Saturday, April 23, 2005

Biggest companies, executives among donors to DeLay Foundation

The 19-year-old charity, the DeLay Foundation for Kids, has consistently declined to identify its donors, citing their desire for privacy.
But a review of corporate and charitable records shows that recent donors have included AT&T, the Corrections Corporation of America, Exxon Mobil, Limited Brands and the Southern Company, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates -- the Microsoft founder and his wife -- and Michael Dell of Dell computers.
The Gates and Dell family foundations have donated at least $350,000 to DeLay's charity since 2001. Among the largest corporate gifts was a $100,000 check given to DeLay last year by the Corrections Corporation of Nashville, which manages federal prisons. AT&T and Exxon Mobil say they have each donated $50,000.
Like other charities, the DeLay Foundation, which operates from a post office box near the Republican's house in Sugar Land, is not required under federal laws to release a donors' list. Nor does it have to account in detail for how it spends millions of dollars in donations on behalf of abused and neglected children.
The charity's largest project, a $7 million 50-acre housing complex near Houston for foster children, is being built by Bob Perry, a Texas contractor and a top GOP donor. Perry drew attention last year after providing the seed money for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the conservative group that sought to undermine Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War record during his presidential campaign.

James Boyle on Copyright Law: Deconstructing stupidity

It is as if we had signed an international stupidity pact, one that required us to ignore the evidence, to hand out new rights without asking for the simplest assessment of need. If the stakes were trivial, no one would care. But intellectual property (IP) is important. These are the ground rules of the information society. Mistakes hurt us. They have costs to free speech, competition, innovation, and science. Why are we making them?
To some the answer is obvious: corporate capture of the decision making process. This is a nicely cynical conclusion. But wait. There are economic interests on both sides. The film and music industries are tiny compared the consumer electronics industry. Yet copyright law dances to the tune played by the former, not the latter. Open source software is big business. But the international IP bureaucracies seem to view it as godless communism.
If money talks, why can decision-makers only hear one side of the conversation? Corporate capture can only be part of the explanation. Something more is needed. We need to deconstruct the culture of IP stupidity, to understand it so we can change it. But this is a rich and complex stupidity, like a fine Margaux. I can only review a few flavours.

Excerpts from "The New American Militarism"

The Normalization of War and New Boys in Town - The Neocon Revolution and American Militarism are two excerpts from Andrew J. Bacevich's just released The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, concerning who and which there was a previous post here. [from]

At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might. The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature...

Juan Cole: The New McCarthyism

A member of the U.S. Congress calls for an assistant professor at a major university to be summarily fired. The right-wing tabloid press runs a series of vicious attacks on him, often misquoting him and perpetuating previous misquotes. Opinion pieces attacking "tenured radicals" and questioning professors' patriotism use him as their centerpiece. All of these attacks are spurred by a propaganda film made by an advocacy group, in which anonymous accusations are made and the professor is not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
It is not 1953, the Congress member is not Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and the professor is not being accused of being a communist. No, it is 2005, the Congress member is Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and the professor is being accused of being anti-Israel.
The lesson for academics, and American society as a whole: McCarthyism is unacceptable except when criticism of Israel is involved.
The targeted professor is Joseph Massad, of the Middle East Languages and Cultures Department at Columbia University. Massad is the author of "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan" (Columbia University Press, 2001), and of a forthcoming book treating the sexual depictions of Arabs in colonial literature, "Desiring Arabs." He is well-published, and his first book received rave reviews in journals such as Choice and the American Historical Review. His career would have been no more controversial than that of any academic historian working on Argentina or Uganda, had he not been a Palestinian-American teaching about Israel and Palestine in New York City. Nor, had he been critical of Argentinean or Ugandan policies, would any eyebrows have been raised in the United States.

Today Sponge returning to market

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved U.S. sales of the Today Sponge, which was the favorite nonprescription birth control product of women when it was withdrawn from the market in 1995.
"The product was found to be safe and effective," FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said.
The polyurethane sponges, which have been sold by manufacturer Allendale Pharmaceuticals in Canada and over the Internet since March 2003, will be available in the U.S. in two months through a company Web site and in four months at retail drug stores, followed by discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Allendale said.

Rice Ordered Release of German Sent to Afghan Prison in Error

A German citizen detained for five months in an Afghan prison was released in May 2004 on direct orders from Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, after she learned the man had been mistakenly identified as a terror suspect, government officials said Friday.
The officials, who confirmed an account of Ms. Rice's decision that was first reported by NBC News, said that when Khaled el-Masri was taken from a bus on the Serbian-Macedonian border on Dec. 31, 2003, the Macedonian and the American authorities believed he was a member of Al Qaeda who had trained at one of Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
But within several months they concluded he was the victim of mistaken identity, the officials said. His name was similar to a Qaeda suspect on an international watch list of possible terrorist operatives, they said.

In Portland, Ore., a Bid to Pull Out of Terror Task Force

Citing irreconcilable differences with how the Federal Bureau of Investigation has operated in a post-Sept. 11 world, city officials in Portland, Ore., said yesterday that they planned to pull their police officers out of an F.B.I.-run antiterrorism task force.
Federal officials said no other city had taken such an action.
Mayor Tom Potter, a Democrat and former Portland police chief, along with several city commissioners, said they expected the City Council to approve the move next week.
Mr. Potter said that several sticking points in negotiations with the F.B.I. over how investigations are conducted and who has "top secret" security clearance had prompted his decision to remove the two officers, now detailed to the antiterrorism task force, from under the auspices of the F.B.I.

Human Rights Watch Calls for Investigation of Rumsfeld and Tenet

A year after the Abu Ghraib photos were widely circulated, and a few days after most of the low-ranking officers blamed were let off, Human Rights Watch releases a report clearly implicating the entire chain of command, and strongly urges the investigation of Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet. (Full report here) Just some bad eggs, eh? [from]

Medicare Change Will Limit Access to Claim Hearing

For years, hearings have been held at more than 140 Social Security offices around the country. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services will take over the responsibility, and department officials said all judges would then be located at just four sites - in Cleveland; Miami; Irvine, Calif.; and Arlington, Va.
Under the new policy, Medicare officials said, most hearings will be held with videoconference equipment or by telephone. A beneficiary who wants to appear in person before a judge must show that "special or extraordinary circumstances exist," the rules say.
But a beneficiary who insists on a face-to-face hearing will lose the right to receive a decision within 90 days, the deadline set by statute.
The policy change comes as Bush administration officials are predicting an increase in the volume of cases, with the creation of a Medicare drug benefit expected to generate large numbers of claims and appeals. But in a recent study, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, questioned the heavy reliance on videoconferences, saying that "beneficiaries are often uncomfortable using videoconference facilities and prefer to have their cases heard face to face."

Rather than Boycott, Kansas Scientists will Defend Evolution in Schools

At the end of the nearly two-hour meeting, it was decided that proponents of intelligent design -- an idea that the world was started by a supernatural power -- will provide testimony from May 5 through May 7.
And in a surprise move, it appears that supporters of evolution will present their side May 12 through May 14.
Scientists in Kansas and across the nation had previously said they would boycott the hearings on science standards because they felt that conservative State Board of Education members were using the hearings to criticize evolution and introduce religion in science classes.
But on Tuesday, the majority of scientists serving on a committee that composed the pro-evolution science standards for Kansas students indicated they were ready to challenge the conservatives.

America's Ten Worst Greenwashers

An automaker that produces dozens of models of gas-guzzling SUVs opts to market its lone hybrid as proof of far-reaching environmental responsibility. An energy company uses solar to symbolize its commitment to a post-carbon future, even as all but a sliver of its operations are stuck in oil. And a chemical company touts its donation to a conservation group, made only to silence grassroots gripes about toxic pollution.
Dealing in lies of omission, image ads belong to a business strategy known as greenwash, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”
1. Ford Motor Company
2. BP
3. United States Forest Service
4. ChevronTexaco
5. General Motors
6. Nuclear Energy Institute
7. Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
8. TruGreen ChemLawn
9. Xcel Energy
10. National Ski Areas Association

Theocracy 101: "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost"

“Most people hear them talk about a ‘Christian nation’ and think, ‘Well, that sounds like a good, moral thing,’ says the Rev. Mel White, who ghostwrote Jerry Falwell’s autobiography before breaking with the evangelical movement. “What they don’t know—what even most conservative Christians who voted for Bush don’t know—is that ‘Christian nation’ means something else entirely to these Dominionist leaders. This movement is no more about following the example of Christ than Bush’s Clean Water Act is about clean water.”
The godfather of the Dominionists is D. James Kennedy, the most influential evangelical you’ve never heard of. A former Arthur Murray dance instructor, he launched his Florida ministry in 1959, when most evangelicals still followed Billy Graham’s gospel of nonpartisan soul-saving. Kennedy built Coral Ridge Ministries into a $37-million-a-year empire, with a TV-and-radio audience of 3 million, by preaching that it was time to save America—not soul by soul but election by election. After helping found the Moral Majority in 1979, Kennedy became a five-star general in the Christian army. Bush sought his blessing before running for president—and continues to consult top Dominionists on matters of federal policy.
“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost,” Kennedy says. “As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors—in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Book: James Dobson's War on America

From Publishers Weekly:
In this often strident expose of James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, an ultraconservative Christian organization, former Focus vice-president Alexander-Moegerle issues a call to all politically concerned Americans to beware of Dobson's political agenda. It's no secret that Dobson, as Alexander-Moegerle writes, advocates "smaller government, larger defense, the elimination of the Department of Education and the NEA, and the barring of women and homosexuals from military service." Alexander-Moegerle relies on his more than 15 years of close contact with Dobson to paint a portrait of Dobson as an autocratic manager hungry for political power and recognition. According to the author, Dobson's Nazarene belief that he is sinless and morally perfect results in Dobson's stance that he is morally superior to others, even his employees. Such a stance, combined with Dobson's apparent sexism, racism and homophobia, and his ability to lobby Capitol Hill with "500,000 to 1 million phone calls and letters within hours," according to Alexander-Moegerle, seem to make Dobson a tremendous political threat to the pluralism and diversity of political views in America. Unfortunately, the second half of the book, in which Alexander-Moegerle chronicles his own lawsuit against the Dobson organization, mars the force of the rest of the book, since the text turns more toward personal vendetta than levelheaded critique. Even so, Alexander-Moegerle brings into the open some serious questions about Dobson and Focus on the Family that merit response.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Religious Leaders To Senator Bill Frist: Drop Out Of “Justice Sunday” Or Risk Dividing The Country

This morning leading national religious figures held a teleconference calling on Senator Bill Frist, the Republican Majority Leader, to withdrawal from an event this weekend billed as “Justice Sunday.” Justice Sunday is sponsored by conservative religious organizations in concert with the republican leader with a stated intention of painting democrats and those who oppose the president’s judicial nominees – most of whom oppose basic civil rights protections for minorities – as “people against faith.” I was able to listen in this morning and hear these progressive religious leaders take issue with this cynical attempt to manipulate Christian faith for political ends.

Ministers urge cancellation of 'Justice Sunday'

A group of ministers representing about 17 Baptist churches in the Louisville area and a national Baptist committee that supports separation of church and state yesterday called on a Louisville church to cancel its planned "Justice Sunday" tomorrow.
"We see 'Justice Sunday' as part of a larger effort to link church and state in ways not seen in America since the Puritans were hanging Quakers on Boston Commons and exiling Baptists to Rhode Island," the Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, said during a news conference yesterday.
But there are no plans to cancel the event, said the Rev. Kevin Ezell, senior pastor of Highview Baptist Church, where the national Christian telecast will be based.
"I don't know Joe Phelps," Ezell said in a telephone interview. "He's never called me. The biggest story here is that he wants to be on TV, he wants to be in the paper. He needs to spend more time reaching people than criticizing other churches."

“Follow the Money” Documenting the Right's Well-Heeled Assault on the United Methodist Church

Six months ago, we reviewed in these pages an unsettling book titled United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake Up Call by Leon Howell (see Zion’s Herald, July/August 2003). The book exposes an orchestrated attack by the American political and religious right on The United Methodist Church (UMC) and other mainline Protestant denominations that have been sufficiently vigorous, socially involved and politically effective to garner its wrath (Howell, 2003).
In response to the ensuing criticism of the book and our review, we organized a group of researchers to check the facts and found the volume to be well documented and reliable. In the process, we also reviewed hundreds of documents published by the key organization involved in the assault on the church, namely, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Our findings as outlined below are very disturbing.
...The IRD’s stated goals, which consistently are at odds with the historic social witness of the mainline churches, include increasing military spending, opposing environmental protection efforts and eliminating social welfare programs (Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2001a). In this respect, it can be said that the IRD and its wealthy patrons are intent on derailing if not outright controlling the UMC’s social witness. If that sounds implausible, one need only consider how right-wing groups during the last decade have done that and more in their take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention.
...The IRD has pressed the Bush administration to take a harder line on North Korea (Goodenough, 2003) and vigorously supported Republican tax cuts for the rich (Tooley, 2001b, c). Mr. Tooley’s direct board of directors supervisor, David Stanley, is the chairman of a radical anti-tax group (Clark, 1999) that advocates the slashing of government services for the poor and disabled and huge tax cuts for the wealthy (Neas, 2003). The IRD opposes even limited environmental protection efforts and has collaborated with other like-minded folks to try to roll back protections now in place (Interfaith Coalition for Environmental Stewardship, 2003; Public Eye, 2003; Sider & Ball, 2002; Tooley, 2002). The IRD, particularly Ms. Knippers, has been vocal in opposition to any form of hate crime legislation (Jones, 2000). It has expressed opposition to a land mines treaty (Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2001b) and to women even having knowledge about reproductive choices (Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2001c).

The Real Assault On The Church - How the IRD Attacks Ministers that Deviate from Political Message

What's interesting is that despite the attempts by the Fringe Fundamentalists to position themselves in the media as the spokespeople for all things Christian, there is an organization in their network that shows they know that's not true.
The Institute for Religion and Democracy .
IRD is a secularly funded group (including money from the right-wing Scaife foundations ) that attacks and smears clergy who voice interpretations of Christianity that it deems as insufficiently conservative.
(An Olin Foundation grant to IRD was once described as funding "Programs to counter the political influence of the Religious Left".)
One North Carolina pastor recently said, "It is my opinion (shared by many) that the institute's tacit agenda is to align mainline churches with the Republican Party."
The New Zion's Herald called IRD "the key organization involved in the assault on the church."
Blogger Chuck Currie called IRD "Just Another Right-Wing Group Working to Malign Christians Working For Peace and Justice"
And SF Weekly has reported on IRD's efforts to attack pastors who support marriage rights for gays.
IRD has created three "astroturf" front groups that focus on specific denominations: Episcopal Action, Presbyterian Action and UM Action (Methodist).

Reid Blasts Bush for "Not Being Honest"

“In the span of three minutes, the vice president managed to reinvent 200 years of Senate history and ignore the fact that Congress has already approved 205 of this administration’s nominees. Apparently, a 95 percent confirmation rate is not enough for this president. He wants it all, even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.
“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power."

Army clears top brass over Iraq abuse

Former commander of US troops in Iraq Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez has been cleared over abuses at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.
A new inquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing by Gen Sanchez and three of his top aides, US officials say.
The US army inspector general's report says only Brig Gen Janis Karpinski, commander at the jail, has been found guilty and reprimanded over the abuse.

Prescription Drugs, High of Choice Among Teens

About one in five teenagers have tried prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin to get high, with the pill-popping members of ''Generation Rx'' often raiding their parents' medicine cabinets, according to a study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
The 17th annual study on teen drug abuse, released Thursday, found that more teens had abused prescription painkillers in 2004 than Ecstasy, cocaine, crack or LSD. One in 11 teens had abused over-the-counter products such as cough medicine, the study reported.

British Man Sells Moore's Law Mag to Intel

British engineer David Clark has claimed a $10,000 sum from electronic giant Intel for a copy of a 1965 issue of Electronics Magazine.
Intel posted the request earlier this month on E-bay spin-off 'Want it Now' for a copy of the April 19, 1965 issue of Electronics Magazine, offering $10,000 for a mint edition.
The reason for the large reward was that Intel co-founder Gordon Moore had his theory, which became known as Moore’s Law, published in that edition of the magazine.
The 'law' came about from the article where Moore observed an exponential growth in the number of transistors per integrated circuit and predicted that this trend would continue. The 'law' has held true so far and Intel themselves predict it will do so until the end of the decade.
Clark, who admits to being a hoarder, found a copy under the floorboards of his house in a pile of old magazines. He told the press it was one of the strangest things that has ever happened to him; he intends to put some of the money to his daughter's wedding.

Ecuadoreans rebelled by radio, e-mail and text

Fed up with politicians, Ecuadoreans turned to local radio, text messages and the Internet to whip up a street rebellion this week that helped push their president Lucio Gutierrez out of office.
Gutierrez, a former army officer elected in late 2002, was waiting in Quito's Brazilian embassy residence on Saturday for safe conduct to asylum in Brazil, three days after intense protests played their part in forcing him from office.
Buoyant protesters, including businessmen, housewives and students, described the demonstrations as a popular rebellion that grew through word of mouth, cellular telephone text messages and broadcasts on La Luna, a local radio station.
Many said the week-long rallies were a spontaneous reaction to frustration with what they saw as the government's abuse of power and disappointment with leaders of all political colours.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Frist Draws Criticism From Some Church Leaders

As the Senate battle over judicial confirmations became increasingly entwined with religious themes, officials of several major Protestant denominations on Thursday accused the Senate Republican leader, Bill Frist, of violating the principles of his own Presbyterian church and urged him to drop out of a Sunday telecast that depicts Democrats as "against people of faith."
..."One of the hallmarks of our denomination is that we are an ecumenical church," Mr. Kirkpatrick said in an interview on Thursday. He also said, "Elected officials should not be portraying public policies as being for or against people of faith."

Saudis to Double Investment in Energy Production

Saudi Arabia, facing mounting pressure from the U.S. and others to step up output of oil and gas amid a surge in prices, plans to more than double its investment in energy development to $50 billion in the next five years from the previous five-year period, Friday's Wall Street Journal reported.
Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabia's oil minister, also said the kingdom had tossed aside its production cap set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and is willing to sell its customers every barrel of oil they want, up to its current capacity of 11 million barrels a day. The planned increase in investment, Mr. Naimi said, would boost the kingdom's oil-pumping capacity to 12.5 million barrels a day by 2009, a target Mr. Naimi had previously disclosed. Saudi Arabia also has said it was studying longer-term plans for capacity increases to about 15 million barrels a day.
Mr. Naimi's disclosures about increased investment appear to be part of a campaign by Saudi Arabia, the world's top exporter and OPEC's de facto leader, to blunt criticism that the cartel is behind the recent rise in energy prices. His remarks come just as Saudi Arabia's effective ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, is set to meet President Bush Monday in Texas.

Bloggers and Podcasters as Stringers

Stringer a freelance journalist, who is paid for each piece of published or broadcast work, rather than receiving a regular salary. (From the Wikipedia entry for stringer)
I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of bloggers and others as news sources. There was a time when newspapers and radio networks had stringers all over the world feeding them stories. This was how we knew what was going on and it worked well. Stringers were good reporters and they knew the areas that they were in. But that doesn’t work as well as it used to, because it’s expensive to fly people around the world and get them to where the stories are.
So I was thinking the other day, what if we used bloggers and podcasters from around the world as stringers. The benefit here is that there are already folks producing news worthy content just about everywhere in the world. People are reading blogs about the war in Iraq, written by people there everyday. Then the tsunami hit it was bloggers that got more news out faster than any of the major news sources. All that needs to happen is that we need to collect, organize and sort the incoming information so folks can find what they are looking for.

Sumo Tube

Ever dreamed of morphing yourself into a surfing Weeble Wobble? Dream no more. The Sumo Tube is an inflatable bodysuit that can be towed passively (a la waterski), or worn for bodysurfing. It would appear that you will be having so much fun, you'll forget all about the fact that you look ridiculous.
Link (Thanks, Sunfell)

Senate Adds $213M Extra for Humvees to Iraq Spending

The extra money will keep an armored Humvee productionline running at full capacity until July 31. Without the money, production would drop from 550 this month to 239 in June, zero in July, 40 in August and 71 in September.
Sponsored by Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the amendment passed 60-40, while the overall spending bill was approved 99-0. Since the House approved spending an extra $185 million on the factory-armored Humvees last month, the military is virtually assured of having more money for the vehicles when differences in the two versions of the bill are reconciled by the House and Senate. The White House originally sought $743 million for the Humvees.
Kennedy said a quarter of all U.S. combat deaths (roughly 400) in Iraq happened to troops in unarmored Humvees.
Earlier this month, the Army said it was 855 vehicles short of reaching its goal of having 8,105 factory-armored Humvees in the military theater that includes Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army argued that it met that goal but counted armored Humvees based in the United States and elsewhere.
Bayh said the Army has consistently underestimated its needs for Humvees in Iraq. "When will we do more instead of less?" he asked.

The leaders of the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family are openly calling for the destruction of US courts

Perkins is heard saying, "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench." He went on to say that the power-mad, court-bashing Republicans in Congress are considering strategies for destroying courts they don't like by defunding them. He said, "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them....just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."
James Dobson has even bigger ideas: simply legislate courts out of existence entirely. Congress does have the power to set up the Federal Judiciary according to Article 3 of the US Constitution, but it isn't clear whether a court can simply be legislated out of existence, considering that judges are appointed for life. Dobson apparently didn't read that footnote in findlaw that might throw a wrench in his scheme when he said, "Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court. They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."
Why, exactly, isn't this front-page news? These two men are attacking the basis of our protection from tyranny; they're attacking the courts. They're saying that justice under the law doesn't matter; or rather, they're saying that the only justice under the law is that which they command. These men are trying to exterminate the independence of the judiciary, a principle that has generally served this country well since its inception. When they attack our courts, they attack democracy itself. They attack our system of government. They attack our nation. They attack us. Why isn't the media bringing this assault to the nation's attention?
Why do James Dobson and Tony Perkins hate America?

Pentagon Seeks New Information Warriors

U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) is "fostering competition" for a "lucrative contract to analyze foreign media coverage and handle strategic communications for its operations and the so-called global war on terrorism," reports O'Dwyer's. The work involves tracking "media in broadcast, print and online in Arabic, Urdu Pashtu" and other languages, as well as "building databases of key communicators and media outlets, analyzing the perception of U.S. actions and communication, and identifying vulnerabilities." The contract requires the PR firm to provide staff "on a 24/7 schedule during critical periods." The secretive Rendon Group, "the Pentagon's go-to firm for military PR," currently holds the $8.2 million contract, which 56 of its employees work on. STRATCOM hopes to award the new contract this summer.

How to Fake Your Own Town Hall

Once again, a parody news segment on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" is offering better journalism than much of what you'll find coming from "real" newsrooms. CC's Samantha Bee interviews Republican media strategist Frank Luntz for advice on how to create her own fake town hall meetings, like the ones that President Bush has been using to promote his Social security privatization scheme. "A real town hall can be very dangerous if it gets out of control," Luntz explains. "A town hall where the speaker cannot command the respect and the control of the audience can look very bad on television. ... To me the most important component of a successful town hall is the visual, is the backdrop." And the audience itself is part of the backdrop, Luntz explains as he reviews footage from an actual Bush town hall video: "There he's got an African-American, he's got an Asian, there's your female he's got. It's one of everybody. It's almost like the rainbow wedding line."
[This is outstanding! -- McLir]

Bush's Most Radical Plan Yet: New Budget Contains Presidential Power to Kill Legislation

If you've got something to hide in Washington, the best place to bury it is in the federal budget. The spending plan that President Bush submitted to Congress this year contains 2,000 pages that outline funding to safeguard the environment, protect workers from injury and death, crack down on securities fraud and ensure the safety of prescription drugs. But almost unnoticed in the budget, tucked away in a single paragraph, is a provision that could make every one of those protections a thing of the past.
The proposal, spelled out in three short sentences, would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the "Sunset Commission," which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not "producing results," in the eyes of the commission, would "automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them."
...In practice, however, the commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners -- many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight -- the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Constitution: Article VI, Clause 3

" religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Bush's Test for Judges

"We need common-sense judges who understand our rights were derived from God," he says in a 2002 clip. "And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench." -- George W. Bush

Defunding Judges

Evangelical Christian leaders, who have been working closely with senior Republican lawmakers to place conservative judges in the federal courts, have also been exploring ways to punish sitting jurists and even entire courts viewed as hostile to their cause.
An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.
..."There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session. The tape was provided to The Times by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.
"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters.

A Eulogy to Hubble

This week marks 15 years since the Hubble Space Telescope, hailed by some commentators as the most successful astronomy mission ever, was placed in orbit. Since 25 April 1990, it has snapped 750,000 images, sending 120 gigabytes of data back to Earth each week. But now the end may well be nigh for the ailing telescope. looks back over Hubble's career and forward to the next generation of space scopes.
Perhaps Hubble's most impressive achievement is to have peered into the farthest recesses of the Universe, allowing cosmologists the chance to witness the first stars in the act of formation. Images called the Hubble Ultra Deep Fields , taken using lengthy exposures of around a million seconds, capture light from so far away - which has travelled for so long to reach us - that the pictures show astronomers what was happening almost as far back as the Big Bang.
In recent years, Hubble has also taken ultraviolet images of Saturn's striking aurorae , captured high-speed galactic collisions , and provided hundreds of posters for physics students' bedroom walls.

Police in Ariz. Seek Monkey for SWAT Team

"Everybody laughs about it until they really start thinking about it," said Mesa Officer Sean Truelove, who builds and operates tactical robots for the suburban Phoenix SWAT team. "It would change the way we do business."
Truelove is spearheading the department's request to purchase and train a capuchin monkey, considered the second smartest primate to the chimpanzee. The department is seeking about $100,000 in federal grant money to put the idea to use in Mesa SWAT operations.
[Wait a minute, we're primates! Is our smartness very far behind the chimps and capuchins? -- McLir]

ACLU Files Emergency Motion in Sibel Edmonds Case

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of the National Capital Area filed an emergency motion Wednesday to open the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to the public during oral arguments tomorrow in a hearing over the termination of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Several media outlets filed a separate emergency motion.
The move comes in response to an announcement from the court clerk this morning that the argument would be closed to everyone except attorneys involved in the case and Edmonds. Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU National Office, will argue on behalf of Edmonds tomorrow.
"There is no plausible reason why members of the public and the press cannot be present at this hearing, especially since the written arguments of the parties are entirely on the public record,"said Art Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. "The rule of law does not evaporate because an appeal involves national security information."

AP Sues U.S. to Get Guantanamo Documents

Government documents related to military hearings for Guantanamo Bay detainees are of ``urgent concern'' to the public and should be released, according to a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press against the Defense Department.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, stated AP has been able to report only anecdotally on 558 tribunals conducted since August to let detainees challenge their incarceration at the Cuban base. The news agency said the proceedings were ``unquestionably of great interest to the public.''
It asked the court to order the government to turn over transcripts of all Guantanamo detainees' testimony, along with written statements by the detainees and any documents they have submitted.

Nuclear Reactor in Toledo Fined for Near-Breach after Lax Cleaning and Inspection

The leaking boric acid was found two years later during a routine inspection. The corrosion had eaten almost through a 6-inch-thick steel cap.
The damage at the plant along the Lake Erie shore, 30 miles east of Toledo, ranks among the nation's worst nuclear problems since Three Mile Island in 1979. It led to a review of 68 similar plants nationwide.
The plant was closed for two years but returned to full power last April.
The NRC said FirstEnergy restarted the plant in 2000 without completing a cleaning and inspection of the reactor vessel head.
The agency said the company then provided incomplete and inaccurate information about the cleaning and inspection.
"This substantial fine emphasizes the very high safety and regulatory significance of FirstEnergy's failure to comply with NRC requirements," said Luis Reyes, the NRC's executive director for operations.
Meanwhile: The House approves an $8-billion energy measure that would boost coal, natural gas, nuclear, and domestic crude oil production along with other energy sources.

Administration Reports on Global Warming Exclude Information on Global Warming

...none of the 21 studies of climate change that the administration plans to publish by September 2007 explicitly address the potential effects in eight areas specified by a 1990 law, the Global Change Research Act. The areas include agriculture, energy, water resources and biological diversity.
Without such an assessment, the accountability office said, "it may be difficult for the Congress and others to use this information effectively as the basis for making decisions on climate policy."
The investigators also said the program was behind schedule, with just one report on track out of nine that are to be published by next September. The 1990 law requires a report to Congress every four years on the consequences of climate change.
The report was given to The New York Times by Congressional staff members.

Greenspan: "Unsustainable Path" - Asks for Triggers that would Block New Tax Cuts.

Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, urged lawmakers on Thursday to scale back promised benefits for both Social Security and Medicare "sooner rather than later."
Expressing particular alarm about health costs and Medicare, Mr. Greenspan warned that the federal budget was on an "unsustainable path" that would lead to a vicious circle of higher deficits, higher interest rates and even higher borrowing.
"Unless that trend is reversed, at some point these deficits could cause the economy to stagnate or worse," the Fed chairman told the Senate Budget Committee.
...Mr. Greenspan admitted that he and most other forecasters had been wrong to expect budget surpluses, which disappeared the next year.
But he said it was unfair to accuse him of complicity in the deficits, because he had also pleaded unsuccessfully for "triggers," or mechanisms that would require policy changes if expected tax revenues failed to materialize.

FAIR: Time's Coverage of Coulter

"Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in result," wrote Cloud. "But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors."
That would depend on how one defines "many" or "outright." Websites like the Daily Howler, Tapped, Media Matters and Spinsanity have pointed out literally dozens of errors in Coulter's book Slander and other Coulter statements. Coulter directed Cloud to one error she now admits to making, about the New York Times supposedly ignoring the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt (an error she lied about making when she appeared on FAIR's CounterSpin--8/9/02). Coulter managed to make yet another error in her explanation to Cloud, but this didn't seem to lead Cloud to dig any deeper. As Salon's Eric Boehlert pointed out (4/19/05), Slander's publisher made five corrections after its initial printing-- and should have made at least six more.

Henry Hyde Implies Clinton Impeachment was Payback for Nixon

ABC News in Chicago has yanked and replaced a story in which retiring Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) indicated that the attempt to impeach President Clinton came in retaliation for the move to impeach President Nixon because they felt the story was too opinionated, RAW STORY has learned.
...Andy Shaw asked Hyde if the Clinton proceedings were payback for Nixon's impeachment.
"I can't say it wasn't, but I also thought that the Republican party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty, our responsibility," said Hyde.
Hyde's comments reflect what Democrats have been saying for years about the Clinton impeachment. It will be interesting to see what happens when Hyde's comments hit the national media.
Hyde's style will be missed in Washington, as well as his sense of civility, even though a lot of people will not miss his rigid ideology.

FOX Offers Shiny New Justification for Iraq War

"If the Iraqis were behind the Oklahoma City bombing, and Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols were in fact so called 'lilly whites' recruited to act as fronts for Muslim or Iraqi, or maybe even Iranian, terror against the U.S. heartland.
And what if it turns out that Tim McVeigh, as a matter of pride and profound embarrassment, would never admit, never let it be known that he was acting in concert with, or on behalf of an actual enemy of the United States — Iraq — an enemy that he personally fought against?" FOXNews's John Gibson offers the speculation and assurance of "actual evidence" which he did not included in the article.

Matt Cooper, Facing Jail, Awaits Appeal to Supreme Court

Matthew Cooper of Time magazine says he is worried over the search for words to explain to his six-year-old son the necessity of “obeying the law” if and when he is sentenced for contempt of court.
The White House reporter stresses that he is not a lawyer, and does not speak for counsel hired by Time and The New York Times for the joint appeal. Nor will he speculate about the prosecutor's designs in pursuing a verdict against the two journalists left standing -- the other being Judith Miller of The New York Times.
However, in contrast to the conventional wisdom now surrounding the legal showdown, following the April 19 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denial of en banc review, he thinks there is a fair chance that the Supreme Court will agree to grant “cert” in what has now been labeled “In re: Grand Jury Subpoena.” With confusion in the lower courts over the scope of a reporter's privilege to protect information from confidential sources, he hopes the Supreme Court will decide this potential landmark case.

Search Military is the largest online military destination, offering free resources to serve, connect, and inform the 30 million Americans with military affinity, including active duty, reservists, guard members, retirees, veterans, family members, defense workers and those considering military careers.

FEC fines Frist's Volunteer PAC for reporting violations

The Federal Election Commission fined Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's political action committee $10,000 for misstating or failing to adequately report certain financial information.
The FEC said Thursday the fine stemmed from an audit of Volunteer PAC's financial activities in 2001 and 2002, a period in which the committee took in about $1.2 million and disbursed about $1 million.
According to the FEC audit, Volunteer PAC misstated certain financial activity, including understating disbursements, in both years.
The PAC also failed to adequately report $183,000 in contributions that were transferred directly to 12 Republican Senate candidates, the audit said. Some of that money was raised at events held for the candidates.

NASA Is Said to Loosen Risk Standards for Shuttle

NASA officials have loosened the standards for what constitutes an acceptable risk of damage from the kind of debris that led to the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia as it was returning from space two years ago, internal documents show.
The move has set off a debate within the agency about whether the changes are a reasonable reassessment of the hazards of flight or whether they jettison long-established rules to justify getting back to space quickly.
Experts who have seen the documents say they do not suggest that the shuttle Discovery - scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 22 - is unsafe, but a small but forceful minority say they worry that NASA is repeating a practice that contributed to the Columbia disaster: playing down risks to continue sending humans into space.
The documents were given to The New York Times by several NASA employees, who asked not to be named, saying they feared retribution.

ACLU: Homeland Security Violates Civil Rights of Muslim American Citizens

The New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in simultaneous news conferences in Buffalo and Brooklyn today announced a lawsuit charging that the Department of Homeland Security singled out and violated the rights of American citizens who were returning from a religious conference in Toronto. The lawsuit was filed to challenge the DHS’s policy of detaining, interrogating, fingerprinting and photographing American citizens who are Muslim, solely because they attended an Islamic conference.

Politicians Seen as Simpler than TV Stars

The results of the study: when people judged their own personalities or those of TV stars or sports heroes, they boiled things down to five factors. But when they judged a politician, it came down to just two: how energetic is he or she, and how trustworthy? Later, the scientists repeated their investigation in the United States, with similar results.
For helping us understand how we understand politicians, Caprara, Barbaranelli and Zimbardo were awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel prize in the field of psychology. Zimbardo later told a reporter from his home state of California (where Arnold Schwarzenegger is the elected governor): "Politicians like to think of themselves as so complex, but the electorate thinks of them as simple." [thanks, Sean]

Stop Global Warming

Over the next year, the March will travel across the U.S., gaining strength in numbers and raising awareness about global warming. On Earth Day 2006, the March will arrive in Washington D.C. to use the strength of our numbers to urge:
1. The president to initiate a real plan of action to address global warming.
2. Congress to enact new laws to reduce global warming pollution from U.S. power plants, factories and automobiles.
3. U.S. businesses to start a new industrial revolution of clean energy products that will reduce our oil dependence and global warming pollution.

New Book by Douglas Rushkoff

Get Back in the Box says Douglas Rushkoff in his upcoming book of the same name. Kris Krug interviewed Rushkoff last week just after he wrapped up writing. Apparently the author is going to explore how we're undergoing a renaissance of collaboration where identity is defined by connection to others. Douglas seems to be pulling together a lot of ideas that have been bubbling up in the blogosphere (a connected creative/technology class, social networks) but is business ready to hear his message? Sounds like he'll be well received by many webby people, but it remains to be seen how long the traditional definitions he challenges will remain - one generation, two maybe?
You may remember Rushkoff from the PBS Frontline series' Merchants of Cool and Persuaders. He's been discussed quite a bit before here on MeFi, 9 times in fact. [from]

Sydney Schanberg: A Time for Disobedience

The press is now looking squarely at a perversion of government. The administration of George W. Bush has raised secrecy and information control to a level never before seen in Washington.
The falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction that gave the White House the public support to wage war in Iraq may be the most vivid example of the perversion, but the practice permeates all corners of the Bush government.
The press has been grappling with how to cope with this extreme control and distortion of news, some reporters and editors more than others. One possibility they might consider is civil resistance, as in quiet, nonviolent, respectful rebellion.

ACLU: Latest Government Documents Show Army Command Approved and Encouraged Abuse of Detainees

New evidence disclosed in documents released by the Department of Defense confirms that soldiers who abused prisoners were acting with the "seeming approval" of senior command, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.
"These documents provide further evidence that the chain of command in Iraq approved and even encouraged the abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody," said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. "Instead of holding that chain of command accountable for systemic detainee abuse, the U.S. government continues to thwart efforts to bring the full truth about who was ultimately responsible to light."
A CD-ROM of 2,200 documents was released yesterday in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
These latest documents include autopsy reports that provide new, often gruesome details about detainee deaths ruled to be homicides, including death by strangulation and "blunt force injuries." Other investigative reports describe a mock execution of a teenage Iraqi boy in front of his father, who begged soldiers not to shoot his son, as well as an Army Medic’s description of two Iraqis who were "brutally beaten" by U.S. soldiers, in contrast to a captain’s contention that they "just got roughed up a bit."
Significantly, the ACLU said, several documents link the abuses to a "command climate" that encouraged brutality.

FBI bin Laden file edited to protect his privacy.

Japanese PM Apologises Over War

Addressing delegates, Mr Koizumi said: "In the past Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations.
"Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility."
The wording repeats previous Japanese apologies - but analysts say the international setting gives the statement added weight.
Asked by reporters if he would hold talks with President Hu, Mr Koizumi said he was hoping for a meeting on Saturday.
The BBC's Tim Johnston in Jakarta says the apology should go some way to placating Chinese anger, which was recently reignited by a history textbook that the Chinese felt paid insufficient attention to atrocities.
In response to the apology, China's ambassador to Britain, Zha Peixin, said Japan's actions would be more important than words.
Among the issues causing outrage is the description of the Japanese army's massacre in Nanjing, referred to in the study books as "an incident".

From BBC: Between 50,000 and 300,000 Chinese people were killed between December 1937 and March 1938 in one of the worst massacres of modern times.

House Approves Energy Bill

The House approved an energy bill Thursday that will provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to boost domestic energy production, over the objections of lawmakers who called the measure a costly giveaway to the energy industry.
The Republican-controlled House easily passed the bill on a 249-183 vote, despite fights over drilling in the Alaskan wilderness and whether to protect the oil industry from lawsuits over the fuel additive MTBE, which has contaminated drinking water in states from California to Maine.
The bill increases the chances that oil companies will be allowed to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The Senate, which had previously blocked Arctic drilling, voted narrowly last month for a budget resolution that would allow the Bush administration to begin selling oil and gas leases in the refuge.
But the MTBE liability provision and the cost of the subsidies could become major sticking points when the Senate takes up the energy bill next month. The House has passed an energy bill for four straight years, only to see the measure fail in the Senate.

Senate confirms Negroponte as first US intelligence chief 98-2

John D. Negroponte won easy approval by the Senate yesterday to become the nation's first national intelligence director, a job created last year to better coordinate the nation's spy agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Within 45 minutes of his approval, Negroponte was sworn in at the White House by the chief of staff, Andrew Card, as President Bush witnessed the ceremony. Negroponte will take over the task of giving Bush a daily briefing on intelligence matters, probably beginning next week, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Antimalarial drug combo cures 99% of children

Using a combination of two malaria drugs could stave off an “impending malaria treatment crisis” in Africa, a new study indicates.
Giving young children in Tanzania a six-dose course of artemether plus lumefantrine cleared the malarial parasite from the blood of 99% of patients after 14 days, showed the trial by led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. This was far more effective than more conventional drugs or other combinations used in the study of about 1800 children, aged four months to 59 months.

'Info-mania' dents IQ more than marijuana

The relentless influx of emails, cellphone calls and instant messages received by modern workers can reduce their IQ by more than smoking marijuana, suggests UK research.
Far from boosting productivity, the constant flow of messages and information can seriously reduce a person's ability to focus on tasks, the study of office workers found.
Eighty volunteers were asked to carry out problem solving tasks, firstly in a quiet environment and then while being bombarded with new emails and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to any messages, researchers found that their attention was significantly disturbed.
Alarmingly, the average IQ was reduced by 10 points - double the amount seen in studies involving cannabis users. But not everyone was affected by to the same extent - men were twice as distracted as women.

Senate GOP Sets Up Filibuster Showdown

Moving the Senate closer to a historic confrontation, the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee yesterday endorsed two of President Bush's most controversial nominees to federal appellate court, and Democrats vowed once again to use the filibuster to block their confirmation.
The committee, voting 10 to 8 along party lines, endorsed Janice Rogers Brown of California for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Priscilla Richman Owen of Texas for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Both were nominated, endorsed by the Judiciary Committee and ultimately blocked by the Democrats in Bush's first term, along with eight other appeals court nominees.
Yesterday's action therefore sets up a replay of past battles but with potentially far greater consequences. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has threatened to change Senate rules to ban filibusters for judicial nominations, clearing the way for them to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. But Democrats have threatened to bring the Senate to a virtual halt if Frist invokes what has been called the "nuclear option" on such nominations.
Republicans carefully chose their nominees for a Senate confrontation that could occur sometime in the next month, assuming that they can put Democrats, who pride themselves on appealing to female and black voters, on the defensive if they attempt again to deny two women, one of them an African American, an up-or-down vote.

The Sixth Extinction

So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? "It's the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race, are its cause," explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world's most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. "For the sake of argument, let's assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we're destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies." The statistics he has assembled are staggering. Fifty per cent of the Earth's species will have vanished inside the next 100 years; mankind is using almost half the energy available to sustain life on the planet, and this figure will only grow as our population leaps from 5.7 billion to ten billion inside the next half-century. Such a dramatic and overwhelming mass extinction threatens the entire complex fabric of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens.
by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin (Doubleday, 1995)

All the Music from the Simpsons

"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"

f you are looking for a good dose of outrage at a theater near you, you won't find a better bargain than "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," a new documentary directed by Alex Gibney. Documentaries have recently been making up for a shortfall in genuine movie heroes - those plucky child orthographers in "Spellbound" and the gritty wheelchair jocks of "Murderball" come to mind - and Mr. Gibney's film is the latest evidence that nonfiction cinema can supply worthy, hissable villains as well.
Anyone who might be in the jury pool for the coming trials of Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling, the top Enron executives who have yet to face justice, should probably stay away, since the movie makes the case against them with prosecutorial vigor. Based on the best-selling book by the Fortune magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, "Enron" is a tight, fascinating chronicle of arrogance and greed. Interweaving Peter Coyote's sober, ever-so-slightly sarcastic voice-over narration with interviews and video clips (as well as one ill-advised and unnecessary re-enactment) and accompanied by an anthology of well-chosen pop songs, it manages to be both informative and entertaining. [thanks, Sharon]

FBI Protecting bin Laden's Privacy Rights?

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that fights government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) has invoked privacy right protections on behalf of al Qaeda terror leader Osama bin Laden. In a September 24, 2003 declassified “Secret” FBI report obtained by Judicial Watch, the FBI invoked Exemption 6 under FOIA law on behalf of bin Laden, which permits the government to withhold all information about U.S. persons in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) (2000))

Before invoking privacy protections for Osama bin Laden under Exemption 6, the FBI should have conducted a balancing “test” of the public's right to disclosure against the individual's right to privacy. Many of the references in the redacted documents cite publicly available news articles from sources such as The Washington Post and Associated Press. Based on its analysis of the news stories cited in the FBI report, Judicial Watch was able to determine that bin Laden’s name was redacted from the document, including newspaper headlines in the footnoted citations.
“It is dumbfounding that the United States government has placed a higher priority on the supposed privacy rights of Osama bin Laden than the public’s right to know what happened in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is difficult for me to imagine a greater insult to the American people, especially those whose loved ones were murdered by bin Laden on that day.”
The redacted documents were obtained by Judicial Watch under the provisions of the FOIA and through ongoing litigation (Judicial Watch v. Department of Homeland Security & Federal Bureau of Investigation, No. 04-1643 (RWR)). Among the documents was a declassified “Secret” FBI report, dated September 24, 2003, entitled: “Response to October 2003 Vanity Fair Article (Re: [Redacted] Family Departures After 9/11/2001).” Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on October 7, 2003. The full text of the report and related documents are available on the Internet by clicking here (Adobe Acrobat Reader required).

GOP Poll on "Nuclear Option" Leaked

GOP polling shows 37 percent support for the GOP plan to deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominees, while 51 percent oppose, officials said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several officials who attended the polling briefing said the survey also contained encouraging news for Republicans. The poll found more than 80 percent of those surveyed believed all judicial nominees deserve a yes-or-no vote.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, noting the survey data has not been made public.
Republicans say negative polling numbers wouldn't deter them. "Polling on this issue is not going to make a difference. We are going to try to do what's right," Hutchison said.

Transcripts of Lectures at the London School of Economics

Antarctic glaciers in mass retreat

Almost all the glaciers that flow into the sea off the Antarctic Peninsula are retreating. The discovery comes from an analysis spanning more than half a century of aerial photographs and satellite images.
"Fifty years ago most glaciers were slowly growing in length, but the pattern is now reversed and they're shrinking," the British Antarctic Survey's Alison Cook told a press conference in London. Of 244 glaciers studied, 87% have shown a net retreat since photographic evidence was first collected in the 1940s, says Cook, who led the project.
The trend is probably linked to local climate changes on the peninsula, she explains, where temperatures have risen by around 2ºC over the past 50 years. This is much more than the average temperature increase seen in the rest of Antarctica.

ExxonMobil's Financing of Global Warming Denial

This concerted effort reflects the shared convictions of free-market, and thus antiregulatory, conservatives. But there’s another factor at play. In addition to being supported by like-minded individuals and ideologically sympathetic foundations, these groups are funded by ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. Mother Jones has tallied some 40 ExxonMobil-funded organizations that either have sought to undermine mainstream scientific findings on global climate change or have maintained affiliations with a small group of “skeptic” scientists who continue to do so. Beyond think tanks, the count also includes quasi-journalistic outlets like Tech (a website providing “news, analysis, research, and commentary” that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups. In total, these organizations received more than $8 million between 2000 and 2003...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Google Maps and public transit

This and this are both really cool examples of folks hacking google maps and firefox to do some really neat stuff.
Some very bright folks have taken the maps from the Chicago and Boston public transit systems and made them available via Google Maps so that you can look up an address and find it on a map that shows the nearest bus or train stop.
Now, if we can just get the folks at Google Maps to include public transit information by default as a transparent overlay of their existing maps that would be even cooler.

Public Money into Social Security Polls

While politicians debated saving Social Security, its federal overseer spent $2 million to poll the public. The Clinton administration wanted to know if people thought the program saved older Americans from poverty. The Bush administration refocused questions on its private investment plan. Taxpayers covered the cost of the polling, according to government documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Social Security Administration first hired the Gallup Organization in 1998, when Bill Clinton was in office. The survey changed markedly in 2003, when George W. Bush began his re-election campaign.
The Bush administration removed from the Clinton-era survey two statements that at least three-quarters of those polled had agreed with: "Social Security benefits play a major role in keeping many senior citizens out of poverty" and "Social Security is the largest single source of income for most elderly Americans."
New questions sought to determine when the public thought the federal retirement program would go broke and whether people knew anything about Bush's plan to let workers invest part of their Social Security payments in private accounts.
The poll did not mention either president. The Social Security agency, now run by Bush appointee Jo Anne Barnhart, says it changed the questions in 2003 on its own, without input from the White House.

White House Falsey Advertises Pot as More Dangerous than Tobacco

A new White House ad campaign encourages teen cigarette use by falsely telling parents that tobacco is far less dangerous to kids than marijuana, officials of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) charged today. "By inaccurately portraying cigarettes as relatively harmless, the White House is condemning thousands of young people to a life of addiction and early death from cancer and emphysema," said MPP Director of Government Relations Steve Fox.
The new ad, which started running this week in papers such as USA Today and The New York Times, claims, "Quite a few people think that smoking pot is less likely to cause cancer than a regular cigarette. You may even have heard some parents say they'd rather their kid smoked a little pot than get hooked on cigarettes. Wrong, and wrong again. ... One joint can deliver four times as much cancer-causing tar as one cigarette."

Using Play to Relieve Poverty

A company in South Africa has found a way to harness youthful energy in solving the perennial problem of water supply in rural villages.
It uses a playground roundabout to power a borehole pump.
Roundabout Outdoors is now hoping to take the concept to other African countries where water infrastructure languishes behind South Africa.
The play-pump benefits women and girls in particular who can spend hours each day fetching water.
"African and Asian women spend up to six hours a day walking to collect water," Roundabout Outdoor's Trevor Field told the BBC's World Today.
"If we put a play-pump in, if you look at the saving on time alone it's phenomenal, and it does have a massive impact on the health of children and people in general."

Theologian calls for response to 9/11

David Ray Griffin asks the tough questions about Sept. 11, contending U.S. officials had some knowledge of what was coming and possibly orchestrated the attacks.
Griffin, whose book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," came out a year ago, drew an enthusiastic standing ovation from the majority of the 400 or so people who packed his lecture Monday night at Bascom Hall.
A retired Christian theologian, Griffin, 65, taught for more than 30 years at the Claremont School of Theology in California.
His comments Monday night were directed at religious people, who he said need to respond to Sept. 11 - and the American empire that has ensued - based on the moral principles of their religious traditions.
Drawing laughter from the crowd, Griffin said he had in mind principles like: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' oil" and "Thou shalt not murder thy neighbors in order to steal their oil."

The Infinite Library

The digitization of the world’s enormous store of library books—an effort dating to the early 1990s in the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere—has been a slow, expensive, and underfunded process. But last December librarians received a pleasant shock. Search-engine giant Google announced ambitious plans to expand its “Google Print” service by converting the full text of millions of library books into searchable Web pages. At the time of the announcement, Google had already signed up five partners, including the libraries at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan, along with the New York Public Library. More are sure to follow.
Most librarians and archivists are ecstatic about the announcement, saying it will likely be remembered as the moment in history when society finally got serious about making knowledge ubiquitous. Brewster Kahle, founder of a nonprofit digital library known as the Internet Archive, calls Google’s move “huge....It legitimizes the whole idea of doing large-volume digitization.”
But some of the same people, including Kahle, believe Google’s efforts and others like it will force libraries and librarians to reëxamine their core principles—including their commitment to spreading knowledge freely. Letting a for-profit organization like Google mediate access to library books, after all, could either open up long-hidden reserves of human wisdom or constitute the first step toward the privatization of the world’s literary heritage. “You’d think that if libraries are serious about providing access to high-quality material, the idea of somebody digitizing that stuff very quickly—well, what’s not to like?” says Abby Smith, director of programs for the Council on Library and Information Resources, a Washington, DC, nonprofit that helps libraries manage digital transformation. “But some librarians are very concerned about the terms of access and are very concerned that a commercial entity will have control over materials that libraries have collected.”

The Nation: John Bolton vs. Democracy

"Im with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count."
Those were the words John Bolton yelled as he burst into a Tallahassee library on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000, where local election workers were recounting ballots cast in Florida's disputed presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Bolton was one of the pack of lawyers for the Republican presidential ticket who repeatedly sought to shut down recounts of the ballots from Florida counties before those counts revealed that Gore had actually won the state's electoral votes and the presidency.
The December 9 intervention was Bolton's last and most significant blow against the democratic process.
The Florida Supreme Court had ordered a broad recount of ballots in order to finally resolve the question of who won the state. But Bolton and the Bush-Cheney team got their Republican allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to block the review. Fearing that each minute of additional counting would reveal the reality of voter sentiments in Florida, Bolton personally rushed into the library to stop the count.
Bolton was in South Korea when it became clear that the Nov. 7, 2000, election would be decided in Florida. At the behest of former Secretary of State James Baker, who fronted the Bush-Cheney team during the Florida fight, Bolton winged his way to Palm Beach, where he took the lead in challenging ballots during that county's recount. Then, when the ballots from around the state were transported to Tallahassee for the recount ordered by the state Supreme Court, Bolton followed them.


Berkeley laptop thief is scared out of his wits by professor
The last few minutes of this video from a biology class at Berkeley is of professor explaining the terrifying consequences that will soon befall the student that stole his laptop. Hell, I'm 500 miles away from Berkeley and I'm scared after watching this. (Forward to 48:50. It's a RealPlayer file, unfortunately, so be prepared for it to stop playing at least three times while you're watching it).
Link (Thanks Kevin!)

UPDATE: Here's a torrent of the pertinent part of the video (In QuickTime, not Real!) Link (Thanks, Matt Yohe!)
Sean Graham says: "For those people who don't want to deal with RealPlayer I made a very lo-fi mp3 of the audio from the "Stolen Laptop" lecture posted earlier today...
"I trimmed out the actual educational part of the lecture and just left the 'good part.'" Link
Tim says: I've transcribed Professor Rine's speech to the thief who stole his laptop. It's available here.

Microsoft Caves on Gay Rights

In a move that angered many of the company's gay employees, the Microsoft Corporation, publicly perceived as the vanguard institution of the new economy, has taken a major political stand in favor of age-old discrimination.
The Stranger has learned that last month the $37-billion Redmond-based software behemoth quietly withdrew its support for House bill 1515, the anti-gay-discrimination bill currently under consideration by the Washington State legislature, after being pressured by the Evangelical Christian pastor of a suburban megachurch. The pastor, Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, met with a senior Microsoft executive in February and threatened to organize a national boycott of the company's products if it did not change its stance on the legislation, according to gay rights activists and a Microsoft employee who attended a subsequent April 4 meeting where Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, told a group of gay staffers about Hutcherson's threat. Hutcherson also unsuccessfully demanded that the company fire two employees who had testified in favor of the bill.

Intellectual Property Hysteria Hits New High

Making a movie available electronically prior to its release can now result in a three year sentence, thanks to the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act approved Tuesday by the House. The Senate has already passed its own version, and the final bill is expected to be signed by the President.
The bill also calls for three years in cases where a person is caught recording a movie in a theater with a camcorder - and six years for a second offence. It also indemnifies theater operators against all criminal and civil liabilities arising from detaining suspects "in a reasonable manner." (Welcome to movie jail.)
Since involuntary manslaughter brings, on average, anywhere from 0 to 36 months' incarceration, one might well question the morality of going harder on those who trade files than on those who negligently cut short the lives of fellow citizens. But the 109th Congress is about nothing if not morality, and it understands well the essential sacredness of the nation's ruling cartels.

Christian Evangelical Researches the Founding Fathers and Discovers the Truth

As an evangelical Christian and a member of the Christian Coalition, I felt obliged to expose a misquote of John Adams' I found in an article entitled "America's Unchristian Beginnings"1 by the self-avowed atheist Dr. Steven Morris. However, what happened next changed my focus to the use of misquotes, unconfirmed quotes, and misleading attributions by the religious right.
In the process of attempting to correct Morris, I was guilty of using several misquotes myself. Professor John George of the University of Central Oklahoma political science department and coauthor (with Paul Boller Jr.) of the book They Never Said It!2 set me straight. George pointed out that George Washington never said, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."3 I had cited page 18 of the 1927 edition of Halley's Bible Handbook. This quote was probably generated by a similar statement that appears in A Life of Washington4 by James Paulding. Sadly, no one has been able to verify any of the quotes in Paulding's book since no footnotes were offered.
After reading They Never Said It! I had a better understanding of how widespread the problem of misquotes is. Furthermore, I discovered that many of these had been used by the leaders of the religious right. I decided to confront some individuals concerning their misquotes. WallBuilders, the publisher of David Barton's The Myth of Separation, responded by providing me with their "questionable quote" list which contained dozens of quotes widely used by the religious right.

Some Actual Quotes from the Founding Fathers on Christianity

What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy. -- James Madison Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, June 12, 1785

I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth. --Thomas Jefferson

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. -- James Madison Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, June 12, 1785

Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days? -- John Adams

The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. -- Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli signed by President John Adams

...the church has set up a system of religion very contradictory to the character of the person whose name it bears. It has set up a religion of pomp and of revenue in pretended imitation of a person whose life was humility and poverty.” -- Thomas Paine “Age of Reason” pp8-9

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society. -- George Washington in a letter
to Sir Edward Newenham, 22 June 1792

Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion. -- John Adams letter
to Benjamin Rush June 12, 1812

It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven. . . . Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretense of miracle or mystery . . . are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. -- John Adams, 1786

How has it happened that millions of myths, fables, legends and tales have been blended with Jewish and Christian fables and myths and have made them the most bloody religion that has ever existed? Filled with the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud? -- John Adams in letters to F.A. Van Der Kamp 1809-1816

The serious enemies are the priests of the different religious sects to whose spells on the human mind its improvement is ominous. -- Thomas Jefferson, Works, Vol. iv., p. 322

There are in this country, as in all others, a certain proportion of restless and turbulent spirits - poor, unoccupied, ambitious - who must always have something to quarrel about with their neighbors. These people are the authors of religious revivals. -- John Quincy Adams, diary January 21, 1844

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist. Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses, who gave an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and then rape the daughters. One of the most horrible atrocities found in the literature of any nation. I would not dishonor my Creator's name by attaching it to this filthy book. -- Thomas Paine, “Age of Reason” pp 183-188

As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? -- John Adams in a letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot ... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose. -- Thomas Jefferson

History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. -- Thomas Jefferson to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

David Barton - Master of myth and misinformation

The constitutional principle of separation of church and state has given Americans more religious freedom than any people in world history. Around the globe, those suffering under the heavy heel of government-sponsored religious oppression look to America's church-state model with longing. The "wall of separation between church and state" is America's bulwark of true religious liberty.
Despite its proven track record of success, separation of church and state is increasingly becoming just another target for the Religious Right's smear campaign strategists. In the past few years, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in Religious Right circles that seeks to "prove" that mainstream history is all wrong. The United States was really founded to be a fundamentalist Christian nation. Separation of church and state was never intended; it was, these far-right activists allege, foisted on the country by the Supreme Court in recent times.
The Religious Right's leading practitioner of this type of historical revisionism is David Barton, who runs an outfit called WallBuilders out of Aledo, Texas.1 Barton makes a lucrative living traveling the right wing's lecture circuit where he offers up a cut-and-paste version of U.S. history liberally sprinkled with gross distortions and, in some cases, outright factual errors. Crowds of fundamentalist Christians from coast to coast can't get enough of it.