Thursday, December 23, 2004

The World's Only Missile Silo Luxury Home with Runway

Exclusive airport subdivision nestled in upstate NY'S Adirondack State Park.
FAA/DOT approved private paved runway 20 acres of manicured ground, forest and trails (with additional 85 acres available), privacy, security and low taxes. Year-round activities.
2000 sf home with open floor plan, large garage, kitchen, open pit fireplace and wrap around covered porch. Surface home acting as entrance to 20,000 plus sf secure underground facility.
Contemporary finished interior 2 story structure, 40' diameter containing 2300 sf 3 bedroom, 2 bath luxury home.
Silo climate constant/approx. 58 degree earth ambient temperature. 52' diameter x 178' deep / 9 floor steel superstructure. Entire steel superstructure hangs from gigantic spring suspension system designed to absorb shock of a direct nuclear hit. Unlimited possibilities!
New well / 200 amp electrical service / phone / original 1800 gallon functional septic. Contemporary fiber optic effect lighting along with natural sunlight rendition back lighting. High circulation venting (two 18" vent tubes), specifically designed to handle the demands of everyday living as well as those that may be posed in a crisis situation. (i.e. a nuclear or biochemical attack).


"Collective Behavior"

The "Pollock-like" photographs of a massive starrling flock.

Zappa on Crossfire in 1986

During this culture war Chrismas, treat yourself to Frank Zappa as panelist on the subject of words and censorship.

Potential for Atomic Clock Wristwatches

The complete working clock would be sugar cube-sized and would run on just 73 milliwatts -- small enough for it to be incorporated into battery-powered handheld devices such as mobile phones.
The clocks currently used in most electronic devices are based on quartz oscillators, in which minute vibrating quartz crystals produce precise pulses. But their accuracy can be adversely affected by factors such as temperature.
By contrast, the atomic clock would be accurate to within a second every 300 years, making it more than 1,000 times more reliable than a very good wristwatch.

Dollar Signs on the Airwaves

The Bush administration is expected to press for speedier licensing of public airwaves for auction to private companies. But telecom regulators say wireless apps need unlicensed spectrum too.

Bill O'Reilly: 'Misinformer' of the Year and Only "Defender" of Christmas

Media Matters for America announced that it has awarded its first annual "Misinformer of the Year" title to Fox News Channel's O'Reilly -- who beat out Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Britt Hume and Bob Novak for "top honors."
"Our staff analyzed more than 1,000 instances of conservative misinformation captured on our website and tallied the number of times members of the media espoused lies, distortions, or mischaracterizations of fact in order to further the conservative agenda," said David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America.
"In the end, Mr. O'Reilly stood out from all the rest."
Also from
Continuing to tout his struggle against the "media forces of darkness" who seek to eliminate Christmas from the public sphere, O'Reilly characterized the perceived fight on his December 20 show, saying "all I'm doing is sticking up for is the baby Jesus," and noting that -- as a result of criticism of the imagined battle -- "somewhere, Jesus is weeping." Read more »

Open Source News in Greensboro

The Greensboro News & Record is looking to make a "transformative, revolutionary change" by turning its Web site into "more of an online community or public square," inviting bloggers and the general public to add and comment throughout their website. Journalism professor and citizen journalism advocate Jay Rosen offers some advice and other observations. Record editor Lex Alexander wants more. "We want -- we NEED -- your input and help," he writes on his own blog. [from]

Physicists suggest natural selection acts on the quantum world

If, as quantum mechanics says, observing the world tends to change it, how is it that we can agree on anything at all? Why doesn't each person leave a slightly different version of the world for the next person to find? Because, say the researchers, certain special states of a system are promoted above others by a quantum form of natural selection, which they call quantum darwinism. Information about these states proliferates and gets imprinted on the environment. So observers coming along and looking at the environment in order to get a picture of the world tend to see the same 'preferred' states.If it wasn't for quantum darwinism, the researchers suggest in Physical Review Letters1, the world would be very unpredictable: different people might see very different versions of it.

Nevada high court says ‘Son of Sam’ law is unconstitutional

A state law allowing victims of felonies to collect money from offenders who produce books, magazines or movies related to the crime is an unconstitutional violation of free speech, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled.
In striking down the state’s “Son of Sam” law, the court said that author and convicted felon Jimmy Lerner has a legal right to write a book — and reap its profits — that included details about suffocating his friend during a 1997 fistfight and going to prison for the slaying.

Conyers hears election horror stories

The session was more than merely an opportunity for citizens to “vent” their frustrations. “We cannot vent and then have Congress not act. If these reports are not investigated, we have all wasted our time,” declared Rev. Jackson, himself a two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. “This cannot simply be an academic venting session. Take this struggle to the streets and legitimize it there, as they did in Selma.”
Many witnesses pointed out that the entire election process may have been flawed in Ohio. Those flaws were outlined in a letter that Rep. Conyers and 11 other Democratic representatives sent earlier this month to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
The letter, as well as testimony at the hearing in Washington, makes a convincing case for continuing the examination of the problems caused by Mr. Blackwell—who was also Chair of the Ohio Bush-Cheney 2004 election team—made of the voting in Ohio on Nov. 2.

Backfire: Turning Pickets Into Pledges

It's an ingenious idea. Create a no-win situation for anti-choice protesters — the more picketers who demonstrate outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, the more donations the Planned Parenthood clinic receives.
A number of Planned Parenthood affiliates have created different versions of this scenario. Here's how it works at Planned Parenthood of Central Texas (PPCT) in Waco, where the Pledge-a-Picket program is going strong: Each time a protester shows up at the clinic, a donation is made to PPCT. This campaign makes lemonade out of lemons by allowing Planned Parenthood supporters to pledge between 25 cents and one dollar per protester.

Priate Radio Calling for inauguration protests

CNN is reporting that a guerilla radio station is calling for massive protests of the inauguration of President George W. Bush. After some googling, I found a press release from WSQT on indymedia concerning the transmissions. It seems that they are somehow related to DAWNdc a local leftist activist organization. Here is how they are reacting to the sudden attention. [from]

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

When will Coca-Cola stop acting like Big Tobacco?

"Like Big Tobacco, Coca-Cola has the right to push their product. Like Big Tobacco, Coca-Cola knows of the health risks of their product, yet prefer silence to safeguarding children," writes John Borowski. After publishing an earlier article, Borowski was contacted by Coca-Cola's principal manager of scientific and regulatory affairs, who suggested the piece "misinformed" readers. "Soft drinks do not cause obesity, soft drinks do not cause osteoporosis and finally, there is no data to link soft drink consumption to diabetes," the Coca-Cola executive stated. After challenging those claims, Borowski writes, "May Coca-Cola executives wake up Christmas morning to find the gift of corporate integrity, ethical standards and moral fiber tucked neatly under their tree." [from]

A Week of Inauguration Protests Planned

Inauguration week will feature rallies, marches and demonstrations with the focus on peaceful, family-friendly gatherings, said organizer Shahid Buttar. Hundreds of groups throughout the country will participate, Buttar said, including Mobilization for Global Justice and the Committee to ReDefeat the President, a PAC that sees Bush's presidency as illegitimately won.
The groups have received permits for parks around the city, Buttar said, but they are still waiting for clearance to march along the Inaugural Parade route. More details will be released once all permits have been secured, said David Lytel, founder of Redefeat Bush.

Evidence against Utility of Affirmative Action

[R]esearchers Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber found that racial preferences at Ivy League colleges had a large and negative effect on the academic aspirations of black students. The mechanism worked like this: Blacks admitted to elite schools with large preferences had more trouble competing with their classmates, and tended to get lower grades. Low grades, in turn, sapped the confidence of students, persuading them that they would not be able to compete effectively in PhD programs. As a result, blacks at Ivy League schools were only half as likely as blacks at state universities to stick with plans for an academic career.
Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliot and three co- authors found that the same problem was keeping blacks out of the sciences.
Black students who received preferential admissions were at such a strong academic disadvantage compared with their classmates that fully half of those interested in the sciences tended to switch to majors with easier grading and less competition.
Again, the net effect of preferential policies was to "mismatch" blacks with their academic environments. My research over the last two years, using recent data that track more than 30,000 law students and lawyers, has documented even more serious and pervasive mismatch effects in legal education.

Observers rule out computer tampering

Election officials watched Monday as a technician repeated a repair he had made to a vote tallying computer, then announced they had found no evidence of any sort of tampering, despite a congressman's request for an FBI probe.
Observers, including a Green Party representative who had sought a presidential recount, agreed the procedure did not alter the Election Day vote total in the county, Hocking County Prosecutor Larry Beal said.
"Everybody felt better," he said.

Bleary Days for Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the Prize, the landmark documentary on the civil rights movement, is no longer broadcast or sold new in the United States. It's illegal.
The 14-part series highlights key events in black Americans' struggle for equality and is considered an essential resource by educators and historians, but the filmmakers no longer have clearance rights to much of the archival footage used in the documentary. It cannot be rebroadcast on PBS (where it originally aired) or any other channels, and cannot be released on DVD until the rights are cleared again and paid for.
...Securing clearance rights to archival footage is a growing problem for independent filmmakers -- and documentary filmmakers in particular. Filmmakers must pay for the rights to use every song, photograph or video clip included in the film. Since many documentary films are made with small budgets, filmmakers often can only afford to buy rights for a limited amount of time. That leaves many filmmakers essentially renting footage, and rendering their work unusable after a certain number of years unless they can find more funding to clear the rights again.
Eyes on the Prize is only one example of documentaries that are in limbo.


In every American platoon, it seems, there's a MacGyver or a B.A. Baracus -- someone who can make just about anything, out of just about nothing. How else can you explain U.S. soldiers' amazing ability to piece together scraps and leftovers, and turn 'em into everything from gun turrets to armored Humvees?
With that in mind, nonproliferation expert Russell Seitz has put together a soldiers' shopping list of (mostly) off-the-shelf items that American troops could put to good use, in a hurry.

Wal-Mart elected "Grinch of the Year" for 2004

The retailing giant Wal-Mart was named 'Grinch of the Year' in a national online poll held between December 6 and December 22 by Jobs with Justice.
Wal-Mart is a fitting recipient of the Grinch title. As the United States' largest retailer and largest employer, Wal-Mart is a driving force in setting wage standards wherever its stores are located. Despite nearly $9 billion in profits, its wages are so low that many employees are eligible for food stamps. Even so, local taxpayers often finance Wal-Mart's expansion through tax breaks and development incentives.
Wal-Mart has created such high barriers to qualify for its health care benefits, that many workers are left dependent on publicly financed medical services, a largely hidden taxpayer subsidy. According to a research study in California, Wal-Mart workers seek $86 million a year in state aid because of inadequate wages and benefits. In effect, Wal-mart cleverly shifts a portion of its labor costs to the public.

U.S. Cuts Contributions To World Food-aid Programs

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would only have money to pay for food in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.
As a result, Save Our Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

Scared of Santa Photo Gallery

Nothing says Happy Holidays like a photo of sweet little toddlers screaming at Santa. The first 25 photos in this gallery are from the Chicago Tribune's "Scared of Santa" contest in 2003. All the rest of the photos were submitted by readers this year. Enjoy!
First place: No one, not even the office Grinches, failed to laugh at this shot from Valerie Miller of Lansing, who captured now-22-year-old daughter Amie’s first glimpse of St. Nick--artfully rendered in plastic. It’s the first in a series that Miller says she torments Amie with every year. Now this is a mom who knows what Christmas is all about.
43 images [from]

9/11 Legislation Launches Misguided Data-Mining and Domestic Surveillance Schemes

~ Section 1016 - a.k.a. "TIA II" ~
A clause authorizing the creation of a massive "Information Sharing Environment" (ISE) to link "all appropriate Federal, State, local, and tribal entities, and the private sector."
This vast network links the information in public and private databases, which poses the same kind of threat to our privacy and freedom that the notorious Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program did. Yet the IRTPA contains no meaningful safeguards against unchecked data mining other than directing the President to issue guidelines. It also includes a definition of "terrorist information" that is frighteningly broad.

~ Section 4012 and Sections 7201-7220 - a.k.a. "CAPPS III" ~
A number of provisions that provide the statutory basis for "Secure Flight," the government's third try at a controversial passenger-screening system that has consistently failed to pass muster for protecting passenger privacy.
The basic concept: the government will force commercial air carriers to hand over your private travel information and compare it with a "consolidated and integrated terrorist watchlist." It will also establish a massive "counterterrorist travel intelligence" infrastructure that calls for travel data mining ("recognition of travel patterns, tactics, and behavior exhibited by terrorists").

Mobile-phone radiation damages lab DNA

The research does not provide definitive proof that equivalent radiation harms people who use mobile phones. But the researchers emphasize that more extensive studies to test this link should be done, and that, until then, phone users should be cautious.
Controversy has raged for years over whether the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones can trigger tumours or Alzheimer's disease, or can otherwise harm human health. But the evidence showing whether and how radiation damages cells, and so might cause disease, has been scant and contradictory.

More Background on the Mystery Spy Satellite Program

The National Security Archives last week posted an excerpt from Jeffrey Richelson's book The Wizards of Langley, which first described the MISTY program, and has now added some remarkable declassified documents obtained by Richelson which trace the historical roots of the stealth satellite concept as far back as 1963. [from Secrecy News]

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

*The 2004 Recount in Ohio: County Reports

Click the map or the menu at right to access the recount report for that county. The blue menus at right list which counties currently have reports available and for which counties reports are still pending. We are adding new reports daily as we receive them from our volunteer recount observers in the field.

Election "Irregularities"

Democrats' lawyer asks Blackwell for investigation of TRIAD tampering
Kerry-Edwards '04, 12/15
Congressman implicated in vote fraud
Seminole Chronicle [Oviedo, FL], 12/16
Recount continues in Ohio as vote machine company makes odd "service calls"
Associated Press, 12/16
According to a sworn statement from Sherole Eaton, the county's deputy director of elections, a TRIAD representative told her on Friday he wanted to inspect the county's tabulating machine. She said the employee then told her that ''the battery in the computer was dead and that the stored information was gone."''He proceeded to take the computer apart and call his office to get information to input into our computer," Eaton said.
Recount observer not allowed to inspect machines
The Advocate [Newark, OH], 12/16
Mary Lewin, the recount observer for Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik, wanted to inspect the voting machines as part of the recount, but her request was denied."They threatened to have me thrown out of the recount because I raised certain questions," Lewin said. "We felt we had a right to look at the machines. You can't look at the ballot in isolation of the ballot assembly."
Ohio Justice throws out election challenge
Associated Press, 12/16
Ohio election officials obstruct recount, say Greens
Press release, Green Party, 12/17
"Ohio election officials are violating both the spirit and the letter of the law governing the recount," said Cobb-LaMarche Media Director Blair Bobier.In two counties, Monroe and Fairfield, election officials have refused to do a full hand recount, as required under Ohio election law, when hand and machine tallies don't match. They instead have opted to get new machines to count the votes.In the vast majority of counties, election officials have pre-selected precincts to be sampled, rather than chosen them randomly, as required by law. In Cuyahoga County, the pre-selection of precincts eliminated those which reported the most problems on Election Day, thwarting the intent of the recount and raising serious concerns about the integrity of the process.
Kerry, Bush pick up votes in Ohio
Associated Press, 12/17
"Please, please, please, count all the votes"
The Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 12/17
Election challenge refiled by activists
Associated Press, 12/18
“Everyone felt better” after technician “repeated a repair”
Associated Press, 12/20
Election official “must have mis-heard” about patch installed on computer
Wired, 12/20
Votes ought to be counted
Editorial, The New York Times, 12/20
[compiled by]

Military has access to student records

The privacy form, which also includes other disclosure information, goes to all public school students across the state. Many schools have sent the form out; at others, it is making its way to homes this week.
The form has been sent out for years as part of routine DOE information gathering to be used in the release of such things as honors and awards.
But this is only the second year that it has included the notice of potential disclosure to the military.

At Guantanamo, a Prison Within a Prison

The buildings used by the CIA are shrouded by high fences covered with thick green mesh plastic and ringed with floodlights, officials said. They sit within the larger Camp Echo complex, which was erected to house the Defense Department's high-value detainees and those awaiting military trials on terrorism charges.
The facility has housed detainees from Pakistan, West Africa, Yemen and other countries under the strictest secrecy, the sources said. "People are constantly leaving and coming," said one U.S. official who visited the base in recent months. It is unclear whether the facility is still in operation today. The CIA and the Defense Department declined to comment.

Climate Change Denial: A Note to Journalists

A recent survey of peer-reviewed studies published in Science magazine found no respected research debunking human-related activities as a major cause of climate change.
“The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” Science Magazine (Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1686 , 3 December 2004)
Even the Bush administration’s 2002 report on climate change made this point clear.
“Greenhouse gasses are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise”
US Climate Action Report (U.S. Department of State, May 2002)

The confusion in the public’s mind comes largely from a privately financed public relations campaign sponsored, at least in part, by petroleum interests.
The funding and intentions of this campaign became clear on May 28, 2003, when The New York Times broke the story. The paper discovered the following:
"Exxon now gives more than $1 million a year to such organizations, which include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, the George C. Marshall Institute, the American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research and the American Legislative Exchange Council."
"Exxon's publicly disclosed documents reveal that donations to many of these organizations increased by more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2002."
“Exxon Backs Groups That Question Global Warming” Jennifer Lee, New York Times, May 28, 2003
Much like the “scientists” hired by the tobacco industry to find that cigarette smoke had no connection with lung cancer, these groups represent a well-funded effort to confuse the public about the science, risks, and severity of climate change.

US Meat Plants Violating Mad Cow Rules-Inspectors

U.S. meat plants are allowing brains and spinal cord from older cattle to enter the food supply, violating strict government regulations aimed at preventing the spread of mad cow disease, a federal meat inspectors union said on Monday.
Nearly a year after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, meat plants have yet to implement measures required by the U.S. Agriculture Department to protect consumers, said the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals.
"We are seeing little to no change at these plants," said Stan Painter, the union's chairman.

Medicated Humans Setting Off Radiation Detectors

Cat litter, granite and truckloads of porcelain toilets headed for Home Depot and Lowes are setting off radiation alarms. And they're not remotely as "hot" as the humans.
With the explosion of nuclear medicine, physicians are giving radioactive drugs to people an estimated 20 million times a year. For a few days to several weeks those people are emitting gamma rays, beta particles or X-rays that can radiate beyond the walls of cars, buses and subway trains to reach the attention of anti-terror authorities.

Vote for Grinch of the Year

You can read below about why these are the nominees for the Grinch who did the most harm to working families this year. Find out more about the results of last year's election here.
Continental General Tire

US threatens UN agency funds over report

The lead writer of a U.N. report on freedom and governance in the Arab world said on Saturday the United States was threatening to cut off funds to a U.N. agency if the United Nations releases it.
Nader Fergani, the Egyptian social scientist who has worked on the last three Arab Human Development Reports, told Reuters defying the United States could cost the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) about $100 million a year.
U.S. officials have denied trying to delay or suppress the report, which was originally due to come out in October. But U.N. officials said parts are being rewritten after the United States and some Arab governments asked for changes.
Fergani said the United States had already penalised UNDP by $12 million because it did not like the previous report.

Saudi Arabia to Join Kyoto Protocol

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, on Monday approved the Kyoto protocol on climate change, the offial SPA agency reported.
The cabinet took the decision and "a royal decree has been prepared to this effect," the agency said.
The United States and Australia are the only two main industrialised nations not to have signed the treaty which seeks to control greenhouse gas emissions thought to be responsible for global warming, due to come into force in February.

Pennsylvania Parents File First-Ever Challenge to “Intelligent Design” Instruction in Public School

"Teaching students about religion’s role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

*Evidence of Bush Directly Authorizing Torture

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from "On Scene Commander--Baghdad" to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

Auditors Say That Government's Records Are So Inadequate They Cannot Be Evaluated, but Bush Official Cites Progress

The U.S. government's financial record-keeping is so inadequate that congressional auditors said last week that they could not determine whether the federal books meet generally accepted accounting principles.
It was the eighth fiscal year in a row that the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was unable to provide a definitive opinion on the quality of the federal government's consolidated financial statements.

Google plugs desktop search hole

They managed to trick the Google desktop search program into inserting those results into other web pages where an attacker could read them. This would only work after a user had visited an attacker's website, upon which a Java program (as created by the Rice group) would be able to fool the Google desktop software into providing the user's search information. The program was able to do anything with the results, including transmitting them back to the attacking site.
...According to a statement from the web search company on Monday, it has rolled out a fix for the vulnerability that a US computer scientist and two of his students found in the tool in late November.

ISP wins $1 billion in spam suit

Robert Kramer, who owns CIS Internet Services, sued 300 spammers after his servers received up to 10 million spam e-mails a day in 2000, according to court documents.
"It's definitely a victory for all of us that open up our e-mail and find lewd and malicious and fraudulent e-mail in our boxes every day," Kramer told the Quad-City Times in Davenport.

Anti-Gay Activists Target Gay Employees

I received this same email from Alan Keyes and Larry Klayman. -McLir

The email includes:
"What I'm talking about is that homosexuals who work for American companies, in increasing numbers, are demanding and getting the same benefits for their "partners" as a legally-married husband and wife.
In fact, a homosexual 'partner' can move in on Sunday and begin getting benefits on Monday! And these FREE benefits include free healthcare, bereavement and family leave benefits, free life insurance, the use of fitness facilities, AND sick leave. And to be "fair," these companies sometimes (not always!) extend the same benefits to live-in boyfriends and girlfriends of heterosexuals, too.
Of course, ANY kind of 'equal' treatment for non-married couples sends the message that 'Marriage is no big deal,' and 'Our company sees no value in marriage!'"
So you might think it was just a handful of companies that would act this way.
But NO -- I'm talking about companies YOU deal with all the time! Companies like:
American Express, Procter and Gamble, Bank of America, Barnes & Noble, the stock broker Charles Schwab, Coca-Cola, Compaq Computers, Kodak, Ford Motor Co., JP Morgan Chase, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Levi Strauss & Co., Microsoft, Qwest Communications, Shell Oil Co., Starbucks, The Gap, Inc., Time Warner Co., and Verizon Communications."

Frontline: Secret History of the Credit Card

Even if you make your credit card payments on time, the credit card bank can raise your interest rate automatically if you're late on payments elsewhere -- such as on another credit card or on a phone, car, or house payment -- or simply because the bank feels you have taken on too much debt.
This practice is called the "universal default" clause and increasingly is becoming a standard clause in credit card agreements. According to credit card executives, the logic behind universal default is that the bank is not being unreasonable in raising rates when it has reason to believe that the risk of being repaid by the customer has increased. [Note: Credit card banks can now easily track your everyday financial activities and monitor your credit score -- see below.]

There is no limit on the amount a credit card company can charge a cardholder for being even an hour late with a payment.
In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court in Smiley vs. Citibank lifted the existing restrictions on late penalty fees. Back then, fees ran to $5 or $10, and usually did not exceed $15. After the Court's decision, fees soared, reaching upwards of $30. Since then, the amount of revenue the companies generate from fees (including late charges, over-the-limit fees, and charges for returned checks) has doubled. Duncan MacDonald, one of the lawyers who worked on the Smiley case, predicts penalty fees could rise to $50 in another year.
[much more at Frontline site]

The Diebold Variations

*American Torture

"Request for guidance regarding the OGC's EC regarding detainee abuse, referring to 'interrogation techniques made lawful' by the 'President's Executive Order.'" comes from Records Released in Response to Torture FOIA Request.
Smoking Gun ? asks the ACLU--or just another stepping stone from Torture's Path ? As Ex-Military Lawyers Object to Bush Cabinet Nominee, and in Torture begins at the top, Joe Conason suggests that a recently disclosed FBI memo indicates that "marching orders" to abandon traditional interrogation methods came from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld himself and all the while Guantánamo torture and humiliation still going on, says shackled Briton.
According to some, Moral values apply to torture, too, and Christians must oppose torture. Meanwhile, the ACLU reports U.S. Marines Engaged in Mock Executions of Iraqi Juveniles and Other Forms of Abuse and Special Ops Task Force Threatened Government Agents Who Saw Detainee Abuse in Iraq. And as Torture and terrorism suggests, even the Religious News Service is beginning to squirm: "There is no indication among top Bush administration officials, including the president himself, that there are either suitable feelings of guilt or a willingness to assume responsibility for the acts..." [from]

What is The Hum?

Some residents of Taos, New Mexico suffer from it, and it seems to happen elsewhere, too. Listen to it here and here (.wav files, and not actually very dramatic). No one knows quite what the hum is, and even refutations don't really work. There are some "scientific" explanations, but The Hum Remains mysterious and sinister. [from]

Technically speaking, is it a `fetus' or is it an `unborn child'?

The Washington Post, in its Sunday story on the Peterson verdict, used the term "unborn child." The New York Times used both "unborn child" and "fetus." The Associated Press referred at one point to "the son she [Laci Peterson] was carrying" and in another to the "fetus." The Tribune was consistent in using "fetus."
Randy Weissman, deputy managing editor/operations, noted that that was consistent with the guideline in the Tribune's current stylebook.
However, a new edition of the stylebook, scheduled for publication shortly, will permit the use of "unborn child" when the fetus is in the third trimester of gestation.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Bill Moyers bids farewell to television

Although Moyers is nominally retiring -- he and his wife of 50 years, Judith Davidson Moyers, will continue to produce documentaries -- it is doubtful he will go silent. A day after the telephone interview from his Manhattan production studio, he sent a draft by e-mail of his final remarks on "Now." In the note that accompanied the draft, Moyers continued to circle like a warplane, pumping round after round into its intended targets.
"I learned the hard way an old lesson that the greatest moments in the history of the press came not when journalists made common cause with the state but when they stood fearlessly independent of it," he said. "Now we have those megamedia companies that won't speak truth to power and an ideological media that willingly lies for power. Scary!"

Ohio election-fraud case rejected over unusual technicality

[T]he 40 voters who brought the case likely will be able to refile the challenge.
Chief Justice Thomas Moyer ruled that the request improperly challenged two separate election results. Ohio law allows only one race to be challenged in a single complaint, he said.
...The challenge before Moyer included the results of the presidential race and of Moyer's race against a Cleveland municipal judge.

Canada Consider Sharia Law in Family Disputes

“The Arbitration Act should continue to allow disputes to be arbitrated using religious law,” Ms. Boyd recommends in her report to the Ontario government.
She was appointed to study the issue after the Islamic Institute for Civil Justice requested the right to offer religious-based arbitrations for family disputes based on sharia, the code of Islamic law.
The proposal ran into opposition from women's groups, legal organizations and the Muslim Canadian Congress, who all warned that the 1,400-year-old sharia does not view women as equal.

Fire destroys cabin that inspired B-52's 'Love Shack'

Mats Sexton, author of "The B-52's Universe," said Pierson talked to him of her former house. "I remember Kate telling me about how many of the early songs were jammed on in the cabin, things like the sea creature sounds in `Rock Lobster' and many different guitar riffs and assorted lyrics," Sexton told the Athens Banner-Herald. "She spoke very fondly of that little place. In many ways, I think it was a symbolic part of the song `Love Shack."'

Lightning on Saturn '1 million times stronger' than on Earth

New data from the Cassini spacecraft shows that lightning on the ringed planet is a million times stronger than on Earth. But even terrestrial lightning can deliver between 100 million and one billion volts of electricity. Scientists compared the strengths of Earth and Saturnian lightning by detecting its radio signals. Cassini, the NASA probe currently orbiting Saturn, picked up radio signals from Earth lightning as far out as 89,200 kilometres. But as the spacecraft approached Saturn last July, it started detecting lightning signals at a point about 161 million kilometres from the planet.

Bush Prepares For Possible GPS Shutdown

President Bush has ordered plans for temporarily disabling the U.S. network of global positioning satellites during a national crisis to prevent terrorists from using the navigational technology, the White House said Wednesday.
Any shutdown of the network inside the United States would come under only the most remarkable circumstances, said a Bush administration official who spoke to a small group of reporters at the White House on condition of anonymity.

*Rumsfeld gave "marching orders" for torture, then lied about it

The documents also show that officers from the CIA, the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency lodged "heated" objections to the abusive methods of interrogation used by the military, denouncing them in previously secret memoranda as not only unethical but useless and destructive.
..."We had also met with Generals Dunlevy and Miller explaining our position (Law Enforcement Techniques) vs. DoD [Department of Defense].Both agreed the Bureau has their way of doing business and DoD has their marching orders from the SecDef [Secretary of Defense]."

Krugman: Privatization could wreck Social Security system

Right now, the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - 20 years ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.
The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.
But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of gross domestic product. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts.

Think Tanker Masquerades as "Regular Folk" to Shill for Social Security "Reform"

When White House Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten introduced a "single mom" from Iowa to promote President Bush's plan to dismantle Social Security, she was presented as one of the "regular folks" in favor of private savings accounts. But Sandra Jaques, who addressed a White House economics conference on Thursday, "is not any random single mother," the New York Times' Edmund Andrews wrote. "She is the Iowa state director of a conservative advocacy group, FreedomWorks, whose founders are Jack F. Kemp, the former vice-presidential nominee, and Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader." FreedomWorks was formed by a merger in July 2004 of Citizens for a Sound Economy and Empower America. The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias points out how a "little incidental dishonesty slip by" in Andrews' "otherwise excellent" article. Recently, the Times' Paul Krugman thought explaining the manufactured Social Security crisis was so important that he took "a break from my break" to debunk the hype: "Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it."

Top 10 Net Hoaxes / Urban Legends of 2004

Unsurprisingly, the threat of terrorism and the conflict in Iraq figured prominently in the Netlore of 2004, alongside more "evergreen" topics such as sex, missing children, uncanny images and, of course, free money. In a somewhat less predictable result, the Top 10 wound up almost entirely free of political content despite a veritable tsunami of rumormongering in connection with the U.S. presidential election during the latter half of the year. Netlore aficionados will note that several of the items on the list, though long since debunked, are holdovers from previous years, proving yet again that "the truth never stands in the way of a good story."

Pfizer To Keep Celebrex On Market, But Stop Ads

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said Friday it was considering warning labels for Celebrex or withdrawing the drug from the U.S. market, agreed with Pfizer's decision to halt advertising.
The move covers television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, Pfizer spokeswoman Mariann Caprino said.
"We discussed it with the FDA, and we all concurred that it was the appropriate step," Caprino told The New York Times.

Liza Featherstone: Down and Out in Discount America

On the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year, Wal-Mart's many progressive critics--not to mention its business competitors--finally enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude when the retailer had to admit to "disappointing" sales. The problem was quickly revealed: Wal-Mart hadn't been discounting aggressively enough. Without low prices, Wal-Mart just isn't Wal-Mart.
That's not a mistake the big-box behemoth is likely to make again. Wal-Mart knows its customers, and it knows how badly they need the discounts. Like Wal-Mart's workers, its customers are overwhelmingly female, and struggling to make ends meet. Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the landmark sex-discrimination case against the company, points out that Wal-Mart takes out ads in her local paper the same day the community's poorest citizens collect their welfare checks. "They are promoting themselves to low-income people," she says. "That's who they lure. They don't lure the rich.... They understand the economy of America. They know the haves and have-nots. They don't put Wal-Mart in Piedmonts. They don't put Wal-Mart in those high-end parts of the community. They plant themselves right in the middle of Poorville."

Genetically Modified Glowing Fish

Singaporean scientists genetically modify zebra fish to detect water pollutants by turning fluorescent. An American company realizes there's a consumer market for novelty glow-in-the-dark fish, and starts selling the US's first genetically modified pet. While the FDA, which oversees GM animals, 'finds no reason to regulate', California's Fish and Game Commission bans sales in the state over ethical concerns, and a coalition of watchdog groups files suit to support a national ban.
A year later, GloFish are still on sale, and California's reconsidering its sales block. With the first GM pet quietly swimming into homes, and others (like hypo-allergenic cats) close behind, are we ready for a designer pet invasion? [from]

Spaniards to Lose Siesta

For centuries in Spain, heading home mid-afternoon for lunch and a snooze was regarded as something of a national right.
Long days at work and late nights with friends have always been common here.
Spaniards used to take a siesta to make it all more manageable.
But the country's corporate culture now spurns the idea of daytime dozing as being unproductive, and the siesta is fast becoming an endangered institution.

*Vote Machine Employee in Ohio Dismantles Machine before Recount

As a statewide election recount got underway in Ohio last week, a Democratic congressman called on the FBI to impound vote-tabulating computers in at least one county and investigate suspicions of election tampering in the state.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), ranking Democrat of the House Judiciary Committee, sought the investigation after an Ohio election official disclosed in an affidavit (.pdf) that an employee of Triad Governmental Systems, the company that wrote voting software used with punch-card machines in 41 of Ohio's 88 counties, dismantled Hocking County's tabulation computer days before the recount and "put a patch on it."

Survey finds support for restricting Muslim-Americans' freedoms

Nearly one in two Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict civil liberties for Muslim-Americans, according to a nationwide Cornell University poll on terrorism fears.
The survey also found respondents who identified themselves as highly religious supported restrictions on Muslim-Americans more strongly than those less religious.
Curtailing civil liberties for Muslim-Americans also was supported more by Republicans than Democrats, the survey found.
The amount of attention paid to TV news also had a bearing on how strongly a respondent favored restrictions.

Vatican to Teach Satanism and Exorcism

The seminar, entitled "Exorcism and prayers of liberation," would seek to remedy the clergy's problems in dealing with "such delicate themes."
The courses, starting in February, will deal with demonology, the presence of the notion of the devil in sacred texts, and the pathology and medical treatment of people suffering from possession.