Sunday, July 31, 2005

“Gateway to the Apocalypse”1

We have a President who has openly stated that he believes that he is doing God’s bidding (and therefore anything he does is blessed, which renders him incapable of making a mistake)—this is clearly the description of a megalomaniac. He made this megalomania of his very clear before we went ahead and voted him into office a second time, to give him a second go at bringing on the Apocalypse, which must only have strengthened his belief that his every act is simply the manifestation of God’s will.

It is an indication of the depth of our own collective insanity that when our leaders deliberately act to hasten the arrival of the Apocalypse, and even tell us they’re doing exactly that, we all just continue to go along our merry happy-idiot ways. If we have wondered why Bush shows no hint of anguish over the cost in lives of his actions, it is no doubt because he believes he is not responsible; God is responsible, and by definition, God can do no wrong.

Meanwhile, on the legal front, the President rejects Republican-sponsored legislation “that would prohibit cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment of prisoners as…an undue restriction of his powers.” Since when did an American President ever have the power to order someone tortured? Where is that codified in law? It certainly is not to be found in the Constitution. (Gee, W, “King George” is an epithet, not an appellation!)

As I mull such things over, I find myself nearly at a loss to respond in any logical way, because what’s the point of addressing such illogic as if it had some meaning or substance? We find ourselves with leaders whose stated intent is to bring on the destruction of this world, in the belief that (a) this is what God wants them to do, and (b) this will allow them to witness the Second Coming in their lifetime—of what use is logic in the face of such abject insanity? These leaders believe that they alone should have absolute power over the lives of all, to imprison anyone without due process and to torture and kill them at will, and further, most frighteningly, they believe they have the wisdom to make these choices.

The current administration has made a mockery of both Christianity and democracy, and they use “freedom” as a meaningless trademark. How “free” are we when any person, citizen or not, can be imprisoned indefinitely, without evidence or due process? How “Christian” are we when we torture anyone, innocent or guilty? Such actions are not based upon “Christianity” in any sense of the doctrine—there is absolutely nothing that we know about Christ and his teachings that would condone what’s being done by the Bush Administration.

Remember the derision that greeted those who were “good Germans” during Hitler’s regime? Are we beginning to have a bit more sympathy for their plight? As long as we allow the Bush administration to continue business as usual, we are step-by-step, drawing ever closer to taking the cloak of “good Germans” upon ourselves.

“Gateway to the Apocalypse”? Thanks, but I’d prefer “Stairway to Heaven”…
1 from “The Christian Paradox,” by Bill McKibben. Harper’s Magazine, August 2005: “…the pastor, urging his flock to support the administration, declared that ‘the war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse.’[House Speaker Tom] DeLay rose to speak, not only to the congregation but to 225 Christian TV and radio stations. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, ‘what has been spoken here tonight is the truth of God.’

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Legacy without end

Recently, a research article in Science caught my eye: “Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors and Male Fertility”1 and it is a stunner. The key word is “transgenerational,” because the damage described has been documented to the fourth generation of offspring, so far.

Just a single dose of a fungicide (or most probably, any of numerous other ubiquitous endocrine disruptors) to a pregnant rat was found to produce huge deficits in the fertility of males that were effectively the great-great-grandsons of the dosed female, as measured in the offspring of those males still able to produce offspring; many were completely infertile along the way.

Endocrine disruptors have been widely reported to adversely affect male fertility in mammals and other vertebrates, but this is the first paper to document that such germ line damage is then passed to subsequent generations, for at least four generations. Other research2 determined that the same “epigenetic” mode of inheritance also produced demonstrable changes, such as coat color, in subsequent generations.

Researchers have also noted that exposure to pesticides (many of which are endocrine disruptors) causes both reduced quantity and viability of sperm in humans3, primarily in rural areas where pesticide exposures tend to be higher, and that these deficits are directly correlated with the quantity of pesticides measured in the men.

If we needed any more cause for concern over these chemicals (not just pesticides, but also PCBs, PBDEs, bisphenol A, phthalates, and others), such compounds also have been found to cause cognitive effects4 analogous to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Are such cognitive effects also transgenerational in nature?

This is a wake-up call, about the potential for lasting change to the genome that does not come from genetic mutation, but from epigenetic alterations. Unlike a chromosomal mutation that would randomly change the genetic code, producing different varieties of mutations, epigenetic changes address the state of chemical modification of DNA, which alters the rate at which the genes coded by that DNA are expressed.

Methylation (the addition of -CH3 groups to DNA) is one such epigenetic mechanism that has been widely studied, and it is also the type of epigenetic change addressed in the studies cited here. With epigenetic change having been shown to produce heritable changes, we need to entirely rethink the sorts of assays we do to assess whether a given substance is a mutagen, because substances that are not mutagens may produce epigenetic changes that are every bit as significant as any mutational change.

The terse concluding line of the abstract1 is an understatement of vast proportions:

“The ability of an environmental factor…to reprogram the germ line and to promote a transgenerational disease state has significant implications for evolutionary biology and disease etiology.”

“To reprogram the germ line”: that’s what it’s all about. Blunderingly, we are presently “reprogramming the germ line” of potentially every mammalian species on earth, including our own. This is the legacy we leave to future generations? Not only have we polluted every corner of the planet, but we’ve also polluted our own genome? And faced with that horrid realization, will we try to reverse course?

At least the extinction of the dinosaurs, tragic as it was for the dinosaurs, was not something of their own deliberate creation. It does appear that we humans are endowed with far more brains than common sense, and too much ability to do lasting harm without any concomitant understanding of what it is we’re doing. Perhaps anthropogenic germ line modification will take care of all that for us. What a pathetic waste.

1“Epigenetic Transgenerational Actions of Endocrine Disruptors and Male Fertility,” Matthew D. Anway, Andrea S. Cupp, Mehmet Uzumcu, and Michael K. Skinner. Science, June 3, 2005.

2“Transgenerational inheritance of epigenetic states at the murine AxinFu allele occurs after maternal and paternal transmission,” Vardhman K. Rakyan, Suyinn Chong, Marnie E. Champ, Peter C. Cuthbert, Hugh D. Morgan, Keith V. K. Luu, and Emma Whitelaw. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 4, 2003.

3“Semen Quality in Relation to Biomarkers of Pesticide Exposure,” Shanna H. Swan, Robin L. Kruse, Fan Liu, Dana B. Barr, Erma Z. Drobnis, J. Bruce Redmon, Christina Wang, Charlene Brazil, James W. Overstreet, and the Study for Future Families Research Group. Environmental Health Perspectives, September 2003.

4“Cognitive Effects of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in Animals,”
Susan L. Schantz and John J. Widholm. Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2001.

A sampling of related article links:

“Pesticides reduce fertility in males and their offspring,” Rowan Hooper. NewScientist, June 11, 2005.

“Endocrine Disrupters Trigger Fertility Problems in Multiple Generations,” Jocelyn Kaiser. Science, June 3, 2005.

A list of related articles, with synopses, by

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Plame’s CIA role: view from the inside

Eleven former intelligence officers provide,* in a letter to Senate and House leadership, their insights regarding the treatment of Valerie Plame, particularly noting the inanity and inaccuracy of those in the media who’ve labeled her a mere desk jockey. One excerpt:

“These comments [from media personalities and politicians] reveal an astonishing ignorance of the intelligence community and the role of cover. The fact is that there are thousands of U.S. intelligence officers who ‘work at a desk’ in the Washington, D.C. area every day who are undercover. Some have official cover, and some have non-official cover. Both classes of cover must and should be protected.”
* courtesy of Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo,

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rove admits he violated terms of nondisclosure agreement, yet still claims he’s blameless


“I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.”
- Robert Novak, in a July 2003 interview about Valerie Plame and her status as a CIA operative

“I heard that too.”
- Karl Rove, testifying about what he said to Robert Novak about Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA operative, during their July 8, 2003 telephone conversation

I continue to watch, rapt with morbid fascination, as Rove and his lawyer work their obfuscatory magic, listening as their version of reality is then spouted forth from our puppetized “news” media outlets, and I worry that the chaos they spin will succeed in confusing all and sundry.

It is truly mind-boggling to try to follow the claims of the Rove forces, here trotted out on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, announcing that Rove is a whistle-blower / hero in his endeavor to destroy Joseph Wilson by destroying his wife’s career and putting her at risk of serious harm (as retribution for Wilson’s June 6, 2003 exposé of Bush’s lies used to start our preemptive war upon Iraq). To those of us with our feet firmly planted in the “reality-based” camp, such a mischaracterization smacks of a hallucinogen-laced water supply, or suggests a rent between two parallel universes, so it was with relief that I stumbled upon the following clear explication of the issues involved in Rove’s disclosure...

From Representative Henry Waxman’s website, and printed in its entirety:

Friday, July 15, 2005 -- A fact sheet released by Rep. Waxman explains that the nondisclosure agreement signed by Karl Rove prohibited Mr. Rove from confirming the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Wilson to reporters. Under the nondisclosure agreement and the applicable executive order, even “negligent” disclosures to reporters are grounds for revocation of a security clearance or dismissal.

FACT SHEET: Karl Rove’s Nondisclosure Agreement
by Representative Henry A. Waxman

Today, news reports revealed that Karl Rove, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff and the President’s top political advisor, confirmed the identity of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson with Robert Novak on July 8, 2003, six days before Mr. Novak published the information in a nationally syndicated column. These new disclosures have obvious relevance to the criminal investigation of Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Counsel who is investigating whether Mr. Rove violated a criminal statute by revealing Ms. Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA official.

Independent of the relevance these new disclosures have to Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation, they also have significant implications for: (1) whether Mr. Rove violated his obligations under his “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement” and (2) whether the White House violated its obligations under Executive Order 12958. Under the nondisclosure agreement and the executive order, Mr. Rove would be subject to the loss of his security clearance or dismissal even for “negligently” disclosing Ms. Wilson’s identity.

Karl Rove’s Nondisclosure Agreement

Executive Order 12958 governs how federal employees are awarded security clearances in order to obtain access to classified information. It was last updated by President George W. Bush on March 25, 2003, although it has existed in some form since the Truman era. The executive order applies to any entity within the executive branch that comes into possession of classified information, including the White House. It requires employees to undergo a criminal background check, obtain training on how to protect classified information, and sign a “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement,” also known as a SF-312, promising not to reveal classified information. [1] The nondisclosure agreement signed by White House officials such as Mr. Rove states: “I will never divulge classified information to anyone” who is not authorized to receive it. [2]

The Prohibition against “Confirming” Classified Information

Mr. Rove, through his attorney, has raised the implication that there is a distinction between releasing classified information to someone not authorized to receive it and confirming classified information from someone not authorized to have it. In fact, there is no such distinction under the nondisclosure agreement Mr. Rove signed.

One of the most basic rules of safeguarding classified information is that an official who has signed a nondisclosure agreement cannot confirm classified information obtained by a reporter. In fact, this obligation is highlighted in the “briefing booklet” that new security clearance recipients receive when they sign their nondisclosure agreements:

Before ... confirming the accuracy of what appears in the public source, the signer of the SF 312 must confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified. If it has not, ... confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure. [3]

The Independent Duty to Verify the Classified Status of Information

Mr. Rove’s attorney has implied that if Mr. Rove learned Ms. Wilson’s identity and occupation from a reporter, this somehow makes a difference in what he can say about the information. This is inaccurate. The executive order states: “Classified information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.” [4]

Mr. Rove was not at liberty to repeat classified information he may have learned from a reporter. Instead, he had an affirmative obligation to determine whether the information had been declassified before repeating it. The briefing booklet is explicit on this point: “before disseminating the information elsewhere ... the signer of the SF 312 must confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified.” [5]

“Negligent” Disclosure of Classified Information

Mr. Rove’s attorney has also implied that Mr. Rove’s conduct should be at issue only if he intentionally or knowingly disclosed Ms. Wilson’s covert status. In fact, the nondisclosure agreement and the executive order require sanctions against security clearance holders who “knowingly, willfully, or negligently” disclose classified information. [6] The sanctions for such a breach include “reprimand, suspension without pay, removal, termination of classification authority, loss or denial of access to classified information, or other sanctions.” [7]

The White House Obligations under Executive Order 12958

Under the executive order, the White House has an affirmative obligation to investigate and take remedial action separate and apart from any ongoing criminal investigation. The executive order specifically provides that when a breach occurs, each agency must “take appropriate and prompt corrective action.” [8] This includes a determination of whether individual employees improperly disseminated or obtained access to classified information.

The executive order further provides that sanctions for violations are not optional. The executive order expressly provides: “Officers and employees of the United States Government ... shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently ... disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified.” [9]

There is no evidence that the White House complied with these requirements.

End Notes

[1] Executive Order No. 12958, Classified National Security Information (as amended), sec. 4.1(a) (Mar. 28, 2003) (online at

[2] Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, Standard Form 312 (Prescribed by NARA/ISOO) (32 C.F.R. 2003, E.O. 12958) (online at$file/SF312.pdf).

[3] Information Security Oversight Office, National Archives and Records Administration, Briefing Booklet: Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement (Standard Form 312), at 73 (emphasis added) (online at

[4] Executive Order No. 12958, sec. 1.1(b).

[5] Briefing Booklet, supra note 3, at 73.

[6] Executive Order No. 12958, sec. 5.5(b) (emphasis added).

[7] Id. at 5.5(c).

[8] Id. at 5.5(e)(1).

[9] Id. at 5.5(b).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Game Boy

In what are supposed to be the lazy days of summer, I struggle to keep up with the Rove - Wilson - Plame - (Bush) story as it unfolds, and it’s hard to know where to start. But I think I would choose Rove’s characterization of Wilson’s wife, Plame, as being “fair game,” because really, doesn’t that explain the whole story, while also shining a harsh light of truth on Rove’s (and the GOP’s) view of women, and wives in particular?

Of course I am disturbed about the “outting” of Plame’s CIA role, a role that has been progressively minimized by GOP spinners, first calling her “undercover” when her role was far more than that—she was actually “a non-official cover officer,” which “meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.”*

In other words, she had agreed to put her life at serious risk in service to her country, admittedly a foreign concept to the Bush Whitehouse. But that downgrading of her profession wasn’t good enough; they’re now referring to her as a “desk jockey,”* whose outting is irrelevant. Liars never know when to stop.

There has been plenty of discussion on the possible repercussions of having her cover blown, creating serious risks to her and her contacts (and her cover organization) as well as destroying her ability to do her job (which focused on issues of WMDs, something Bush is comfortable ridiculing in his fatuous schoolyard clown way), but I keep coming back to the idea of Rove considering her to be “fair game” in his dispute with her husband. Fair game??? Rove is clearly one sick puppy if he thinks it reasonable to take revenge against a man by attacking his wife. (Revenge for what? For telling the truth? This sounds like nothing so much as a criminal enterprise that the RICO laws were written to address!)

So, I continue to spend the bulk of my non-working, non-sleeping hours trying to keep up with this story, and all the other idiocy emanating from the current regime. But there are not enough hours in the day! We are being buried in flotsam (and I mean that in the water treatment plant sort of way) to a degree unknown in my (long) lifetime! How can anyone keep up, but what happens if we don’t?

Fair game, indeed. Rove wouldn’t know a fair game if it bit him on the ass.

*“The Big Lie About Valerie Plame,” by Larry Johnson, at Josh Marshall’s TPM Cafe. Johnson further describes the role of the CIA’s more common undercover officers: “[we were] undercover—in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport—i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.”