marches that are constantly being played somewhere or another, all around the planet.  There have been recent efforts, most notably by Naxos, to record excellent performances of all his marches, plus other concert works, and selections from his operettas.

Sousa, though known mostly for wind music, was initially employed professionally as a violinist.  He toured the USA in the 1880s with French operetta composer Jacques Offenbach's orchestra, as first violinist.

He also dabbled in the arts outside of music.  He wrote three novels, one of which championed women's rights over a decade before American women had the right to vote.

He was a critic of what recorded music and the recording industry might do to change aspects of American musical life:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
One might take from this quote that Sousa was an advocate of Darwin at a time when Darwin's ideas were being challenged in much of America.

Sousa was also an ardent shooter:
As a trapshooter, he ranks as one of the all-time greats, and he is enshrined in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame.  He even organized the first national trapshooting organization, a forerunner to today's Amateur Trapshooting Association. Sousa remained active in the fledgling ATA for some time after its formation. Some credit Sousa as the father of organized trapshooting in America. Sousa also wrote numerous articles about trapshooting.
He served in the American military three times, first as a bandsman in the USMC Band, then as its leader.  He served much later, in the U.S. Navy during World War I, as the leader of the Navy Band.  By that time he had become quite wealthy from royalties on his works, and "donated his entire naval salary minus one dollar a year to the Sailors' and Marines' Relief Fund."

Here is a recording of Sousa in 1905, the same year he wrote The Free Lance, directing his own band in a performance of Strauss' On the Beautiful Blue Danube:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Re Lisa Murkowski on the DOJ Stevens Investigation Review: Anonymous DOJ Statement: “Trust Us”

--- by emptywheel

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing today to review the results of the Schuelke report on the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case and to entertain the Lisa Murkowski bill requiring disclosure. In response, DOJ submitted a statement for the record, opposing any legislation enforcing its discovery obligations.
When concerns were first raised about the handling of the prosecution of Senator Stevens, the Department immediately conducted an internal review. The Attorney General recognized the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the work of Department prosecutors and took the extraordinary step of moving to dismiss the case when errors were discovered. Moreover, toensure that the mistakes in the Stevens case would not be repeated, the Attorney General convened a working group to review discovery practices and charged the group with developing recommendations for improving such practices so that errors are minimized. As a result of the working group’s efforts, the Department has taken unprecedented steps, described more fully below, to ensure that prosecutors, agents, and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations with respect to discovery in criminal cases. These reforms include a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors and the requirement–for the first time in the history of the Department of Justice–that every federal prosecutor receive refresher discovery training each year.
In light of these internal reforms, the Department does not believe that legislation is needed to address the problems that came to light in the Stevens prosecution. Such a legislative proposal would upset the careful balance of interests at stake in criminal cases, cause significant harm to victims, witnesses, and law enforcement efforts, and generate substantial and unnecessary litigation that would divert scarce judicial and prosecutorial resources.
In short, DOJ is saying, “trust us. We don’t need a law requiring us to do what case law says we need to.”

Right off the bat, I can think of 5 major problem with this statement:

No one has been held accountable

We are three years past the time when Stevens’ case was thrown out. Yet none of the prosecutors involved have been disciplined in any meaningful way.

No doubt DOJ would say that it will hold prosecutors responsible if and when the Office of Professional Responsibility finds they committed misconduct. But in the interim three years, DOJ as a whole has sent clear messages that it prefers protecting its case to doing anything about misconduct.
And–as Chuck Grassley rightly pointed out at the hearing–thus far no one has been held responsible.
This statement may claim DOJ is serious about prosecutorial misconduct. But its actions (and inaction) says the opposite.

Even after this training, discovery problems remain

As the DOJ statement lays out, in response to the Stevens debacle, DOJ rolled out annual training programs for prosecutors to remind them of their discovery obligations.

And yet, last year, Leonie Brinkema found that prosecutors in the Jeff Sterling case had failed to turn over critical evidence about prosecution witnesses–one of the problems with the Stevens prosecution. The prosecutor involved? William Welch, whom Schuelke accused of abdicating his leadership role in the Stevens case (note, DOJ says the CIA is at fault for the late discovery; but Welch is, after all, the prosecutor who bears responsibility for it).

If William Welch can’t even get discovery right after his involvement in this case and, presumably, undergoing the training DOJ promises will fix the problem, then training is not enough to fix the problem.

Eric Holder won’t run DOJ forever

The statement focuses on Holder’s quick decision to dismiss the case against Stevens, as if that, by itself, guards against any similar problems in the future. But before Holder was AG, Michael Mukasey was–and Judge Emmet Sullivan grew so exasperated with Mukasey’s stonewalling on this case, he ordered him to personally respond to questions about the case.

In short, while Holder may require prosecutors to meet their discovery obligations (I’m much, much less sanguine that Criminal Division head Lanny Breuer will), that’s no guarantee the next Attorney General won’t just blow off a judge’s concerns about it.

DOJ released this statement on the same day as reports that FBI agents told they can “suspend the law”

One of the problems with the Stevens case Schuelke referenced today arose when FBI Agents without a great understanding of Brady and Giglio requirements conducted the document review to fulfill discovery. Given lapses in prosecutorial management, that resulted in failures to comply with discovery.

Now, last year, DOJ conducted a 4-hour training session for FBI agents to review these issues. But look at what else DOJ has trained its FBI agents, as revealed by Spencer Ackerman today:
One FBI PowerPoint — disclosed in a letter Durbin sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller on Tuesday and shared with Danger Room — stated: “Under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.”
Now, if DOJ went back and made sure all the agents who had received the training telling agents they could break the law, this might not be such a problem. But how seriously can you take DOJ’s current training efforts given what they have reinforced in the past?

Trust us. Love, anonymous

Ultimately, this statement amounts to DOJ–and the Executive Branch more generally–again imploring Congress to just trust the Executive Branch. Trust us, allow us flexibility, we won’t screw up again.

But as noted, this is an unsigned statement.

That is, DOJ is asking Congress to just trust that it–”we”–will fix the problem. But no one is signing that promise.

Who is the “us” we’re supposed to trust?

This is what the Executive Branch has increasingly become, a bureaucracy resisting any controls on its power–all in the name of flexibility–all while shielding the decisions made under the veil of anonymity from any accountability.

“Trust us. But you’ll just have to take it on faith that we’re worthy of your trust.”

First Map of Alaska - Or Not? -- Not

The blog Mudflats is running a post claiming the above image to be the first map of Alaska:
As an aficionado of old maps, I’m not sure why I never posted this one before.  This is the oldest map of Alaska. It was made on a Russian expedition in 1741 by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering. Obviously, it wasn’t completely accurate, but I think they did find Kodiak. Do not use this map for navigation purposes, particularly if your travels will take you to the Aleutian chain.
The statement, while containing truthiness, is misleading, though probably not intentionally so.  The map reprinted at the Mudflats contains information derived from the first mapping data that led to the one they published.  The statement "It was made on a Russian expedition in 1741 by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering," unfortunately constructed, is misleading.

The map image posted at the Mudflats is, according to Alison Smith, an associate professor of history  at the University of Toronto, and editor of the Russian history blog, Northern Spaces, "a 1775 English map based on a 1754 map by Gerhard Friedrich Müller originally published in Russia."  (Smith labels the jpeg image of the map posted at the Mudflats "Mulleresque.")  A very detailed, enlargeable image of the Mulleresque map is available here.  It was not "made on a Russian expedition in 1741."

Here is what the University of Washington Special Collections Division has to say about the maker of the 1775 map:
Robert Sayer (1725-1794) was a publisher and map and print seller who published much of his contemporaries' work including the work of Thomas Kitchin, Belin and d'Anville (Moreland and Bannister, 172). He worked with Philip Overton beginning in 1745 until Overton died in 1751. Sayer then continued to work on his own. He published Rocque's small "British Atlas" (1753), "map of Atlantic" (1757) and "Large English Atlas" (1760). He later collaborated with Herbert and reissued many works by John Senex (?-1740). After cartographer, Thomas Jefferys, went bankrupt, Sayer took some of Jeffreys' assets and with Jefferys published "General topographic map of North America and the West Indies" (1768) and "Middle British Colonies in America" (1768, 1775). In 1770, Sayer was joined by John Bennett. In 1771, Jefferys died and most of his business passed to William Faden while some of his plates stayed in Sayer's hands. Sayer and Bennet then published "General Atlas" (1773), "North American Atlas' (1775), "North American Pilot" (1775-6), "American Military pocket Atlas" (1776), "West India Atlas" (1775), and "Complete Channel Pilot" (1781). In 1781 Bennett retired and then died in 1787. Sayer continued to work on his own until his own retirement in 1792. He then sold his plates and business to Robert Laurie and James Whittle (Tooley, 561).
What was "made" on Bering's second expedition was made by a number of people, working in two separate groups: 

1.  Some of the oceanic charting and course information displayed on the 1775 Robert Sayer map came from one of the maps made in 1742 or early 1743 by Lieutenant Sven Waxell. one of the survivors from the Bering Island shipwreck that claimed the lives of several expedition members including Vitus Bering himself.  Waxell, in the spring of 1742, managed to build a new boat with the other survivors of the harsh winter, and get many expedition notes, specimens and other data back to Petropavlovsk on September 1742.  Here is one of the maps Waxell produced upon return to St. Petersburg:

Alexei Chirikov, who commanded the second ship in Bering's expedition, actually reached North America before Bering.  Bering's ship and Chirikov's were separated in a storm on June 20, 1741.  They never got back together.  He made landfall on July 15, 1741 at Baker Island (55 degrees - 20 minutes N), on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.  Upon return to Russia, Chirikov's pilot, Ivan Elagin, made this map of their course history:
 Back in Russia, in 1742, summary maps were made, compiling information from several surviving expedition sources:

The summary map that found its image into further maps of the North Pacific was this one:

The first cartographer to use this new information in a map or series of maps that gained wide distribution was Müller, a member of the 2nd expedition.  In 1754, to rebut a spurious map showing many mythical North Pacific lands, gulfs, inlets and islands, created in 1752 by the French cartographer Nicolas de L'Isle, Müller compiled much of both Bering expeditions' voyage information, and created his well-known map upon which many subsequent maps were based, including the 1775 Sayer map published at the Mudflats.

Müller's 1754 map remained authoritative until the late 1778 publication of the maps and charts from James Cook's third voyage.  In 1780, the English cartographer Carrington Bowles interpolated the Bering data and Cook data together in a strange map showing both versions of the story:
images scanned from Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean by Derek Hayes, published by The British Museum Press, 2001

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I'll Be Conducting the Mat-Su High School Honor Band Saturday at Wasilla HS

This coming Saturday is the Mat-Su Honor Music Festival.  It will be held this year at Wasilla High School.  There will be concerts by the Middle School Honor Band, Middle School Honor Choir, High School Honor Choir and High School Honor Band. 

The set of events begins at 4:00 pm Saturday.

Here are the four works I'll be conducting with the high school students:

The Free Lance March by John Philip Sousa (performed here by the Army Band of Italy:

A Yorkshire Ballad
by James Barnes (performed here by the Houston Youth Symphony Sinfonia):

A Night in the Tropics by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (performed here by La Orquésta Municipal de Caracas):

Pageant by Vincent Persichetti (performed here by the Brooklyn College Conservatory Wind Ensemble):

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Judy Busted Smuggling to the YK Villages

She's been doing this now for three years: Bringing Girl Scout Cookies to young teachers and their students in Villages on the YK delta. I finally caught it on film.

Driveway Ice Images

The snow seems to be melting in the bright afternoon sun.   It is going to take lots of it to melt this years' pack!

Here are some pictures I took just before sunset in the driveway today, of parts of the enormous berm on the north edge.  Above, the Talkeetna Mountains can be glimpsed above the pile.  Below are images of the ice crystals and permutations brought out by the ice wall's southern exposure:

Thoughts on Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ Attorney – John Henry Browne

image by Steve Aufrecht
I got into blogging to cover the Federal corruption trial of former Alaska State Representative Vic Kohring.  Kohring's attorney in that October 2007 trial was John Henry Browne.  He is the high-profile Seattle-based attorney now representing U.S. Army Staff Sgt, Robert Bales. The sergeant was charged Friday with the killing of 17 Afghan civilians on the night of March 11-12.

During the Kohring trial, four and a half years ago, I got to meet and know John Henry Browne.  He was fairly well known in the Pacific Northwest for having represented serial killer Ted Bundy, and other cases.

At the time of the Kohring trial, I was reluctant to come to deep conclusions about Browne.  The premise of my trial blog was this:
Two longtime friends from the Mat-Su Valley with opposing views of the trial and its defendant share their thoughts. Fred James perceives Vic Kohring as a victim of a prosecution gone awry. Philip Munger has been predicting a demise for Kohring for years as the Wasilla anti-government politician attempted to make too many increasingly unconnected ends and motives meet.
The concept was inspired by firedoglake's coverage of the Scooter Libby trial, which was an historic approach to trial writing.  I hoped that with Fred and me exchanging differing views, we would cover new ground too.

Others who attended the trial blogged about it too, most notably retired University of Alaska Anchorage public policy professor, Steve Aufrecht.  Today, at his outstanding blog, What Do I Know? Steve has revisited his thoughts on Browne at the time of the Kohring trial:
John Henry Browne, the attorney now representing Robert Bales, the soldier accused of massacring 17 Afghan civilians, spent several weeks in Anchorage in 2007, representing the third state legislator to go on trial for corruption here, Vic Kohring.  I blogged that trial and so I got to watch him in action.  Of the three trials, he was the only attorney who seemed to attract almost as much attention as his client.

I have comments about Browne throughout the Kohring posts, but I've pulled out a few here that may give some insight into this attorney.  Or not.

On my first encounter in court October 22, 2007:
John Henry Browne

For me the big unknown was the defense attorney. When I walked in, I saw him from behind and thought he was younger until he turned and faced the gallery. He was wearing what looked like an expensive light grey suit with just a touch of green. His shirt was just barely pink. The prosecutors, in comparison, were in dark, dark grey to black suits with white shirts, except for Mr. Goeke who had a beige shirt. Even Agent Mary Beth Kepner [Thanks, Steve, I was getting tired when I did that] had on a grey suit. And Mr. Browne's hair also looked expensive - basically brown with what would have been called surfer blond streaks where I grew up near Venice Beach. OK, I know what some of you are thinking. But this is not intended as a fashion evaluation of the attorneys. I do think, however, that the dress does tell us something about people. Browne very definitely pays attention to how he looks. He also has trouble talking without moving. If his arms aren't moving, or his hands, then his fingers are moving. A few times I could even see the muscles in his back moving through his jacket. And this was just very low key questions to the jury.

His voice is radio quality deep and his intonation is precise, more articulated than most American speakers naturally talk. Perhaps he's done some acting or had other voice coaching.

When he asked questions of the jurors, or even when he didn't, he would say, "Good morning" in the same exact tone which sounded warm and interested the first time, but after hearing it repeated precisely many times, it began to sound canned. For two jurors, he said something like, "Your comments were much more extensive than the other jurors" which I thought sounded like calculated flattery, and which caused Prosecutor Botinni [Bottini] to object to the "unnecessary editorial comments" about juror performance. The judge concurred.

He also addressed the court twice, between jurors, with two questions that I thought seemed inappropriate. The first time he wanted to know about jurors who came from outside of Anchorage - who paid for them? (The court pays their airfare and hotel, but they don't go back for weekends the judge replied.) The second question was whether the jurors came from all of Alaska. The judge explained that they only came from the Anchorage district, which was a large district, stretching from Cordova to the Aleutians. It just seemed to me that these were curiosity items, that I would have written down and checked on later. Or, as the Outside defense attorney, I would have found out before the trial. And being an Outside attorney - the local attorney Wayne Anthony Ross was not there today [and I don't think ever was in court] - he wouldn't understand the implications of what local talk show hosts the jurors said they listened to.

Overall, his behavior reinforced the impression I've gotten in the pretrial press coverage. This is the Seattle attorney who is coming to the boondocks to try a case. If that really is the way he's thinking, I suspect he's in for a big surprise.  Judge Sedwick has run very tight, but fair, trials. His excusing of the full time student today is an example of his practical understanding of what makes sense and what doesn't. The prosecution has done an overwhelming amount of work and have been extremely well prepared. The teams at the previous two trials were one local attorney and one from the DC based Public Integrity Section. These guys do their homework. The pairing for this trial is Joe Botinni[Bottini], who's been in the Anchorage US Attorney Office for many years, and Edward P. Sullivan from DC. On the other hand, it does seem that the taped evidence is likely to be not as damaging as in the other cases, and that Kohring might appear to have been less calculating than Kott or Anderson in working out ways to get paid. We will see.
By the next day, I'd figured out who Browne reminded me of.  I wrote a post titled, Is John Henry Browne Really Eddie Haskell 50 Years Later?
Eddie Haskell, eh?

I've been trying to get in touch with Browne to question him about PFC Bradley Manning's treatment compared to what he's come to know about the detention of SSgt. Bales.  Browne has succeeded in getting his client into the news this past week.  He's already  putting the U.S. Army and the Afghan War on trial:
The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians questioned Tuesday the quality of the evidence against his client and said he planned to travel to Afghanistan to gather his own.

John Henry Browne said he met with Robert Bales for 11 hours over two days at Fort Leavenworth, where his client is being held. He added that there was still a lot he didn't know about the March 11 shootings.

"I don't know about the evidence in this case. I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions," Browne said outside his hotel near the post.

"I'm certainly not saying that we're not taking responsibility for this in the right way, at the right time. But for now, I'm interested in what the evidence is," he said. "It's not like a crime scene in the United States."

Browne said there were legal, social and political issues linked to the case and how it will be prosecuted. "The war's on trial. I'm not putting the war on trial," he said. "I'm not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial."
NPR, discussing Bales' options on Friday:
SOLIS: The defense doesn't have a lot of roads to travel right now, and so what they're going to do is blame it on the mental state, which probably has some validity, and blame it on the Army.

BOWMAN: Blame it on the Army for sending Sergeant Bales on four combat tours, which took a toll.

SOLIS: And that's because of the three prior tours that the suspect had in Iraq, the fact that he had been wounded a couple of times, that he objected to being sent back to Afghanistan for a fourth tour. So I think that this is the type of case which is tailor-made for a lack of mental responsibility defense.

BOWMAN: But military lawyer Neal Puckett points out that many soldiers have served multiple combat tours and suffered from PTSD.

PUCKETT: You can't totally displace responsibility on to the Army simply because you say well, he has TBI and/or he has PTSD.

BOWMAN: There's one other defense that may not be an option for Sgt. Bales, that his life was in danger. Neal Puckett defended a Marine accused of shooting civilians at Haditha, Iraq in 2005 after an attack on his squad. The most serious charges were dropped after Puckett argued the Marine felt he was threatened.
Browne was probably sought out by Bales' family, as Browne works out of a Seattle office, and the trial will be held in the lower Puget Sound area of Ft. Lewis, where Bales' unit has its home base.  His family have put together a legal defense fund:
Robert Bales' wife, Karilyn Bales, has started a fund to raise money to help pay his legal costs. Contributions, not tax-deductible, can be sent to the Staff Sergeant Robert Bales Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 2774, Seattle, WA 98111.
I'm not sure I totally buy into Bales having been unaccompanied or unassisted in his night-time journeys.  He supposedly left the base, walked to one village, came back, walked to another village and came back a second time - by himself.  Here's a map I created, superimposing a McClatchy graphic onto my own annotated image from Google Earth:

Those distances he would have had to walk, totaling over 7 kilometers, are as the crow flies.  Sgt. Bales appears to be fit, but .......

Justin Raimondo is still questioning the veracity of the lone actor scenario.  And he also feels that the way this is playing out, fiction or not, shows up many flaws in our Afghan end-game:
All of this has led to an outcry in Afghanistan, where the local are saying this was an organized revenge killing rather than Sergeant Psycho on a rampage. Which raises an intriguing question: organized by whom?

It seems to me there are two possibilities:

1) This was the result of a "rogue" group of soldiers acting on their own, motivated by the previous IED attack. Reports that Bales was drinking with a group of other soldiers the night of the massacre conjure images of a late-night venting climaxed by a senseless act of terror.

2) It was a "night raid" gone horribly wrong. This is suggested by the fact that the "official" story of what happened that night limns these night raids to a tee, except for the number of military personnel involved. And Karzai has a point: it is certainly possible Bales went to two residences, killed 16 women and children, and then gathered up the bodies and burned them in the space of a couple of hours, with no assistance from anyone — but how likely is it? About as likely as Bales’s claim not to remember anything of that night.

What is striking is how seamlessly these two scenarios blend into each other: even if this heinous crime was carried out by a "rogue" group of soldiers, how different is it from those night raids where they are acting under orders? The direct threats issued to the villagers, however, points to the possibility that they were acting with the knowledge of at least some higher-ups, who must have authorized the round-up, the use of a translator, and even the participation of the Afghan army.

What is worrying is that the numerous reports coming out of Afghanistan of rampant war crimes committed by "rogue" soldiers – "kill teams" – indicates a complete breakdown of the US chain of command. At the top of the command structure, the grand strategiststheoreticians are constructing elaborate theories of counterinsurgency warfare designed to win over the populace and deny the Taliban a victory. However, by the time "clear, hold, and build" trickles down to the ranks in the field, it becomes "clear, hold, and kill."
It will be some time before SSgt. Bales goes to trail.  Certainly not this year, if the slowness of the Bradley Manning case progress is any indicator.  Watch for John Henry Browne to do everything he can to keep his client's case in the news, and to tie any new American military misconduct into his developing narrative against the war:  "I'm not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial."

Obama to Give Presidential Medal of Freedom to Guy Who Wanted to Sell Nuclear-tipped Missiles to Apartheid South Africa

Back in 1975, at the height of the White South African Apartheid regime's period of hubris, they were getting a lot of help in their attempts to become a nuclear power:
Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
It didn't.  The news came out in 2010, which disturbed the Israelis:
The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky's request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week's nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were "never any negotiations" between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975.
Earlier this month, American President Obama met with Israeli President Peres, the guy who wanted to sell Botha nukes for "potential strikes against neighbouring states":
Israeli President Shimon Peres will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this spring, President Obama announced at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington.

"Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, 'slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity and freedom,'" Obama said as he announced the award. "He has lived those values. He has taught us to ask more of ourselves and to empathize more with our fellow human beings."
I'm sure that your average Iranian knows about the Peres-Botha link, and being the most likely future targets of Israeli "empathy,"  I'm sure they feel Peres deserves the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president of the U.S.

Perhaps Obama can fit in a mention of the failed South African deal in his adulatory remarks during the ceremony, when he highlights the "values" Peres has lived .

Hat Tip:  Grant Smith, whose article at that tipped me off about the Medal of Freedom, is really about another troubling story about Israeli duplicity and espionage:
FBI files detailing Israel’s stealth acquisition of U.S. nuclear triggers were declassified and released on Dec. 28, 2011. The FBI’s secret Portland and Los Angeles inter-office communications were originally scheduled for release in the year 2036. Their availability today reveals how Israel’s elite spy networks acquire U.S. nuclear technologies while evading criminal and diplomatic consequences. [emphasis added]

A kryton is a gas-filled tube used as a high-speed switch. U.S. State Department munitions licenses are needed to export krytons because they can be used as triggers for nuclear weapons. California-based MILCO International Inc. shipped 15 orders totaling 800 krytons through an intermediary to the Israeli Ministry of Defense between 1979 and 1983. MILCO obtained the krytons from EG&G Inc. After the U.S. government rejected several requests for kryton export licenses to Israel, Arnon Milchan’s Heli Trading Company brokered the transactions with MILCO. Milchan is an Israeli movie producer who became successful in Hollywood for such movies asBrazil, JFK, and Pretty Woman.

The FBI file reveals that after the illicit kryton exports were discovered, a U.S. attorney tried to flip MILCO President Richard Kelly Smyth to implicate Milchan during intense plea bargaining. The gambit failed, and in May 1984 Smyth was indicted on 30 counts of smuggling and making false statements. Smyth and his wife promptly fled to Israel and remained at large until captured in Malaga, Spain, in July 2001 after Richard Smyth applied for Social Security benefits. INTERPOL arrested Smyth and extradited him to the United States, where he pleaded guilty to violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. In November 2001, Smyth was sentenced to 40 years in prison and fined $20,000, though he was freed within four years because of his advancing age.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Anchorage Youth Symphony Performs The Wild Coast

Ice Sculpture and Wild Coast Poster at the PAC - March 2012
Back on March 6th, the Anchorage Youth Symphony, conducted by Linn Weeda, performed the premiere of my newest orchestral work, The Wild Coast.  Late last year, I created and posted a Youtube of the MIDI version of the work.  Here's a link to that post, which includes a description of the piece, the program notes, and the Youtube.

The March 6th performance was recorded by the dean of live recording in Alaska, Bob Amos.  He got a copy of the rendition to me early this week.

Here it is:

Check this out on Chirbit

The orchestra will be playing the work more this summer, on their June European Tour.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Al Jazeera Looks Into Powerful American Figures Who Support Iranian Terrorist Organization for Pay

Obama Still Wants to Sell Out Your Social Security and Medicare to Finance More Tax Breaks for the 1%

Former Vic Kohring Attorney John Henry Browne Takes a Tougher Case: Sgt. Robert Bales

I met and had lunch with John Henry Browne back in October 2007, when he was representing former Alaska Representative, Vic Kohring. Before that case, perhaps Browne's most well-known legal challenge had been as a lead attorney in getting vindication for those wrongfully convicted in what was known as the Wenatchee Sex Ring cases.

Browne's challenge in the present case will be to get the government to provide honest evidence.  I'm very skeptical about the case against Sgt. Bales, even as more information comes out as to what a sleazy character the Sgt. is:
Bales’s decision to join the Army ....  came at a pivotal point in his pre-military career — a career as a stock trader that appears to have ended months after he was accused of engaging in financial fraud while handling the retirement account of an elderly client in Ohio, according to financial records. 

An arbitrator later ordered Bales and the owner of the firm that employed him to pay $1.4 million — about half for compensation and half in punitive damages — for taking part in “fraud” and “unauthorized trading,” according to a ruling from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the independent disciplinary board for brokers and brokerage houses.

A review of the investor’s account statements, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that valuable stocks were sold off in favor of penny stocks as part of what the arbitrator called “churning” by Bales to pump up commissions.

The client, Gary Liebschner, a 74-year-old retired engineer for AT&T, said Sunday that he “never got paid a penny” of the award.

There is no indication that the civil ruling weighed on Bales in recent years. He never attended an arbitration hearing in the case — although he had been given legal notice of his right to present his version of events — and an attorney for Liebschner said it had been years since his client had attempted to collect the award from Bales.

But the finding of financial fraud adds to an increasingly complex picture of a man who, on the one hand, is described by friends and neighbors as a family man and an even-tempered soldier, and, on the other, had repeated encounters with the law, including an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, involvement in a hit-and-run accident and a misdemeanor assault charge.

In addition to those incidents, he had evidently been under financial stress. His home near Tacoma was put up for a short sale a few days before the March 11 shootings in Afghanistan. 
 I don't find the official version of what Bales is purported to have done credible.   Others are questioning it too:
A member of the Afghan parliamentary investigation team into last weekend’s massacre of civilians, Kandahar MP Naheem Lalai Hameedzai, says that the probe has concluded the massacre was carried out by a team of US soldiers, and not a lone individual.

All the villagers that we talked to said there were 15 to 20 men who had conducted a night raid operation in several areas in the village,” Hameedzai said, adding that the targets in the massacre villages were at least four kilometers north and south of the base.
A U.S. military of concocting lies about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch is certainly capable of creating more fiction.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Alex Wins Nordic Skiing Event in Oregon

Our son Alex came in fifth overall, and first in his age group in the Desert Orthopedics Great Nordeen 17K Nordic ski race at Mt. Bachelor, near Bend:

The Desert Orthopedic Great Nordeen held Saturday March 17 is a celebration of Central Oregon ski history! Just once a year a trail is groomed through 30km of lava flows, hemlock, fir, and pine forest stands in remembrance of Emil Nordeen, the decorated Central Oregon ski pioneer. The manageable terrain and distance makes this point-to-point freestyle race a great event for first time racers and recreational skiers. Beginning at Mt. Bachelor, skiers will tour on the generally downhill course from the West Village lodge to the Wanoga Snow Park.

 It was the first race he's entered since leaving Alaska to go to school in California in 2008.  His sister Julia sent us this picture.  She drove down from Seattle to Bend to root for him.

Julia is no slouch as an athlete either:

Preparing Saved Seeds in the Greenhouse

Saved arugula, cilantro and dill seeds - image by Philip Munger

These are arugula, cilantro and dill seed, saved from plants grown inside and outside last year.  The cilantro seeds represent the 18th or 19th generation of seeds, brought over from the greenhouse of our old house on the other side of Wasilla, when we moved to Neklason Lake in 1995.  I'll be planting them next week.

In the house' I've got three kinds of tomatoes and three kinds of lettuce coming up in starter planters already.

Meanwhile, outside the greenhouse:

How the iPod destroyed the American Economy - Copyright Math Explained

snark tag attached somewhere

March 17, 2012: Harbinger of the American Spring?

I got back from a St. Patrick's Day Party and started watching the live stream of the police riot in New York City, as they cracked down on the six-month anniversary celebration of Occupy Wall Street.  I was watching people walking, singing, dancing and generally being civil, if loud, when the cops started rioting.

I've been in NYC on St. Patrick's Day.  I've watched the parade stream by from grassy knolls in southeast Central Park. I watched the parade proudly march by just a short time before September 11th, 2001.  Hundreds of the cops and firefighters in that parade died that September day.

I've also watched the partying crowds drift away from that parade.  Hundreds and hundreds of young drunks, yelling at people,  breaking windows and pissing into trash cans over-filled with liquor bottles.

When the cops intervened in those scenes, they didn't fucking go breaking heads through bank windows.  They cajoled, elbowed or cuffed people, with an equal combination of firmness and professionalism.

That seems to largely be gone in the NYPD of 2012.  And the way they came down hard this evening indicates that they are preparing to try to stifle the re-emergence of OWS in the rapidly warming weather.

Although other actions around the country have also recently been hassled by police, this was a peaceful, benign episode that was sternly broken up.  Where the movement originated.  There was an intended message here.

Sadly, the way this is turning, it won't be long before the cops kill somebody.  We have to be ready to fight harder when that happens.

I covered the student demonstrations at the University of Washington after the Kent State killings for KRAB FM radio.  People fought harder then nationwide, after demonstrators were killed by adjuncts of law enforcement.  I truly hope we will do that when the inevitable happens again. With firm non-violent action.

The authorities will fight hard to keep us from communicating.

They will lose.

There have been several attempts by either the Obama administration or Democratic Party-affiliated organizations to suborn aspects of OWS, or to derail it when thwarted.  The latest is the snide organization called The 99% Spring.  As I predicted in January, they've managed to draw such luminaries as Bill McKibben into the borg.

Don't get sucked in.

99% Spring 2012 is as agitprop and phony as KONY 2012.

There'll be more Obama-supporting bullshit like this being rolled out as the Obama and DLC strategies try to work the social networks, etc.

Don't be fooled.

At the same time, the administration will be quietly backing legislation on the national and local levels that will try to disorganize us, make taking photographs of cops breaking the law illegal, and cutting off funding or media sources to the most outspoken of us.

They're fucked though unless they can get hired or coerced provocateurs to create violence, mayhem or worse.

Be peaceful.  Be organized.  Share the message.  Share the love.

This will be The American Spring.

Thanks, firedoglake, for being such a key element in the survival of this movement through the winter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

ASR Global Updates Fukushima Seaborne Radioactive Plume Report

ASR has updated its model of projected radioactive  contamination in the northern Central Pacific and North Pacific this week.

Here is a link to their report.

Here is a visualization of their model.  The contamination, as they are plotting it, is reaching Hawaii, but appears to still be about 700 miles south of the central Aleutian Islands:

Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now and RT TV, Speaking About Obama Pressures to Falsely Imprison Reporter Abdulelah Haider Shaye

I wrote about this the other day.

Democracy Now - Part One:

Democracy Now - Part Two:


Rachel Corrie Was Killed Nine Years Ago

Here's to Rachel Corrie.

Soon after American college senior Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer on the southern border of Gaza, American troops crossed into Iraq from its southern border.  The majority of the music in The Skies Are Weeping was written during the first seven months of our Iraqi invasion and occupation.  Some people said or wrote then that Rachel Corrie would soon be forgotten.

By the time the work was performed, after three cancellations, our Iraqi experience was quickly eroding.  Israel was moving out of Gaza.  Some people continued to say or write that Rachel  Corrie would soon be forgotten.

People were not forgetting Rachel Corrie.

Now, nine years after Corrie was most likely murdered, her legacy is growing.  Though Zionists immediately labeled her a terrorist upon her demise, and most U.S. politicians refused to answer any questions from constituents about her, Corrie's blooming legacy is of efforts in her memory for peace, human rights, comity, meaningful negotiations and rational non-violence.

The Skies Are Weeping was one of many, many early efforts by artists to honor her, and to share a message the artist found in her death.  Though designed for an American college percussion ensemble, opera workshop chorus and solo vocalist, it may never be performed at an American college.

That conceptual flaw isn't the only one in the cantata.  An uneven work musically, it takes a bit too long to say what it does.  It tries to say a lot, though.

The fetish aspects of repetition of Rachel Corrie images in three of the settings were intentional.  The piece is meant to both honor her as one of the first American war dead in our global war forever, and to show links to the plight of Palestinians, as their "circumstances," as Rachel put it, are eroded.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Drawings from the Past

Tug Miriam de Felice - 1982
I've been looking for images to go with my piano music at the new web site I'm building for putting a lot more of my music on the web.  My piano concerto and three piano toccatas are about boat trips in Alaska.

I scanned some drawings.  These three are from 1974, 1975 and 1982.  They were in notebooks I kept back then, with drawings, interviews and poems.

At the top, is the Miriam De Felice, headed through the Aleutians.

Reflecting on a Prince William Sound rainbow:

Design plans for a new pilot house on the Kannah Creek:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Killing Palestinians Now a Sporting Event on Israeli TV

Israeli Sport Played with Palestinian Lives
This screen shot from yesterday was picked up first by Israeli blogger, Ami KauffmanMondoweiss has now covered it too.  Please realize that some of the 25 people on the current Gaza score card are women and children.

Here's the score since the years 2000, in case you are curious:
Israeli children:  125
Palestinian children:  1,471
Total Israeli civilians:  731
Total Palestinian civilians:  4,226
Israelis killed in targeted killings:  1
Palestinians killed in targeted killings:  425 +
Israeli actual targets of targeted killings: 1
Palestinian actual targets of Israeli targeted killings:  251
The  picture from the Israeli television program brought this episode from early 2009 to many peoples' minds:

Why I Cannot Envision Voting for Obama in November

Scahill - Shaye - Obama
Jeremy Scahill is one of the most curious, thorough and courageous journalists working anywhere today.  As a writer, his book on the growth of military contractors such as Blackwater (now known as Xe Services LLC, uh - Academi), Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, won the George Polk Book Award.  His work with Democracy Now and The Nation is highly regarded by people concerned with the continuing abuse of American imperial power in the Obama administration.  Being a realist in terms of how Obama is conducting armed foreign policy has led to his being marginalized by apologists for these policies.

Scahill's bottom line is that these policies, particularly the killing of hundreds of innocent people (if not more!) by our growing fleet of armed drone aircraft, are counter productive, and against our country's long-term interests in many ways.  His latest article for The Nation, Why is President Obama Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen?, deals with aspects of that bottom line.  The article is far more chilling, though, in some of its content and message.  It shows quite clearly how the Obama administration's manipulation of some of the new powers it asserts for the chief executive are beyond troublesome.  The secretiveness of this administration is no secret on the real left.  Not expressed in Scahill's article, nor in Glen Greenwald's thorough assessment of it, is what bothers me most about this administration's growing uses of secrecy and extra-constitutional powers to go after its perceived enemies abroad - and here.

Once an American chief executive takes on new powers, his successor never backs down from that position.  Not even when, as Obama clearly did in 2008, the new president has promised to ratchet these powers down a notch or two.

Here's Greenwald's description of some of what Scahill and others have uncovered, regarding the imprisonment in Yemen of another courageous journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, at the direct behest of Obama.  The White House is disturbed that Shaye uncovered a major Obama lie regarding civilian deaths from drone strikes:
There is one reason that the world knows the truth about what really happened in al Majala that day: because the Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, traveled there and, as Scahill writes, “photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label ‘Made in the USA,’ and distributed the photos to international media outlets.” He also documented the remnants of the Tomahawks and cluster bombs, neither of which is in Yemen’s arsenal. And he provided detailed accounts proving that scores of civilians, including those 21 children, had been killed in the attacks. It was Shaye’s journalism that led Amnesty International to show the world the evidence that it was the U.S. which had perpetrated the attack using cluster bombs, and media outlets to reveal the horrifying extent of the civilian deaths. Shaye’s work was vindicated when WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable — allegedly provided by Bradley Manning — in which Yemen’s then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh joked with David Petraeus about continuing to lie to the public: ”We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
 Saleh, perhaps under pressure from the White House, had Shaye imprisoned without charge, tortured and abused:
Despite that important journalism — or, more accurately, because of it — Shaye is now in prison, thanks largely to President Obama himself. For the past two years, Shaye has been arrested, beaten, and held in solitary confinement by the security forces of Saleh, America’s obedient tyrant. In January, 2011, he was convicted in a Yemeni court of terrorism-related charges — alleging that he was not a reporter covering Al Qaeda but a mouthpiece for it — in a proceeding widely condemned by human rights groups around the world. “There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Scahill. The Yemen expert, Johnsen, added: “There is no publicly available evidence to suggest that Abdulelah was anything other than a journalist attempting to do his job.”
Shaye’s real crime is that he reported facts that the U.S. government and its Yemeni client regime wanted suppressed. But while the imprisonment of this journalist was ignored in the U.S, it became a significant controversy in Yemen. Numerous Yemeni tribal leaders, sheiks and activist groups agitated for his release, and in response, President Saleh, as the Yemeni press reported, had a pardon drawn up for him and was ready to sign it. That came to a halt when President Obama intervened. According to the White House’s own summary of Obama’s February 3, 2011, call with Saleh, “President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai.” The administration has repeatedly refused to present any evidence that Shaye is anything other than a reporter, and this is what State Department spokesperson Beth Gosselin told Scahill in response to his story:
“We are standing by [President Obama’s] comments from last February. We remain concerned about Shaye’s potential release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We stand by the president’s comments.” When asked whether the US government should present evidence to support its claims about Shaye’s association with AQAP, Gosselin said, “That is all we have to say about this case.”
So it is beyond dispute that the moving force behind the ongoing imprisonment of this Yemeni journalist is President Obama. And the fact that Shaye is in prison, rather than able to report, is of particular significance (and value to the U.S.) in light of the still escalating American attacks in that country. Over the past 3 days alone, American air assaults have killed 64 people in Yemen, while American media outlets — without anyone on the scene — dutifully report that those killed are “suspected Al Qaeda insurgents” and “militants.”
 This White House policy is not only stupid, it is dangerously blind.  And arrogant in a profoundly un-American way.

It is blind to how history works on a global scale.  And, importantly, it is blind to how a possible GOP successor to this president might use these same tools of dictatorship against what he or she perceives to be a threat, foreign - or domestic.  During the past few months, Obamas and the U.S. Congress have undermined the Constitution in so many ways, it is hard to keep score.  Just this past week, we've been given the anti-Occupy H.R. 347, that would make our citizens' protests outside the White House felonies.

I've never voted for an incumbent president before.  It doesn't look like that will change.  This really sucks, as I've got a feeling that the Israel Lobby will be backing whichever jerk the GOP pulls out of their hat in Tampa, and that they might be powerful enough in the 2012 scenario to be the final arbiter of who ends up winning in November.

The dilemma for me is not whether or not I will vote for Obama, but how strenuously I'll be backing an alternative candidate, such as Dr. Jill Stein, should she get the Green Party nomination.

But - no matter what - I cannot in good conscience consider marking Obama on my ballot.