Friday, April 08, 2005

G.O.P. Consultant's Marriage Is a Gay One

Arthur J. Finkelstein, a prominent Republican consultant who has directed a series of hard-edged political campaigns to elect conservatives in the United States and Israel over the last 25 years, said Friday that he had married his male partner in a civil ceremony at his home in Massachusetts.
Mr. Finkelstein, 59, who has made a practice of defeating Democrats by trying to demonize them as liberal, said in a brief interview that he had married his partner of 40 years to ensure that the couple had the same benefits available to married heterosexual couples.
"I believe that visitation rights, health care benefits and other human relationship contracts that are taken for granted by all married people should be available to partners," he said.

After DeLay Remarks, Bush Says He Supports 'Independent Judiciary'

President Bush appeared to distance himself on Friday from recent comments by the House Republican leader, Representative Tom DeLay, that Congress should crack down on unaccountable judges.
Asked in a conversation with reporters about statements by Mr. DeLay that judges were out of control and should be held accountable, the president said: "I believe in an independent judiciary. I believe in proper checks and balances. And we'll continue to put judges on the bench who strictly and faithfully interpret the Constitution."

Housing Search Mixing Craigslist and Google Maps

Disney Fights Ruling On Safety Standards

Walt Disney Co., the world's largest theme-park operator, is seeking to overturn a court ruling that the company says would regulate roller coasters, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain, the way buses are regulated.
California's Supreme Court on Thursday heard arguments on whether Disney and other theme- park companies should be held to the same heightened safety standards as train and bus operators. The case stems from the death of a 23-year-old woman after riding on the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland in Anaheim.

State Department Warns against Travel to Israel

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel in light of the risks noted below. The Department also urges U.S. citizens to defer unnecessary travel to the West Bank and avoid all travel to Gaza.
Terrorist attacks within Israel have declined in both frequency and associated casualties. However, the potential for further violence remains high. Resentment against efforts to promote peace, and ongoing Israeli military operations in the Occupied Territories could incite further violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Israeli security services report that they are investigating between 40 and 60 planned terrorist attacks at any given time. The February 25 suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub is a reminder of the precarious security environment, even when a cease-fire has been declared.

Willis Settles Spitzer's Kickback Probe for $50 Million

Willis Group Holdings Ltd., the world's third-largest insurance broker, agreed to pay $50 million to settle New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's investigation into kickbacks from insurers.
The money will compensate policyholders who got insurance through Willis between 2001 and 2004, Spitzer and Willis said in statements today. Willis joins the two biggest brokers, Marsh & McLennan Cos. and Aon Corp., in resolving allegations that they steered business to insurers that paid hidden fees.

Government coffers, citizens $2.3B richer from latest Spitzer actions

Thanks to settlements in high-profile Wall Street investigations, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said his office earned more than $2.3 billion in financial recoveries in 2004 for the state, local governments and citizens.
The total was up 37 percent from 2003. It included more than $1 billion in restitution from brokerage firms, insurance companies and others involved in investigations by Spitzer and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission of wrongdoing on Wall Street.

Drug Wholesalers Receive Subpoenas from Eliot Spitzer

Mr. Spitzer is demanding documents describing how much the companies use the “alternative source market,” where middlemen buy from other middlemen, to either improve their margins or to keep up pharmaceutical distribution to hospitals when products are in short supply.
Both companies said Mr. Spitzer’s probe concerns the broader industry, but no other companies have been immediately identified as being under investigation.
Merrill Lynch analyst Thomas Gallucci speculated that the probe could be related to the growing problem of counterfeit drugs because a complicated supply chain can muddle a drug’s pedigree. Food and Drug Administration figures show that the number of agency investigations into possible counterfeit drugs has increased from four in 1998 to 22 in 2003 (see Bad Medicine).

Corporate America's Journalism Problem

This week two giant companies took extraordinary efforts to gin up more favorable press coverage. GM, the largest automaker, said it would yank its advertising from the Los Angeles Times—the largest paper in the nation's largest car market—because it was unhappy with the Times' coverage. And Wal-Mart, which generally treats the press like a dead fish, invited reporters to its Bentonville, Ark., bunker for a media day.
Both efforts to manage press coverage—GM's stick and Wal-Mart's carrot—seem clumsy and betray a cluelessness on the part of management about the problems in their own businesses. It's true that neither Wal-Mart nor GM is getting particularly good press these days. But a more compliant media wouldn't much improve their situations.

Congress May Extend Daylight Saving Time

If Congress passes an energy bill, Americans may see more daylight-saving time.
Lawmakers crafting energy legislation approved an amendment Wednesday to extend daylight-saving time by two months, having it start on the last Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in November.
``Extending daylight-saving time makes sense, especially with skyrocketing energy costs,'' said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who along with Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-sponsored the measure.
The amendment was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is putting together major parts of energy legislation likely to come up for a vote in the full House in the coming weeks.

E.P.A. Scraps Controversial Pesticide Testing Program

President Bush's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday canceled a controversial program to test the effects of bug spray and other pesticides on infants after two Senate Democrats threatened to block his confirmation.
Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida said they would place a ``hold'' on the White House's nomination of acting EPA administrator Stephen Johnson unless he canceled the $9 million program.
The Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study would have paid families $970 to videotape how spraying insecticides in their homes affected infants over two years.

The Straight Dope: Is brainwashing possible?

Cecil replies:
Let's define our terms. If by brainwashed you mean "presenting a zombie-like appearance and having no interest in normal human contact," all you have to do is sit your subject down with a Game Boy. However, if you're looking for something a little more advanced, e.g., a preprogrammed assassin as depicted in the 1962 movie and 2004 remake The Manchurian Candidate, that could be a little tougher to deliver on. As with many manifestations of cold-war paranoia, brainwashing was about 80 percent fantasy and 20 percent fact. [this and more at the Straight Dope Archives]

Stewart Brand: Environmental Heresies

Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbani­zation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.
Reversals of this sort have occurred before. Wildfire went from universal menace in mid-20th century to honored natural force and forestry tool now, from “Only you can prevent forest fires!” to let-burn policies and prescribed fires for understory management. The structure of such reversals reveals a hidden strength in the environmental movement and explains why it is likely to keep on growing in influence from decade to decade and perhaps century to century.
The success of the environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces—romanticism and science—that are often in opposition. The romantics identify with natural systems; the scientists study natural systems. The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction. The scientists are ethicalistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm, and combative against each other. For them, admitting mistakes is what science is.

A Pro-Evil Mutual Fund?

For centuries, the argument in favor of laissez-faire capitalism has been simple. If you step back and let businesses pursue profit without restraint, legitimate needs and desires will be taken care of in an efficient manner. Moral concerns, the argument goes, are better handled by consumers and investors voting with dollars than governments coercing with legislation. Now, Cato Institute scholar and Fox News columnist Steven Milloy is worried ideologically motivated investors might be putting business profits in danger. He's forming a new mutual fund to fight their leftist influence. [from]

New Yorker Cartoon Editor - Cognitive Researcher

It’s a 3-year research project with their psychology department, using New Yorker cartoons to see how people process humor. My general idea is that humor shares its cognitive apparatus with 99% of other brain processes. The other 1% makes it look completely different.
We’ve started preliminary experiments. We watch with high-speed digital cameras to see where people focus their eyes while looking at a cartoon, how long it takes to understand the cartoon.
Most of our work as human beings is conceptual blending. One situation is another - that’s analogy, or even metaphor. “The moon was a ghostly galleon,” etc. Thinking that the moon is a ship - that’s blending. We do it all the time when we’re getting ideas. Let’s say I have an iPod in my hand. It’s the size of a phone. I might think, maybe it could be a phone. We do this all the time.
But in cartoons, in humor, the conceptual blends combine things most people wouldn’t think to blend. Say you imagine people getting into heaven, at Saint Peter’s Gate, but then think, what if there was a toll... a toll on a highway... maybe there’s EZPass in heaven. That’s a cartoon.

Submit Nominees for this Year's Big Brother Awards

Any member of the public can submit nominations for Big Brother and Brandeis Awards. The nomination period is open until April 5, 2005.
We are looking for compelling cases for

  • The Most Invasive Proposal
  • Greatest Corporate Invader
  • Worst Public Official or Department
  • Lifetime Menace Award
  • Brandeis Awards

Nine-Year Sentence for Spammer

A jury had recommended the nine-year prison term after convicting Jeremy Jaynes of pumping out at least 10 million e-mails a day with the help of 16 high-speed lines, the kind of internet capacity a 1,000-employee company would need.
Jaynes, of Raleigh, N.C., told the judge that regardless of how the appeal turns out, "I can guarantee the court I will not be involved in the e-mail marketing business again."

Defense Doctrine Web Site Goes Dark

A large portion of a major Department of Defense web site was taken offline overnight after unclassified documents on the site became the subject of news stories and public controversy.
The Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) Joint Electronic Library, including hundreds or thousands of doctrinal and other publications, has been replaced by a single page that reads "File Not Found" (
One of those publications was a draft entitled "Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations" (JP 3-63) that was circulated by Human Rights Watch and others and that was widely and critically reported in the press today.
Another was a draft "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" (JP 3-12), that was spotlighted and cleverly analyzed by Jeffrey Lewis of earlier this week.
In response, the Defense Department removed those draft documents, but also many hundreds of others. A DTIC spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
A selection of DoD Joint Publications and other doctrinal documents previously available through DTIC remains available on the FAS web site here:

EPA Balks at Halting Pesticide-Child Study

The Environmental Protection Agency won't rush to cancel a study on how pesticides affect children despite threats from Senate Democrats to hold up confirmation of the new EPA administrator until the study is canned.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida demanded Wednesday that EPA end the study, saying they will block a Senate vote on the confirmation of Stephen Johnson to be the agency's administrator.

But the agency said Thursday it is awaiting a report from a science advisory panel before it decides whether to cancel the planned study. EPA has suspended the study, and the advisory panel's report is not expected until May, said EPA spokesman Rich Hood.

Some of America's Richest Say 'No, Thanks' to Bush Tax Cuts

Some of America's wealthiest individuals have declined billions of dollars in tax cuts bestowed upon them by President George W. Bush's administration and have urged others among the country's richest and most famous to donate their federal tax cuts to campaigns against the Bush package, often described as ''tax breaks for the rich.''
''It's obscene that Washington is handing out tax breaks to millionaires with one hand and shredding the safety net with the other,'' said Marta Drury, a member of Responsible Wealth, a national network of affluent Americans advocating what they term ''widespread prosperity'' and concerned that a deepening wealth divide in America is undermining the country's social and democratic fabric.

''So I'm calculating my 2004 tax cut and donating it to organizations fighting for responsible, fair, and adequate taxes. I don't believe that people like me with incomes over $200,000 need $69 billion in tax cuts,'' Drury added, referring to the total estimated value of 2004 tax cuts granted Americans in her income bracket.

The Lure of Christian Nationalism

With all their many sects and denominations, American evangelicals differ on all sorts of questions, from when Jesus Christ will return to the proper way to run a church. But most Southern Baptists and Pentecostals share the belief, more political than religious, that America once was and should again become a Christian nation.
This is Christian nationalism, and no one has done more to popularize it than an energetic young man named David Barton. A self-taught historian, he has dredged up hundreds of fascinating historical quotes and anecdotes in an effort to prove that the founding fathers were primarily "orthodox, evangelical Christians" who intended to create a God-fearing Christian government.
Barton's books, videos, and Wallbuilders website are wildly popular on the religious right, and his views have become gospel for Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum, and hundreds of Christian radio and TV stations.
In 2002, Barton appeared on Pat Robertson's 700 Club armed with a stack of books and historical artifacts.
"This is the book that the founders said they used in writing the Declaration ... John Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government, from 1765," he showed Robertson. "This quotes the Bible 1,700 times to show the proper operation of civil government. No wonder we have had a successful government - 226 years we celebrate this year. There are 1700 Bible verses at the base of what they did in writing the Declaration."
"So," said Barton, "this nonsense that these guys wanted a secular nation, that they didn't want any God in government, it doesn't hold up."
Robertson asked about a Revolutionary War motto.
"The motto ... was 'No king but King Jesus,'" said Barton. "It was built actually on what Jefferson and Franklin had proposed as the national motto, which is, 'Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.'"

Christian Coalition Rates the U.S. Senate, 2004

As portrayed in the graph below, the United States has become two very different nations reflected by the two political parties. These graphs are based on scorecards of the Christian Coalition for the 108th Senate. The Christian Coalition was founded by television preacher Pat Robertson and promotes the agenda of the theocratic right.
The graph shows how often members of the U.S. Senate voted with or against Christian Coalition supported bills. Republicans are red, Democrats are blue. Forty-one 2004 senate graphout of fifty-one Republican Senators received scores of 100% from Christian Coalition, meaning they voted with Christian Coalition 100% of the time. Thirty-one out of forty-eight Democrats and one independent received scores of 0.
One Democrat received a score of 100% -- Zell Miller, (D-GA) who was in the national spotlight when he spoke at the Republican convention. Occasionally, a Democrat comes from the theocratic right, but it is the exception. Now that Zell Miller has retired, he will become a regular contributor to the Fox News Channel, which has been dubbed "Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."
Only three Senate Republicans are in the 60% column. They are Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine.
To see Senate scorecards produced by the League of Conservation Voters, a consortium of environmental organizations, compared to the scorecards produced by three organizations that promote the theocratic right -- the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the Eagle Forum -- click here. (These tables were provided by Glenn Scherer, October, 2004.) [from]

Facing State Protests, U.S. Offers More Flexibility on School Rules

In her first national response to growing resistance among state officials to the law, known as No Child Left Behind, Ms. Spellings sought to set a new, more cooperative tone. She compared the law's tempestuous first years to those of an infant's experiencing "the terrible 2's."
"This is a new day," she said. "States that show results and follow the principles of No Child Left Behind will be eligible for new tools to help you meet the law's goals."
Although President Bush promoted the law during his re-election campaign as one of his major accomplishments, more than 30 states - including many Republican strongholds - have raised objections to it. Some argue that the federal government is not adequately financing its requirements, which include a broad expansion of standardized testing. Others object to federal intrusion into an area long considered the domain of the states.
It was unclear whether Ms. Spellings's proposals went far enough to assuage state officials' concerns, though several state superintendents expressed approval, as did both national teachers unions and several members of Congress.

Bush Administration Discourages States from Helping Medicare Recipients Find Low-Cost Prescriptions

The Bush administration has told states that they cannot steer Medicare beneficiaries to any specific prescription drug plan, even if state officials find that one or two insurance plans would provide the best deals for elderly people with low-incomes.
States like Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have for years had their own programs to help elderly people with drug costs. In some cases, the state coverage is superior to what Medicare will offer. Many states want to continue those programs to supplement the Medicare drug benefit that becomes available in January.

Annan says rights body harming UN

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has accused the UN Human Rights Commission of failing to uphold human rights and said a new, permanent body is needed.
Speaking in Geneva, Mr Annan said the commission was undermining the credibility of the entire UN.
Human rights groups say the body's member nations are too concerned with protecting their national interests.
Current members include Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia - all accused of rights abuses.

New Scientist: Life's top 10 greatest inventions


'Gannon' Appears at National Press Club, Draws Heat

More than two months after he resigned as the White House correspondent for right-leaning Talon News, James Guckert, also known as Jeff Gannon, was back in the spotlight this morning as part of a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Guardsman in Iraq Tells Local Paper Armor for Vehicles Still Inadequate

Tom Loftus, reporter for the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, opened his story Thursday this way: “Kentucky Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq are being put at risk because their trucks are unreliable, poorly armored and lack protective glass, according to a guardsman stationed in Iraq.”
He revealed that Staff Sgt. Brad Rogers, 33, had declared in e-mails to the paper on Wednesday that Kentucky National Guard Sgt. James A. Sherrill might have survived a bomb attack Sunday if his truck had protective glass.
"We have great people and great leadership. I just want answers on why we can't get better equipment with full armor including ballistic windows," Rogers wrote. "They need to stop these missions until we get these things."

Industry of Influence Nets Almost $13 Billion

Special interests and the lobbyists they employ have reported spending, since 1998, a total of almost $13 billion to influence Congress, the White House and more than 200 federal agencies. They've hired a couple thousand former government officials to influence federal policy on everything from abortion and adoption to taxation and welfare. And they've filed—most of the time—thousands of pages of disclosure forms with the Senate Office of Public Records and the House Clerk's Office.
...Special interests routinely spend far more on lobbying each election cycle than they do contributing to politicians and political parties. In the 2002 election cycle, the most recent for which complete data exists, the Federal Election Commission reported that $1.6 billion was raised. In that same time period, lobbyists received in payment $4 billion to press their case before the government. In 2000, the last presidential election for which complete data exist, those numbers were $2.3 billion for elections compared to $3.5 billion for lobbying.
Yet the resources devoted to tracking Washington's political mercenaries and the billions they are paid to influence the decisions of members of Congress and executive branch officials is minimal. The Senate Office of Public Records employs 11 people, and the equivalent House office employs fewer than 35. By contrast, the FEC, which has authority to enforce campaign finance laws, has 391 employees and an annual budget of $52 million.
That may explain why one in five of the companies lobbying the federal government have failed to file one or more disclosure forms required by law. In all, there are 14,000 missing lobbying documents that should have been filed with Congress since 1998, including documents disclosing the activities of 49 of the top 50 lobbying firms.

Microsoft and Canada Collaborate on Surveillance Database

Microsoft collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security, Interpol, and the Canadian Mounties to produce the ultimate people-tracking database, mining email aliases, "chat room" logs, and arrest records. This open-source software developed by MS Canada will be given away free to police departments, says the company. "The initiative was the result of a January 2003 e-mail sent to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates from a member of the Toronto Police Service sex-crimes unit, asking for help in battling child pornography," reports the Seattle Times. "The billionaire, known for his philanthropy in the area of AIDS research and education, called on Microsoft Canada to develop software that would aid police officials." Buried in the enthusiastic accounts of how the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) will nail "child sex fiends" is any consideration of how such a system could -- and will undoubtedly someday -- be used against such lesser offenses as drug use, sharing illegal music files, or discussion of political beliefs that could be construed as supporting "terrorism."

EU Entertainment Industry Wants ISP's to be Intellectual Property Cops

European Digital Rights reports in its latest news letter on the efforts of the movie (MPA) and music (IFPI) industry to come to a self-regulation of ISPs. In order to curb copyright infringements the industry asks providers to:
  • "remove references and links to sites or services that do not respect the copyrights of rights holders".
  • "require subscribers to consent in advance to the disclosure of their identity in response to a reasonable complaint of intellectual property infringement by an established right holder defence organisation or by right holder(s) whose intellectual property is being infringed"
  • terminate contracts of recidivist
  • implement instant messaging to communicate with infringers
  • implement filtering technologies to block sites that are 'substantially dedicated to illegal file sharing or download services.'
  • voluntarily store data for copyright enforcement
Several of these propositions blatantly violate the privacy protection of users. Advance disclosure of one's identity to aid copyright enforcement would be a significant weakening of users (defense) rights. The content industry could skip getting a court order to require ISPs to link subscriber's names to IP addresses.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

30,000 U.S. Military Troops Not Citizens

There are still about 30,000 active duty and 11,000 Guard and Reserve personnel in the military who are not U.S. citizens, according to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel David Chu. He testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on personnel issues facing the military.

Detainee's Right to Be at Trial Questioned

A federal appeals court Thursday questioned whether a Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detainee has a right to be present for his entire trial, giving the Bush administration hope it may use military commissions to try prisoners there.
The three-judge panel reacted strongly when a lawyer for Salim Ahmed Hamdan told them "it makes no sense to say that we adhere to international law and the first thing we do at the beginning of a trial is violate a canon of international law."

Legal systems of other countries don't allow a defendant to be present for all parts of a trial, Appeals Judge A. Raymond Randolph replied. Judge John Roberts added that some countries don't allow cross-examination of witnesses.

"This is the law in Rwanda," but should not be in the United States, replied the detainee's lawyer, Charles Swift.

Several schools across the U.S. closing

Cleveland is considering closing 13 schools because of declining enrollment and budget problems. But, Detroit will close 34 schools next school year. Pittsburgh has already closed 12 and more are expected.
Minneapolis will close at least 17 schools. Seattle is closing or consolidating at least 24 schools.
St. Louis shut down 21 schools and Baltimore has lost nearly 18,000 students over the past 8 years.

Colombia 'will not try US troops'

A group of US soldiers arrested for alleged cocaine smuggling cannot be allowed to stand trial in Colombia, Washington's envoy to Bogota has said.
Colombian senators have been calling for the men, who were based in the country, to be extradited from the US.
But US ambassador William Wood said the soldiers are immune from prosecution.
More than 200 Colombian citizens have been extradited to the US to face trial for drug trafficking, under a bilateral deal between the two countries.
Colombian politicians have asked the government to push for the US to hand over the men, arguing that the extradition agreement works both ways.

Cookie Monster Sings about Dietary Restraint

My beloved blue, furry monster — who sang "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me" — is now advocating eating healthy. There's even a new song — "A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food," where Cookie Monster learns there are "anytime" foods and "sometimes" foods.

S.520 Bill to Remove Judges Who do not See God as Source of Law

Constitution Restoration Act of 2005 - Amends the Federal judicial code to prohibit the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over any matter in which relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government or an officer or agent of such government concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
Prohibits a court of the United States from relying upon any law, policy, or other action of a foreign state or international organization in interpreting and applying the Constitution, other than English constitutional and common law up to the time of adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Provides that any Federal court decision relating to an issue removed from Federal jurisdiction by this Act is not binding precedent on State courts.
Provides that any Supreme Court justice or Federal court judge who exceeds the jurisdictional limitations of this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offense for which the justice or judge may be removed, and to have violated the standard of good behavior required of Article III judges by the Constitution.

DailyKos Challenges Potential FEC Rules on Blogs

By now, hopefully, you have heard about (see this diary and others) or read the new proposed FEC regulations (PDF) regarding political activity on the Internet written in response to a 2004 court decision by Judge Kollar-Kotelly which mandated that the FEC not leave the field unregulated.
(Mike Krempansky of, by the way, has been a godsend in reporting on these issues. These are issues on which the online right and left are much aligned.)
I have been engaged to represent DailyKos, Eschaton and The Blogging of the President to analyze the proposed regulations and prepare their formal response. There is a 60-day period for public commentary, and on many issues here, the FEC has explicitly sought public response on the proposed rules.
Let me make this clear from the outset: if you have any comment you want to make to the FEC regarding these regulations, you do not need to be a lawyer or have a lawyer. It is your right and obligation as a citizen to email your comments directly to the FEC at, and I strongly encourage you to do so.

Mississippi Passes 10 Commandments Bill

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour indicated Wednesday he was inclined to sign a bill that would require all public buildings to have postings of the Ten Commandments, "In God We Trust" and excerpts from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
The Mississippi House overwhelmingly approved the measure without much debate Wednesday. The Senate approved it Tuesday, but not before one lawmaker tried to kill the bill.
Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said "the governor is inclined to sign" the bill into law.
Rabbi Debra Kassoff called the bill a "flagrant and vain use of God's name for political gain."
"I am offended by the Legislature's disregard for separation of church and state, a principle that has allowed religious minorities of every creed to live and flourish in this country for over 200 years, largely without fear," Kassoff wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Dissecting a right-wing smear: How conservatives used trumped-up evidence to blame Democrats for Schiavo memo

Despite a lack of evidence, several media sources have repeated conservative speculation and accusations that Democrats secretly authored a "talking points" memo that described the Terri Schiavo case as a "great political issue" for Senate Republicans. These baseless accusations, apparently hatched on right-wing blogs and in conservative media such as The American Spectator, were given credibility by The Washington Post and CNN's Inside Politics. But as recent reports indicate, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has admitted publicly that one of his aides is the true author of the memo.

FCC Pushed Decency Rules for Cable TV

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told cable-television executives Tuesday that they needed to respond to public complaints and tighten decency standards for cable programming.
Kevin Martin, named to head the FCC by President Bush just last month, said during a brief appearance in San Francisco at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's annual trade show that the public is demanding limits on language, sexual content and nudity on television.
``When I first arrived at the commission, we received a few hundred complaints per year from parents,'' said Martin, a 38-year-old former aide to President Bush who has served as an FCC member for the past four years. ``The next year, we received a few thousand. And the following year, we received 10,000 and last year we received a million complaints.

The Man Behind the Internet Archive

Search-engine wiz and dot-com multimillionaire Brewster Kahle founded the archive here in 1996 with a dream as big as the bridge: He wanted to back up the Internet. There were only 50 million or so URLs back then, so the idea only seemed half-crazy. As the Web ballooned to more than 10 billion pages, the archive's main server farm—hidden across town in a data center beneath the city's other big bridge—grew to hold a half-million gigabytes of compressed and indexed pages.
Kahle is less the Internet's crazy aunt—the tycoon who can't stand to throw anything away—than its evangelical librarian. "The history of digital materials in companies' hands is one of … loss," he tells me in a rushed meeting. Like it or not, the Web is the world's library now, and Kahle doesn't trust the guys who shelve the books. They're obsessed with posting new pages, not preserving old ones. Every day, Kahle laments, mounds of data get purged from the Web: government documents, personal sites, corporate communications, message boards, news reports that weren't printed on paper. For most surfers, once a page disappears from Google's cache it no longer exists.

High Tech Restraint Kills San Francisco Man

A man died Sunday morning in South San Francisco after a 15-minute struggle with police officers. Before his death, the police had placed him in "a so-called 'body wrap' device." What's that?
A high-tech hog-tie. The body wrap used by the South San Francisco police was produced by Safe Restraints, Inc., which touts its product—called "the Wrap"—as "the ultimate immobilization system." The Wrap consists of a shoulder harness, a binding for the ankles, and a blanket with straps that encircles and restrains the legs. The harness and the ankle strap attach to loops on the blanket with carabiners, which helps to keep captives from moving. The whole device comes in a handy black carrying case.

How Many Government Agencies Does It Take To Teach Soldiers Arabic?

I've just read one of the funniest and saddest government documents I've run across in years. Published by the Pentagon (the source of most such things) under the title "Defense Language Transformation Roadmap," it details the official plan for improving foreign-language skills among U.S. military personnel. The plan is meant to fill an urgent need. It was ordered by the deputy secretary of defense, administered by the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and coordinated with the service secretaries, combat commanders, and Joint Chiefs of Staff. And to read it is to see, with your own increasingly widening eyes, the Pentagon's (or is it the federal government's?) sheer inability to get anything done on time.
The document—only 19 pages, so take a look—traces, all too clearly, the project's shameful chronology. It got under way in November 2002—over a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—when the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness was directed to have the military departments review their requirements for language professionals (interpreters, translators, area specialists, and so forth). This review was a bust—or, in the document's more delicate language, it "resulted in narrowly scoped requirements based on current manning authorizations instead of … projected needs."

Officer's Photojournal of Finding Weapons Caches in Tikrit

Assaulting islands on the Tigris River, defusing roadside bombs, collecting guerillas' weapons caches -- it's all in a couple week's work for one Army unit, stationed in Tikrit. Random Probabilities has the first-hand account, plus a slew of pics. (via Winds of Change) [from]
"The most significant activities that have taken place in the city of Tikrit involve the discoveries of weapons / explosive caches as well as IEDs in our city. Obviously the IEDs represent the most significant threat to our safety. The valuable intelligence we receive from both the local citizens as well as the Iraqi security forces (Army and police) have proven to be extremely effective, resulting in no IEDs being detonated on us before we discover them. I have attached some pictures..."

Plame Investigation Ended Last October?

It’s all over but the — jailing? A report today from Murray Waas, a longtime investigative reporter, suggests that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Valerie Plame/CIA leak affair, recently informed a federal court that his investigation has been “for all practical purposes complete” since October 2004.
In this account, all he’s waiting for is the coerced testimony of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. They have been under contempt charges for months and may be sent to jail soon if they continue to refuse to testify before a federal grand jury.
Waas, writing at The American Prospect's Web site, said he found Fitzgerald’s statement in court papers the prosecutor filed on March 22, but which went unreported.

John Paul II, Media Critic

This was a pope who wrote frequently about the media -- and often with the kind of detailed arguments you'd expect more from Ben Bagdikian than the former archbishop of Krakow. John Paul II was surely the only successor to Peter who left an encyclical that could be read as an endorsement of the Federal Communications Commission's ban on media cross-ownership.
"The solution to problems arising from unregulated commercialization and privatization does not lie in state control of media, but in more regulation according to criteria of public service and in greater accountability," he wrote in Aetatis Novae.
In the very next sentence, though, John Paul warned "government intervention [in the media] remains an instrument of oppression and exclusion."
This tension between individual liberty and media responsibility was a theme the pope explored constantly. He proclaimed individual freedom of expression to be not only a natural right of man, but said, in the encyclical Communio et Progressio, that in speaking out freely, people "are also performing a social duty."
On World Communications Day in 1999, John Paul lauded journalists as "witness to the truth about life, about human dignity, about the true meaning of our freedom and mutual interdependence."

NY Times endorsed Bush distortion about Social Security trust fund

In an April 6 New York Times article, reporter Anne E. Kornblut asserted that President Bush "was on solid ground when he said it [the Social Security trust fund] was basically 'just I.O.U.'s.'"
If this description of the trust fund is accurate, it is also an accurate description of every mutual fund account, every personal savings account, every checking account, every certificate of deposit, and every money market account owned by Americans, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. treasury bonds owned by foreign central banks worldwide. All of these are "just I.O.U.'s." In fact, the private account plan that Bush has been advocating, which would allow workers to divert nearly two-thirds of their share of payroll taxes into portfolios that would include stock funds and government bonds, would also be "just I.O.U.'s."
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is obligated to purchase Treasury securities with its surplus payroll taxes, and the U.S. Treasury is legally obligated to redeem them as needed by the SSA. Currently, the trust fund contains about $1.7 trillion worth of these securities. The total amount of outstanding debt issued by the Treasury, including both debt owned by the public and intra-governmental holdings, is currently about $7.8 trillion.

Former ABC Evening News Producer: "Broadcast journalism is in trouble"

You could almost hear members of the audience rattling uncomfortably in their chairs last weekend at the Midwest Journalism Conference in Bloomington.
Av Westin, one of TV news' founding fathers, was aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at the state of their business — the broadcast news industry.
"Broadcast journalism is in trouble," he told a large gathering that included many broadcast journalists and executives. "Its integrity is being severely tested. Tabloid-style reportage is increasing, and the public's faith in our credibility has eroded. Worse, there is no sign that this slide toward the bottom can be halted or reversed."
Westin went on to recite a 21-minute indictment of the industry's journalistic sins. In particular, he criticized the practice of using unedited and unattributed public relations releases from a single source on TV news shows.
As TV news budgets are being cut, some news directors are increasingly using these press releases — known in the industry as video news releases or "VNRs" — to fill airtime. Frequently, the result is utter spin that paints a pretty picture for government or business interests, Westin says.

Corruption in Iraq under US-led CPA may dwarf UN oil-for-food scandal

A former senior advisor to the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq until the election of an interim Iraq government last January, says that the US government's refusal to prosecute US firms accused of corruption in Iraq is turning the country into a "free fraud zone."

Newsweek reported earlier this week that Frank Willis compared Iraq to the "wild west," and that with only $4.1 billion of the $18.7 billion that the US government set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq having been spent, the lack of action on the part of the government means "the corruption will only get worse."

More than US money is at stake. The administration has harshly criticized the United Nations over hundreds of millions stolen from the Oil-for-Food Program under Saddam [Hussein]. But the successor to Oil-for-Food created under the occupation, called the Development Fund for Iraq, could involve billions of potentially misused dollars.

Eminent Physicists Call for Reality Check on Missile Defense

Today 22 eminent physicists with expertise in weapons systems called for the elimination of funding for ground-based interceptors for the missile defense system the Bush administration is seeking to deploy.
"[W]e urge you to eliminate all funding to purchase or deploy any additional interceptor missiles until operationally realistic tests of the system demonstrate that it would work against a real world attack," wrote the physicists in a letter delivered to key members of Congress today.
Nine Nobel laureates in physics signed the letter, including Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, Jerome Friedman of MIT, Leon Lederman of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Burton Richter of Stanford University, and Nicolaas Bloembergen of Harvard University. Nineteen are members of the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering.
Noting that the ground-based missile defense (GMD) system has "no demonstrated capability to defend against a real attack, even from a single warhead," the scientists urged the Pentagon to "refocus the GMD program on conducting operationally realistic tests, which are the only means of collecting accurate data on system performance."
The physicists explained that, even if the system was able to overcome existing flaws and hit their intended targets, "technical assessments demonstrate that the GMD system will be unable to counter a missile attack that includes even unsophisticated countermeasures." Countermeasures refer to often simple measures an attacker can use to confuse, overwhelm, or otherwise defeat the defense.
Read the full text of the letter and the list of signers.

Underreported news gives government chance to hide the truth

While overreporting is sometimes destructive and always annoying, it is underreporting that dangerously restricts the exercise of our right to free speech. It is the failure of major news sources to report stories critical of our government. It is a form of censorship that permits governments to act in secret.
We can learn a lot about underreporting by reading "Censored 2005" and its annual predecessors.
"Censorship 2005" is written by Peter Phillips and managed by the Sociology Department of Sonoma State University in California. Its central feature is a report on the 25 most underreported news stories of 2004. Each story is updated by its author, usually with references to more resources. The book also provides information on censorship in general and its use throughout the world.
The 25 stories are chosen through an exhausting process of elimination, beginning with the selection of perhaps 1,000 stories, whittled down by various reviews, culminating in the final selections by a panel of judges experienced in the gathering and reporting of news.
The stories in "Censored 2005" reveal otherwise hidden government activities — disturbing reflections of our society's drastic unraveling by a conscienceless administration.
The No. 1 censored story covers the greatly increasing wealth inequality in our country. In 2003, the top 1 percent of the U.S. population owned about one third of the country's wealth, a result of "legislative policies carefully crafted and lobbied for by corporations and the super-rich over the past 25 years," Phillips wrote.
The most shocking story deals with the uranium contamination of our own troops and the civilian populations of Iraq and Afghanistan, caused by U.S. military operations. The contamination results from the post-9/11 use of tons of radioactive depleted and non-depleted uranium munitions. Four million pounds were dropped on Iraq in 2003 alone.

ACLU: Patriot Act Oversight Hearing Highlights Flaws

Today’s oversight hearing on the USA Patriot Act, the 2001 law that removed checks on the government’s ability to collect information on innocent Americans, provided ample evidence that the Patriot Act was passed with undue haste and has been flawed in its implementation, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
That, coupled with evidence of increasing use and abuse of the law, strongly recommends passage of reform legislation like the bipartisan Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act of 2005, which was unveiled today.
"With the Patriot Act, everything points to a grave need for reform," said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Not only is the Justice Department using it more and more, but Attorney General Gonzales admitted the need to fix the law, and we have the clearest evidence of Patriot Act abuse to date in the Mayfield case."
Today’s panel before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the first in an expected series of Congressional oversight hearings on the Patriot Act, parts of which are set to expire by the end of the year unless Congress votes to renew them. In the three years since the law’s passage, a growing and bipartisan group of conservative and progressive critics have called on Congress to reexamine and reform certain troubling parts of the law.
Of particular note, today’s Senate hearing highlighted how the use of the Patriot Act’s secret search and surveillance authority has grown in recent years. Attorney General Gonzales admitted, for instance, that the government has used Section 215, the so-called "library records" provision, 35 times since September 2003. According to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, it had not been used before then.

Grokster transcript PDF

The oral argument from last month's Grokster Supreme Court case (where EFF argued that technology companies shouldn't have to imagine all the infringing ways that their customers might use their products and design to prevent them -- otherwise the iPod, Outlook and the Xerox machine would all be illegal) is available online now as a transcript. It's 55 pages long, but the type is big and double-spaced! 144K PDF Link (via Copyfight)

Sesame Street - 25 Of My Favorite Memories

I have compiled a list of my 25 favorite Sesame Street moments. Some of these may not be the greatest, some may not be the most important... but these are the ones that I'll keep with me as the most genuine memories of my first teacher: the world's most famous address.

Gonzales Argues Against Expiration Date on Patriot Act

The issue is apt to become an important part of the debate as Congress determines whether to extend the law, which gave the government new power to investigate and prosecute terrorists.
It surfaced Wednesday as Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales testified before the House Judiciary Committee for a second day about the Patriot Act.
The hearing was the first of a series that the House panel had scheduled to decide whether 16 provisions of the law should be renewed this year.
Gonzales said that because the department had achieved a "strong record of success" in using the provisions to fight terrorism, they should be made permanent.
He argued that removing the sunset provisions would not limit Congress' scrutiny of the department.
But many members of Congress contend that their ability to oversee the agency has been thwarted because the Justice Department — at least under former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft — has been loath to reveal details of how the law has been used.
So the issue raises a larger question: Can the Justice Department — even under a new and more accessible attorney general — be trusted?

Immigrant Says Minuteman Volunteers Watching Arizona Border Held Him Against His Will

Three volunteers patrolling the border for illegal immigrants were being investigated after a man told authorities he was held against his will and forced to pose for a picture holding a T-shirt with a mocking slogan.
The volunteers said they were members of the Minuteman Project - a monthlong effort that has people from around the country fanned out along the border to report undocumented migrants and smugglers. Law enforcement officials have said they fear the project will lead to vigilante violence.

Border Patrol agents called in deputies from the Cochise County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday afternoon to report that an immigrant was detained by three men who identified themselves as project volunteers.

Iraq's New Kurd President Sworn In

Shiite Islamist Adel Abdel Mahdi and Sunni outgoing president Ghazi al-Yawar were sworn in as Talabani's two deputies completing a three-man presidency that was then expected to nominate a prime minister.
"We will rebuild the Iraqi government on principles of democracy, human rights... and the Islamic identity of the Iraqi government," Talabani, the country's first freely-elected president, told a special session of parliament.
The three-man presidency was elected by MPs Wednesday after weeks of bickering between the three main communities, riven by the bitter legacy of Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated regime which largely boycotted the elections.
The Sunnis also obtained the promise of the defence ministry among up to six cabinet posts in the government now expected to be formed within a week, even though they have just 16 MPs in the 275-member parliament.

A Poet Laureate's Royal Call: Dreamy Ode to Ridiculed Love

How do you solve a problem like "Camilla"?
If you are Andrew Motion, Britain's poet laureate and the man charged with producing a cheerful commemorative poem about Prince Charles's impending marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles, none of the obvious rhymes - vanilla, flotilla, Godzilla - seem appropriate, somehow.
Nor would you want to dwell on the pre-wedding mishaps that have filled Britons with such unbecoming Schadenfreude in recent days: the panicked confusion over the time and place of the ceremony; the fact that the groom's parents will not attend; the lingering specter of Charles's dead ex-wife, looming like Banquo at the feast.
But although this royal occasion might seem trickier than most to immortalize, all present their own particular problems, said Robert Potts, an editor at The Times Literary Supplement who until recently was editor of Poetry Review magazine.
"Every single time, it's an impossible job," Mr. Potts said of poems celebrating royal weddings. "One's not entirely clear why anyone bothers to do it."

It was even worse in the old days. Poets laureate have produced some shockingly poor work in their time, as in the case of the Edwardian laureate Alfred Austin, who, when the Prince of Wales fell ill, is said to have produced the following: "Across the wires the electric message came/ 'He is no better, he is much the same.' "

But even Austin was not ridiculed as relentlessly as Colley Cibber, who flattered and social-climbed his way into the laureateship in 1730. Alexander Pope immortalized him in a later version of his epic poem "The Dunciad," making him the King of Dunces, and an anonymous contemporary wrote, meanly:

In merry old England it once was a rule,
The King had his Poet, and also his Fool:
But now we're so frugal, I'd have you to know it,
That Cibber can serve both for Fool and for Poet. [thanks to Sharon]

AP Calls Criticism of Pulitzer Win for Photos 'Deeply Offensive'

As always, not everyone in the press and on the Web agrees with the selection of Pulitzer Prize winners, announced earlier this week. But what’s relatively rare is that criticism surrounding one choice this year has a partisan edge.
The Pulitzer Board anointed 11 Associated Press photographers as winners in the category of breaking-news photography. The award-winning photos were from war-torn Iraq -- and some in conservative circles claim the images were, on the whole, overly helpful to the insurgent cause. At least one of the photos raised an uproar from the same quarters when it was first published late last year.
According to a count by The Jawa Report site, “11 of the 20 photos would likely cause anti-American inflammation. Only two show Americans in a positive light.” By a count on another blog, called Riding Sun, three photos reveal U.S. troops “looking overwhelmed or uncertain,” two showed “Iraqis celebrating attacks on U.S. forces,” and zero featured U.S. forces “looking heroic.”

FAIR: Reviving Cold War Reporting on Nicaragua

As the Bush administration carries out what the New York Times (4/5/05) describes as a "concerted effort" to block the return of the left-wing Sandinista party to power in Nicaragua, U.S. media are returning to the kind of distorted reporting on Nicaragua that characterized coverage during Washington's war against that country in the 1980s. The New York Times' April 5 article on the administration's anti-Sandinista campaign provides a prime example of this one-sided and inaccurate media treatment.
The article, by Ginger Thompson, characterized the U.S. attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government as part of "the global struggle against Communism"-- though Nicaragua under the Sandinistas had a mixed economy, multiple opposition parties and a very active opposition press, features that were not found in actual Communist countries. She refers to Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, as a "revolutionary strongman," even though he was elected to the presidency in 1984 with 67 percent of the vote, in balloting that international observers found to be "free, fair and hotly contested" (Extra!, 10-11/87).

Judge rejects request to release FBI documents in Peltier case

An attorney for imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier said Wednesday he will appeal a federal judge's ruling that allows the government to withhold documents Peltier supporters believe could help lead to his release.
Peltier's attorneys are particularly interested in a 1975 message from the FBI's Buffalo office to the agency's headquarters indicating there may have been a government informant near Peltier's defense team, said attorney Michael Kuzma. The lawyer accused the FBI of misusing exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act to avoid releasing that and other documents that could reveal department misconduct.
U.S. District Judge William Skretny, in a March 31 ruling, rejected the argument.
Peltier attorneys are seeking tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents from field offices nationwide as they fight to have his conviction overturned.
The FBI in Buffalo has released nearly 800 pages of material, but is withholding 15 pages, citing exemptions allowed under the Freedom of Information Act for national security concerns and to protect the identity of agents and confidential sources.

Feds Drop $373,000 FOIA Search Fee Demand

The Justice Department has dropped its controversial demand that a liberal advocacy group pay a $373,000 research fee before Justice would respond to its request for information on how often the government has hidden court cases involving post-Sept. 11 immigrant detainees.
But a Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge in Washington, D.C., last month that the government would have trouble responding to People for the American Way's Freedom of Information Act request because sealing cases "in their entirety" is "not as rare as it seems."
The government lawyer, Marcia Berman, told U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that "many material witnesses were arrested, and in a lot of those cases they were just detained and never charged," according to a transcript of the March 16 hearing. "But also in a lot of those cases, the government did ask for a proceeding or just an arrest warrant to be sealed."
PFAW has been trying to discover the extent to which the government has sought to hide legal proceedings involving immigrant detainees since Sept. 11. It hopes to publish a report about government secrecy efforts involving hundreds of unidentified detainees.

World Bank warns on dollar 'risk' for poor

Developing countries that have amassed large US dollar reserves face a growing threat of big losses from a sudden decline in the dollar, the World Bank warned on Wednesday.
In its 2005 Global Development Finance Report, the bank identified the “gravest risk” for emerging markets as a deep and disorderly dollar decline that would create financial market volatility and push up interest rates.
A dollar collapse, below what the bank's economists see as its long-term equilibrium level, could also result in “a costly restructuring of world industry that would have to be undone in following years as the dollar returned to its equilibrium level,” the bank said.
World Bank’s full report Click here

Afghanistan likely to have permanent US military

Afghanistan's defence minister on Tuesday gave one of the clearest signs yet that Kabul is open to permanent basing of US forces in the country, saying his government was in discussions with the US that could include air bases in Afghanistan after the current nation-building process ends.
General Abdul Rahim Wardak said the details of what would constitute a long-term US presence were still under discussion. But he signalled Kabul was eager for “enduring arrangements” that could include permanent air bases or “pre-positioned” military equipment that would be used by rapidly deployed US forces in a crisis.

Afghanistan likely to have permanent US military

Afghanistan's defence minister on Tuesday gave one of the clearest signs yet that Kabul is open to permanent basing of US forces in the country, saying his government was in discussions with the US that could include air bases in Afghanistan after the current nation-building process ends.
General Abdul Rahim Wardak said the details of what would constitute a long-term US presence were still under discussion. But he signalled Kabul was eager for “enduring arrangements” that could include permanent air bases or “pre-positioned” military equipment that would be used by rapidly deployed US forces in a crisis.

Democrats Block Nomination Over Morning-After Pill

President Bush's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration is being blocked from Senate confirmation by two Democrats who said Wednesday that they would hold up a vote until the agency settled the long-delayed question of whether an emergency contraceptive could be sold over the counter.
The Democrats, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, met with the nominee, Dr. Lester M. Crawford, on Wednesday to discuss what they regard as foot-dragging on the issue of the so-called morning-after pill. An expert panel of scientists recommended over-the-counter sales in December 2003, but the agency has yet to issue a final ruling.
"I'm prepared to hold it for as long as it takes to get a decision made," Mrs. Clinton said. She added, "From everything we're able to determine, the agency has substituted politics and ideology for science and facts."

Sony patents tech to beam "sensory information" into brain

The technique suggested in the patent is entirely non-invasive. It describes a device that fires pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify firing patterns in targeted parts of the brain, creating "sensory experiences" ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds. This could give blind or deaf people the chance to see or hear, the patent claims.
While brain implants are becoming increasingly sophisticated, the only non-invasive ways of manipulating the brain remain crude. A technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation can activate nerves by using rapidly changing magnetic fields to induce currents in brain tissue. However, magnetic fields cannot be finely focused on small groups of brain cells, whereas ultrasound could be.
If the method described by Sony really does work, it could have all sorts of uses in research and medicine, even if it is not capable of evoking sensory experiences detailed enough for the entertainment purposes envisaged in the patent. [from]

$100 Laptops - MIT Project

It's a goal that's closer then you might think. The MIT Media Lab is working with partners including AMD, Google, and News Corp. to have such a computer ready for shipment by the end of 2006.
The $100 laptop will not only be something to own and feel empowered by, it will also be portable and a tool for collaboration. Students will be able to access thousands of textbooks electronically and learn how to program, one of the best ways to "learn how to learn," according to my MIT colleagues Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick. So in addition to using readily available applications, young people might also develop software suited to their own purposes. And when students attach cameras, microphones, and printers, the basic laptop will become a foundation for innovation, a tool in tune with their different interests and talents. Kids have a great advantage: They don't yet know what is supposed to be impossible. Given the right equipment, every individual has the potential for a unique contribution. But how do we get to the price point we need? One answer is volume. There are some 1.8 billion children worldwide. The $100 laptop we propose would be available only in orders of 1 million units. It's likely that at first only governments would order them, to outfit school systems. Eventually, global corporations, large research insti­tutions, and universities could follow

Bloggers Pitch Fits Over Glitches

What's up with Blogger, the institution that is eponymous with the media phenomenon it helped spawn?
Lately, it seems like almost every time you tune into your favorite Blogger-hosted blog to catch up on the latest gossip, meme, political diatribe or cybersnark, you find that the site is frozen in time. Or, there are multiple posts with identical content. Since Blogger, which is owned and operated by that sleek geek machine, Google, is a lot like a public utility, when it goes down, so do the lights on a large swatch of the blogosphere.
... "This has been the worst week of blogging since I started," complained Digby, who ruminates on politics. "Blogger has been constantly bloggered and when it wasn't, my cable has been offline. Since last Tuesday, I've barely been able to read Atrios, for gawds sake, much less post one of my own brilliant observances. I hate blogging in coffee shops. I just hate it. But I'm here and if I don't keel over from caffeine poisoning before Blogger eats my post, I'll hopefully have something brilliant up soon. Or not."
... In fact, enter "Blogger sucks" in Google and you get 720,000 results, with most of the entries on the first few pages (read: the most popular) dedicated to these exasperating tech snafus.

Counsel to GOP Senator Wrote Memo On Schiavo

Senator's aide admits to writing "Schiavo Memo". Hoping for another "memogate" story, bloggers have been pushing accusations for the last few weeks that the highly-criticized GOP memo indicating the "political advantage" of the Terri Schiavo situation was a forgery or "dirty tricks" from Democrats. Today, the legal counsel to Florida Sen. Mel Martinez admitted to writing and distributing the memo (and promptly resigned.) Many bloggers who pushed the accusation are, shall we say, not exactly jumping at the opportunity to print mea culpas. Considering the growing debate about bloggers being treated as journalistic equals, what obligations does the blogosphere have to simply admit it was completely wrong on a story? [from]

Flight 800 shrapnel remains a mystery

On 3/29/05 Federal Judge Michael Ponsor issued his final judgment in Sephton V. FBI in favor of the FBI. The case involves a 4 year legal battle to obtain details about scores of mysterious metal fragments and pellets discovered during the autopsies of the 230 victims of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
It is astounding that in the 6 years since the freedom of information request was first made, that the FBI cannot find any of the results of the analysis of, arguably, the most significant and essential direct evidence about the explosion in the whole of the investigation.
In 2000 the NTSB finally concluded that an electrical spark “probably caused” a fuel tank explosion that wrecked the aircraft. Hundreds of supporters of this litigation contend that the never-released shrapnel analysis evidence is critically decisive because either the metal fragments match the metal from the fuel tank and the residues confirm explosive fuel residues, or they indicate
some other type of residue and source of explosion.
Judge Ponsor ruled that the FBI’s search for the critical documents met the legal standards for an “adequate search.” But he noted his “sharp disappointment” that in the final days of the lawsuit the FBI refused the judge’s request for a sworn statement regarding the one aspect of the search that was still in contention.

Prosecutors agree to unseal documents in CIA abuse case

Federal prosecutors have agreed to unseal documents relating to the prosecution of a CIA operative from North Carolina accused of beating an Afghan prisoner who died two years ago.
Last month, The News & Observer, The Washington Post and The Associated Press asked U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle to make public unclassified information in the sealed records of the David Passaro case.
The news organizations said the U.S. government was engaged in a secret prosecution of Passaro, a former Special Forces soldier recruited by the CIA.
He is the first civilian prosecuted on charges of mistreating a military detainee in the U.S. war on terrorism, and the first American citizen charged under the Patriot Act.
In court filings this week, prosecutors acknowledged that the public has a right to see unclassified portions of the records, and said they were working to unseal them.

Depleted uranium munitions are killing our veterans and poisoning the planet

Both political parties have held the presidency while these weapons have been deployed. This is not about party politics.
Depleted uranium is very much like uranium with a fissionable isotope removed. You can handle these weapons a little and not be harmed. They become extremely harmful after they leave the barrel of a gun. Then they begin to burn and create very fine particles of uranium-oxide dust. When they hit something about 70 percent of the uranium is aerosolized. When it is in these very tiny particles some only nano sized it can be breathed into the lungs easily. Once breathed in, or ingested with food or drink or by entering an open wound, these particles are chemically and radiologically poisonous and remain in the body.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Patriot Act Abuses and Misuses Abound, ACLU Says; Disclosure Comes Before Congress Begins Review of Controversial Law

From Conyersblog: Today, at 1pm, the Attorney General of the United States will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. It has been an oft-repeated claim of the Department of Justice that there have been no documented abuses of the Patriot Act.
This statement is patently untrue. While it has been difficult to get a complete accounting of the Patriot Act’s misuse (largely due to the Department’s own unwillingness to provide the public with the most basic information about how the Act is being used), the American Civil Liberties Union has extensively catalogued a number of abuses .

From ACLU: According to reports, the Patriot Act has been used to:
  • Secretly search the home of Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim attorney whom the government wrongly suspected, accused and detained as a perpetrator of the recent train bombing in Madrid.
  • Charge, detain, and prosecute a Muslim student in Idaho, Sami al-Hussayen, for providing "material support" to terrorists because he posted to an Internet website links to objectionable materials, even though such links were available on the websites of a major news outlet and of the government’s own expert witness in the case.
  • Serve a National Security Letter (NSL) on an Internet Service Provider (ISP) so coercive under the provisions of the NSL statue that a federal court struck down the entire statute - as vastly expanded by the Patriot Act - used to obtain information about e-mail activity and web surfing for intelligence investigations.
  • Gag that ISP from disclosing this abuse to the public, and gag the ACLU itself, which represents the ISP, from disclosing this abuse to the public when ACLU became aware of it, and from disclosing important circumstances relating to this abuse and other possible abuses of the gag, even to this very day.
  • Investigate and prosecute crimes that are not terrorism offenses, even though it cited terrorism prevention as the reason Congress should enact the law, and cites terrorism prevention as the reason why it cannot be changed.

MoveOn Raises Money for Byrd, GOP Cries "Foul"

With an early fundraising blitz, the online liberal advocacy group has shown both its potential as a Democratic asset and a Republican target in the 2006 elections.
In less than three days last week, the group's political action committee raised from its members nearly $833,000 for Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who next year could face his first competitive race in decades.

The amount represented more than three-fourths of the total that Byrd collected between Jan. 1 and March 31, and was the most money MoveOn has raised for one candidate at one time, according to the group's officials.

But the torrent of MoveOn money drew quick fire from Republicans, who signaled that they intended to make the group's support an issue not only in West Virginia but also in other states.

"This organization is not a mainstream organization," said Brian Nick, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

New Report Details Black Inequality

Among the report's findings:

  • Blacks have more than double the unemployment rate of whites.
  • Less than half of blacks own homes compared to more than three-fourths of whites.
  • Black youth are more likely to have poorly trained teachers, live in poverty and not have health insurance than whites.
  • Still, the report also makes clear that black America has made significant gains in some areas.

Since 1960, when black men earned only 50 cents for every dollar earned by white men, income gaps have narrowed as the black middle class has grown and become more educated. In 2000, black men earned 64 cents on the dollar, according to Thomas M. Shapiro, a professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University who wrote an essay, "The Racial Wealth Gap," in the Urban League's report.

Connecticut to Sue US over No Child Left Behind

The State of Connecticut will sue the federal government over President Bush's signature education law, arguing that it forces Connecticut to spend millions on new tests without providing sufficient additional aid, the state's attorney general announced yesterday.
Although a handful of local school districts, in Illinois, Texas and other states, have filed legal challenges to the law, known as No Child Left Behind, Connecticut would be the first state to do so.
Its suit would open a new chapter in a struggle between states and the federal government that has seen legislatures lodge various protests over the law, and at least one state education commissioner, in Texas, issue an order this year that appeared to directly contradict a federal ruling.
Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he was announcing his plans now because he was going to be contacting attorneys general in other states, in the hope that they would join the suit. He said he expected to file within weeks.

House Panel Revives U.S. Energy Bill

A House committee Tuesday dusted off an energy bill that backers say will boost U.S. oil and natural gas production but critics deride as a bonanza for oil companies with no immediate relief for consumer pocketbooks.
Republican lawmakers hope red-hot U.S. crude oil prices and record-high U.S. gasoline prices will give momentum to a broad energy bill packed with incentives to increase domestic supplies of oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewable energy.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said he wants to finish panel talks by next week on a bill that would boost domestic oil and natural gas and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers. The committee was scheduled to meet again Wednesday for bill-writing.
Democrats criticized Barton's draft version as a give-away for oil companies that offers no short-term help for Americans facing U.S. crude oil prices near $60 per barrel and retail gasoline prices above $2 a gallon.

A 3rd DeLay Trip Under Scrutiny

The expense-paid trip by DeLay and four of his staff members cost $57,238, according to records filed by his office. During his six days in Moscow, he played golf, met with Russian church leaders and talked to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a friend of Russian oil and gas executives associated with the lobbying effort.
DeLay also dined with the Russian executives and two Washington-based registered lobbyists for the Bahamian-registered company, sources say. One of those lobbyists was Jack Abramoff, who is now at the center of a federal influence-peddling and corruption probe related to his representation of Indian tribes.

Blogrunner: The Annotated New York Times

The New York Times indexed according to blog posts and comments.

Editorial: Backseat officer / Do cars really need an information 'black box'?

So-called "black boxes" for passenger cars are rare, but are becoming less so all the time. That concerns a North Dakota state senator who wants to banish Big Brother from the backseat by banning computer chips that collects information on speed and seat-belt usage in the vehicle.
While most cars on the road today don't have black boxes, most vehicles now being manufactured do, according to the National Highway Transportation Administration. What is disturbing, state Sen. Ray Holmberg frets, is that the vast majority of drivers have no idea they are there or that what's recorded might be used against them, "and there's no sort of regulation about who owns that information."
It's a privacy issue. Mr. Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks, bought a new car equipped with a black box that he was not told about. He is sponsoring a bill to require buyers to be told if their vehicle is so equipped with a black box. The measure would also forbid use of its data in court without a court order. Subscription services such as OnStar that track a vehicle's location would be exempt.
Carmakers oppose his bill. Insurance companies want the data as well, and some already give motorists who have the device a discount. But car insurance companies have survived for decades relying on their customers' driving records. [thanks to Kathy]

Killer Coke Petition

Dear Coca-Cola Board Members,
I am shocked to learn of your indifference to the safety of workers who bottle your products. There are undisputed reports that Coca-Cola bottling plant managers in Colombia, South America, allowed and encouraged paramilitary death squads to murder, torture and kidnap SINALTRAINAL leaders and members in an effort to crush their union. Download Petition [PDF]
[thanks to Mint]

Judge: Army Taking Too Long on Depleted Uranium

A federal administrative judge says that Save the Valley and the people who live around Jefferson Proving Ground have had to wait too long to find out what the Army intends to do about the radioactive depleted uranium it left behind after testing munitions.
The judge, Alan S. Rosenthal, wrote in a memo Thursday that the responsibility for this state of affairs cannot be laid at the doorstep of (Save the Valley). Rather, it has been brought about by the conduct of the (Army) over the course of the past five years, conduct that has received to a significant extent the seeming indulgence of the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) staff.

Monsanto and the Congress of Racial Equality

U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto recently announced it was raising its earnings expectations. "Monsanto's genetically engineered seed sales are booming - a 20 per cent increase last quarter - and the company expects the growth to continue as it expands outside the U.S.," AP reported. One reason may be Monsanto's extensive use of PR. GM Watch's Jonathan Matthews looks at the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a U.S.-based civil rights group with ties to Monsanto that has become an outspoken advocate of GE foods. Matthews reports on CORE's claims that the global environmental movement's opposition to biotech is "lethal eco-imperialism" and "devastates families and communities and kills millions every year." At CORE's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner this year, they honored Karl Rove with a "Public Service Award." Monsanto's CEO Hugh Grant chaired the dinner with Option One Mortgage's president and CEO Bob Dubrish.

Christians Take Over Low Power FM

For years, media reform activists have fought valiantly to force the FCC to issue licenses for low power radio stations. Their dream: to create a space on the radio dial for true locally produced community programming, untainted by the profit considerations of large media conglomerates. Low power radio would finally give voice to those who needed it most: people of color, low-income communities, local organizations.
Five years after their victory, community radio has become the bastion of Christian programming. LPFM is being squeezed off the radio dial by religious broadcasters who are gobbling up FM frequencies at an astonishing speed. Their weapon of choice: low power translators.
While much of the media coverage of rightwing groups and low power radio has focused on low power licenses -- they represent about half of the applications (344) for the FCC low power licenses -- these broadcasters dominate low power frequencies primarily by acquiring translator licenses.
Translators, which range in power from 10 to 250 watts, were created by the FCC to help boost signals of existing stations in areas where the terrain can hamper their signals. Christian broadcasters use these translators to transmit programs from their bigger full-power stations. Unlike commercial stations which can only have a translator within the receivable range of the full-power "parent" station non-commercial groups such as religious broadcasters can place their translators at any distance and feed them via satellite or other means. As a result, one full-power station can be used to broadcast programming across a number of states, vastly extending its reach, especially in rural areas. And the more translators take up low power frequencies in a community, the less room for local radio stations on the FM dial. More importantly, Christian radio networks can gain access to small communities without having to produce any local programming -- since the FCC forbids translator stations from airing such programming.
The end result: community radio is literally being crowded off the radio by religious broadcasters.

OTM on French Paper's Suit Against Google

If you think of the internet as a vast library, it's hard to imagine a better card catalogue than Google. Only not everyone wants in. A few weeks ago, the most popular search engine found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit by the world's oldest news organization. Agence France-Presse, or AFP, is suing Google in the United States for an alleged violation of US copyright law, essentially charging Google with stealing news content and repackaging it on Google's own subsidiary search engine called Google News. Could this mean the end of news searching as we know it?

Is Jeff Gannon/Guckert Actually Johnny Gosch?

The Iowa paperboy was kidnapped in 1982, with unsubstantiated stories emerging later from his mother that he was abducted into a child pedophilia ring. No trace of him has ever been found, and no suspects have been arrested.
Nearly 23 years later, White House correspondent Jeff Gannon, who wrote for a conservative Web site, was exposed in February as James D. Guckert, a man with no journalism experience and links to several gay escort addresses online.
If you have the time to read a few hundred Web postings, you will see how Johnny Gosch and Jeff Gannon, two completely unrelated individuals, became the same person on the Web. The way the theory developed says much about the anything-goes nature of the blogosphere and self-proclaimed reporters on the Internet, who seem to find accuracy and proof a nuisance in uncovering fantastical conspiracies.
It took the random efforts of scores of Web loggers (bloggers), credulous readers and longtime followers of the case to assign the two men a bizarre, shared backstory involving satanic CIA agents, pedophiles and presidents. And, of course, Limbaugh.Gosch's mother, Noreen Gosch, called the theory "quite bizarre," but not impossible.

MGM v Grokster on OTM

This week, the Supreme Court heard the case of MGM v. Grokster, a case which pits the major music and film houses against "peer-to-peer" programs that allow anyone to freely trade material via the Internet. The entertainment industry claims the software makers are arming pirates. The software makers say the industry is strangling technological innovation. Bob speaks with Fred von Lohmann, senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Dan Glickman, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, argues on behalf of Hollywood.

Iraqi Reality Show Puts Captured Insurgents on Display

For the past two months, one of the hottest prime-time attractions in Iraq has been a reality TV show called "Terror in the Hands of Justice." The show airs twice a day on the state-run Al Iraqiya, and features captured insurgents staring into the camera and confessing to their crimes. Financial Times Baghdad correspondent Steve Negus tells Bob about the show's impact on Iraqi society.

Military Recruiters Staking Out High Schools

Walking through corridors, Carloss pounded a student's fist in greeting, chatted with another about a novel she was reading, shook hands with administrators.
The sergeant entered the library and a student shouted: "Hey, Carloss!"
Such familiarity is what the Marines and Army believe they need if they are to keep their ranks replenished. As the conflict in Iraq entered its third year, the Marines missed their monthly recruiting goals in January through March for the first time in a decade, and the Army and the National Guard also fell short of their needs. This year, the Army and the Marines plan not only to increase the number of recruiters, but also to penetrate high schools more deeply, especially those least likely to send graduates to college.
For Carloss and other recruiters, part of the way has been cleared by the No Child Left Behind education law of 2002, which provides the military with students' home addresses and telephone numbers. It also guarantees that any school that allows college or job recruiters on campus must make the same provision for the military.
Once in the door, lining up enlistees means becoming part of the school culture.

ICRC Demands Investigation Into Iraqi Prison Riot

"We are asking the US army to investigate the cause of the riot which happened at the detention center" Camp Bucca, Rana Sidani, spokeswoman for the ICRC, told AFP.
The US military announced early Tuesday that 12 Iraqi prisoners and four US prison guards were wounded when inmates rioted at Camp Bucca Friday, torching tents and hurling rocks in Iraq's largest US-run detention center

The riot at the desert camp in southern Iraq, where more than 6,000 prisoners are held, was first reported by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's movement and confirmed by the ICRC.

The US military had said initially it was unaware of the violence and only came forward with details after the ICRC revelations.

Always Low Prices - A Blog About Wal-Mart

Kevin Brancato, who maintains the "Always Low Prices" blog about all things Walmartian, just received a cease-and-desist from Wal-Mart lawyers after more than a year of blogging on the subject. Oddly, it's one of few blogs known for generally favorable posts towards the company. Link

Thompson's Ashes to be Shot from Cannon

The cannon shot will be part of a larger public celebration of Thompson's life. Some details remain to be worked out, including the exact date, what kind of cannon will be used and the specifics of the gonzo fist, his wife said.
She said the gonzo fist will be mounted on a 100-foot pillar, making the monument 153 feet (46.63 meters) high. It will resemble Thompson's personal symbol, a fist on an upthrust forearm, sometimes with "Gonzo" emblazoned across it.
Anita Thompson has said the monument will be a permanent fixture on the writer's 100-acre property.

GOP Offers 'Physician of the Year' -- for a Fee

"My secretary came running in and said, 'Dr. Rudy, look at what you've won, you're Physician of the Year,' " said Mueller, an internist.
But to receive the award in person at a special two-day workshop in Washington last month, Mueller found out that he would have to make a $1,250 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee. It was a disturbing discovery, he said.
"To actually buy your award and it's not from your peers or from your patients or from the community that you serve, it's really deceptive," said Mueller, author of "As Sick As It Gets: The Shocking Reality of America's Healthcare, A Diagnosis and Treatment Plan." "It's not being honest, it's just not right."
To see what the award process was all about, Mueller sent in his $1,250 contribution and ABC News paid for his travel to Washington for the scheduled events March 14-15, which included a tax-reform workshop as well as appearances by House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas, and President Bush.
Mueller soon found he was not the only winner. There were hundreds of Physicians of the Year present, many of whom found the criteria for being selected equally as opaque.