The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a petition on behalf of Cynthia Simpson, a witch of the Wiccan faith, seeking to reverse a ruling that upheld Chesterfield County's decision to bar her from giving the invocation at Board of Supervisors meetings.
In its petition yesterday to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the ACLU said it has asked the full court to reverse a three-judge panel ruling that allowed government officials to discriminate on the basis of religion when choosing people to pray at their meetings.
"Our position is a simple one," said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. "We cannot find any instance in American jurisprudence allowing the government to officially prefer some religions over others. Indeed, all we can find is the opposite -- repeated admonitions against the government when it discriminates on the basis of religion."
Saturday, April 30, 2005
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed a petition on behalf of Cynthia Simpson, a witch of the Wiccan faith, seeking to reverse a ruling that upheld Chesterfield County's decision to bar her from giving the invocation at Board of Supervisors meetings.
Alert: Protect Public Weather Data
The National Weather Service (NWS), a taxpayer-funded agency, monitors thousands of weather stations around America in order to predict hurricanes, sunshine, and every meteorological event in between. In addition to the raw data that it assembles, NWS has recently started offering more user-friendly info to the public via the Internet. So why has Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced a bill that would restrict the kind of information that NWS can freely share?
The National Weather Services Duties Act (S.786) would ban NWS from "competing" with private entities by making it unlawful for the agency to publish user-friendly weather data and barring NWS experts from speaking one-on-one to news agencies. Why? Because Senator Santorum believes that companies like AccuWeather would make more money if they didn't have to compete with "free." That's right - he believes you should pay twice for your weather information in order to line the pockets of the private weather industry, which *already* benefits from repackaging the data that tax-funded agencies like NWS give away. That's not only unfair, it's a bad precedent for our national information resources. Help stop S.786 by sending a letter to your Senators today!
Friday, April 29, 2005
Living Nightmares: Biological Threats Enabled by Molecular Biology - Stanford Biologist Discusses Research on Biological Threats
currently thought to exist.16 Second, it provided a useful framework for projecting what might someday come into existence, both through traditional approaches and through recent advances in biotechnology. Third, it helped us to consider what countermeasures
might usefully be brought to bear to defend populations—or at least to minimize the damage.
In the end, we arrived somewhat arbitrarily at six broad classes of unconventional pathogens that might, or might not, come to pose a threat during the twenty-first century. This list was never meant to be all-inclusive, but only to convey a sense of the spectrum of possibilities. [from TheMemoryBlog.org]
Proudly nationalistic, most Turks see recognition as tantamount to admitting a historical lie.
"A vast majority cannot accept this, and they have no reason to," said Gunduz Aktan, a former senior diplomat. "This creates tension, and it's normal for there to be nationalist reaction."
...Turkey's 65,000 ethnic Armenians are "on a knife's edge," anxious the debate may spark a backlash against the beleaguered community, said Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian weekly Agos.
"We never deny our own history. But Armenians are unable to discuss it for fear it will harm the community's existence."
The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.
As for the press, it has better things to cover than the suffering of civilians in war. The aversion to this topic is at the opposite extreme from the ecstatic journalistic embrace of the death of one pope and the election of another, and the media's manic obsession with the comings and goings of Martha, Jacko, et al.
There's been hardly any media interest in the unrelieved agony of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. It's an ugly subject, and the idea has taken hold that Americans need to be protected from stories or images of the war that might be disturbing. As a nation we can wage war, but we don't want the public to be too upset by it.
...This stunning lack of interest in the toll the war has taken on civilians is one of the reasons Ms. Ruzicka, who was just 28 when she died, felt compelled to try to personally document as much of the suffering as she could. At times she would go from door to door in the most dangerous areas, taking down information about civilians who had been killed or wounded. She believed fiercely that Americans needed to know about the terrible pain the war was inflicting, and that we had an obligation to do everything possible to mitigate it.
Her ultimate goal, which Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont is pursuing, was to establish a U.S. government office, perhaps in the State Department, to document the civilian casualties of American military operations.
[As reported last week, Ruzicka discovered that counts of civilian deaths already exist: Killed aid worker uncovered America's secret tally of Iraqi civilian deaths See also: Networks ignored humanitarian worker Ruzicka's claims that Pentagon conceals civilian casualty figures]
Someone called authorities Thursday after seeing a boy carrying something long and wrapped into Marshall Junior High.
The drama ended two hours later when the suspicious item was identified as a 30-inch burrito filled with steak, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and jalapenos and wrapped inside tin foil and a white T-shirt.
"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," school Principal Diana Russell said.
The Darfur Accountability Act is now with the House, and Republican leaders there -- no doubt under pressure from an evangelical movement that has been aiding civilians in Southern Sudan since the outbreak of a civil war nearly 20 years ago -- are similarly joining with Democrats to push for a more robust humanitarian response to the unfolding genocide in Western Sudan. In a recent meeting with Sudanese dissidents on Capitol Hill, Congressman Tom Tancredo, a conservative Colorado Republican who first visited Sudan in 2001, discussed the urgency of passing the bill. “Pressure is the only thing that Khartoum will respond to,” Tancredo said. “The only time they will act is when they think they are on the precipice.”
Yet in an April 25 letter from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis obtained by the Prospect, the administration signaled its desire to strike the Darfur Accountability Act from the supplemental. Couching its reservations in a suggestion that the act may impede a separate peace accord reached between Khartoum and the rebels in south Sudan, the administration is now leaning on its congressional allies to scuttle the bill. "We are hearing that House Republicans will try to pull it out of conference," a well-placed congressional source told the Prospect.
Act Four. Buddy Picture. Producer Jonathan Goldstein with a story about friendship, mothers and sons, and what some have called the greatest phone message in the world--it circulated at Columbia University in New York City, and had something to do with the Little Mermaid. (19 minutes) [FF to 39:05. This is a very funny segment, but I heard a much funnier phone message from R. -- McLir]
The court, in a 4-3 decision, declined to review the case, letting stand a lower court ruling that the medical records were seized legally. The two-paragraph decision denied a rehearing, leaving Limbaugh with few if any options for appeal.
Prosecutors used search warrants to seize Limbaugh's medical records in 2003 as they probed whether he "doctor shopped," illegally visiting multiple doctors to receive duplicate prescriptions. Limbaugh has not been charged with a crime.
Several people have been killed on the doorsteps of Mohammed's shop on the notorious Haifa Street, now an eerie no-go zone where a few nervous motorists speed past, only too aware that the insurgents' favoured tactics include roadside bombs. American snipers keep watch from the rooftops.
"During the days of Saddam (Hussein), I used to make one coffin a day. Now, I make scores of them and the demand increases with every suicide car bomb that explodes," said the 67-year-old Baghdadi.
The Civil Unions Bill allows same-sex and heterosexual couples legal standing on a par with marriage.
Registration takes three days so Friday is the earliest the ceremony can be held.
Des Smith and John Joliff, who have been together for 19 years, were first in line at the Internal Affairs office in Wellington to apply for a civil union licence.
Scott, 67, received death threats from Muslim fundamentalists during filming in Morocco two years ago when King Mohammed VI, who admired his earlier work, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, lent him troops from the royal bodyguard.
Yet it is Christian hostility that may ultimately prove more damaging at the box office. A spate of hostile reviews that are due to appear in the increasingly influential religious press this week will urge America’s 80m born-again believers to avoid the £100m film.
Scott said he has tried hard to be fair to both sides in his film, which depicts the 12th-century battle between Muslims and Christians for Jerusalem. He even employed Grace Hill Media, a Los Angeles public relations agency that markets potentially “troublesome” films to increasingly influential Christian opinion-formers. It organised a private screening earlier this month for Christian journalists at which Scott spoke.
Solberg says students have told her they're grateful for random drug-testing at their schools. Neither the schools nor the students were identified.
Solberg and other White House officials are holding summits like these around the country to encourage similar testing programs.
Public and private schools will be competing this summer for part of a $10 million grant to start or expand programs.
A statement on the church's Web site said a committee hearing the appeal by Elizabeth Stroud in Baltimore reversed the ecclesiastical court's December decision that stripped her of her credentials as a minister at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, Philadelphia.
...In a 14-page decision, the committee reversed both the conviction and the penalty on the technical grounds that the church has not properly defined the term "practicing homosexual." The committee also held that the church law under which the charges were brought was a new standard that had not been formally ratified by the church authorities and so could not be used to convict Stroud. [from ChuckCurrie.blogs.com]
"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
"Interrogations were set up so the VIPs could come and witness an interrogation ... a mock interrogation, basically," Sgt Saar told the program, to air on Sunday.
"They would find a detainee that they knew to have been cooperative. They would ask the interrogator to go back over the same information," he said, calling it "a fictitious world" created for the visitors.
Sgt Saar worked at Guantanamo from December 2002 to June 2003.
Evangelical news looks and sounds much like its secular counterpart, but it homes in on issues of concern to believers and filters events through a conservative lens. In some cases this simply means giving greater weight to the conservative side of the ledger than most media do. In other instances, it amounts to disguising a partisan agenda as news. Likewise, most guests on Christian political talk shows are drawn from a fixed pool of culture warriors and Republican politicians. Even those shows that focus on non-political topics — such as finance, health, or family issues — often weave in political messages. Many evangelical programs and networks are, in fact, linked to conservative Christian political or legal organizations, which use broadcasts to help generate funding and mobilize their base supporters, who are tuning in en masse. Ninety-six percent of evangelicals consume some form of Christian media each month, according to the Barna Research Group.
Given their content and their reach, it’s likely that Christian broadcasters have helped drive phenomena that have recently confounded much of the public and the mainstream media — including the surge in “value voters” and the drive to sustain Terri Schiavo’s life, a story that was incubated in evangelical media three years before it hit the mainstream. Nor has evangelical media’s influence escaped the notice of those who stroll the halls of power. They’ve been courted by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Mel Gibson, and George W. Bush. All the while, they’ve remained hidden in plain sight — a powerful but largely unnoticed force shaping American politics and culture.
Most of the extra heat is warming the oceans - the ultimate repository of most of the solar radiation reaching the Earth, says Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, US, and a leading climate change scientist for the past two decades.
The findings are the result of modelling studies of the atmosphere’s “energy budget” by a US team, headed by Hansen. The calculations are supported by precise measurements of ocean temperature over the past 10 years, he says.
"Thankfully we live in a country where generations have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to protect our liberties and our freedom," he said. "We do not take that for granted."
Steffens also announced that Marvel is donating the original artwork to the Fisher House Foundation to auction off and earn money for the foundation's work in support of sick and wounded military members and their families.
Today's event at the Pentagon was scheduled to coincide with the national "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day," so plenty of youngsters were on hand to get the first copies of the special comics.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of a broad coalition including state representatives and advocacy groups, today filed a challenge to a new state law with the most restrictive voting requirements in the nation, including a mandate that government-issued photo identification must be presented in order for most Hoosier citizens to cast their ballots.
"This new requirement puts a substantial and unnecessary burden of time and cost for some potential voters, and thus clearly violates the federal Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution and the Indiana Constitution," said ICLU Legal Director Kenneth Falk.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of State Representative William Crawford, the Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP, United Senior Action, Indianapolis Resource Center for Independent Living, Indiana Coalition for Housing and Homelessness Issues, the civil rights organization Concerned Clergy and Washington Township Board representative Joseph Simpson.
n recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has scored a series of legislative victories on Capitol Hill, which could potentially translate into tens of billions of dollars of additional revenue to drug companies annually. The federal government will buy drugs worth at least $40 billion from the companies every year once the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 goes into effect next year. In addition, critics have accused the industry of having undue influence over the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that regulates pharmaceutical interests.
...The passage of the new Medicare law had been an industry priority for many years. No wonder: The 415-page legislation contains several windfalls for drug companies, including a controversial provision that prohibits the federal government from negotiating with companies on drug prices.
The industry has also mounted campaigns to weaken federal regulation, strengthen patent protections, extend patents, win tax credits and get the federal machinery to protect its interests abroad, among other issues.
Other big wins on Capitol Hill include the extension of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act through September 2007, authorizing the FDA to continue collecting industry money to process drug approval applications.
The 214-211 vote came just hours after House and Senate budget negotiators reached a deal, breaking a weeks-long impasse that revolved largely around Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. The budget resolution instructs lawmakers to freeze spending in most domestic programs but not defense and homeland security.
Admiral Jacoby’s assessment that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device is, we believe, the first such public assessment by an Administration official. This assessment is only the latest development, coming after four years of North Korean escalatory action, including their declaration in February that they have nuclear weapons, and that they no longer consider themselves bound by their self-declared missile-testing moratorium, as well as recent press accounts of unusual activity at nuclear and missile sites, that could presage nuclear or missile tests. All of this continues to strongly suggest that the threat posed by the North Korean nuclear program is increasing. Yet we have not seen an aggressive diplomatic effort to address this threat.
We urge you to engage in further diplomacy with the North Koreans to address this threat – both within the multilateral context of the Six Party Talks, and bilaterally. It is important to include our allies and friends in Northeast Asia in our diplomatic effort, but this does not mean that we cannot hold bilateral talks with North Korea. Indeed, our allies in South Korea would like us to engage in bilateral talks, and have even stated that the North Korean proposal of a nuclear freeze is a good first step. In short, we urge you to pursue all avenues of negotiation.
The statement by Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby before the Senate Armed Services Committee marked the first time that a US official had publicly attributed such a capability to North Korea.
Although US intelligence authorities have said for years that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and could probably reach the United States with its long-range rockets, they had stopped short of asserting that North Korea had mastered the difficult task of miniaturizing a nuclear device to fit atop a ballistic missile.
Later in the day, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Jacoby heads, issued a statement seeking to portray the admiral's assessment as nothing new and still largely theoretical. It cited his testimony last month before the same committee, where he said North Korea is developing a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to parts of the United States.
But those comments dealt with the ability of the North Korean missile, known as the Taepo Dong 2, to go the distance with a nuclear warhead -- not whether North Korea could mount such warheads on its missiles.
Convicted Terrorist Provided U.S. Officials with Very Specific Information of Terrorist Attack Three Months Before 9/11
Algerian expatriate Ahmed Ressam, whose sentencing for a Millennium-eve plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport was unexpectedly postponed today, told bureau interrogators nearly four years ago that Al Qaeda commander Abu Zubaydah had been discussing plans to smuggle terrorist operatives and explosives into the country for the purpose of launching a strike on U.S. soil, the documents show.
The fresh documents, released in federal court in Seattle in recent days, shed new light on an issue that dominated last year’s hearings by the September 11 commission: precisely how much did the U.S. government know about Al Qaeda plans to strike inside the country in the summer of 2001 when the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon were in their final stages?
...The fact that Ressam’s information was the basis for at least part of the PDB to Bush first became known last year when the 9/11 commission hearings forced the White House to make the long-disputed document public. But it turns out, according to the new court documents, the information from Ressam that was contained in the PDB was watered down and seemed far more bland than what the Algerian terrorist was actually telling the FBI.
Doctors, teachers, therapists and even coaches have been saying for years that children spend too much time staring at video screens, booked up for sports or lessons or sequestered by their parents against the remote threat of abduction.
But a new front is opening in the campaign against children's indolence. Experts are speculating, without empirical evidence, that a variety of cultural pressures have pushed children too far from the natural world. The disconnection bodes ill, they say, both for children and for nature.
The author Richard Louv calls the problem "nature-deficit disorder." He came up with the term, he said, to describe an environmental ennui flowing from children's fixation on artificial entertainment rather than natural wonders. Those who are obsessed with computer games or are driven from sport to sport, he maintains, miss the restorative effects that come with the nimbler bodies, broader minds and sharper senses that are developed during random running-around at the relative edges of civilization. [thanks, Sharon]
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Overall, NCAVP's report noted an 8% increase in reported incidents of anti-LGBT violence. Such incidents rose from 1,720 in 2003 to 1,792 in 2004. Included in rise in incidents for the year, was an 11% increase in anti-LGBT murders, which rose from 18 in 2003 to 20 in 2004. During 2004, the total number of victims rose 4%, from 2,042 in 2003 to 2,131 in 2004. Of the eleven locations included in the report, eight reported increases in incidents. According to the report, the number of anti-LGBT violence offenders rose also rose, by 7%, from 2,467 to 2,637.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force blames Fear-Mongering and Demonizing Sermons for the increase.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, the UCL team discovered they could use brief recordings of brain activity to predict which of two objects volunteers were viewing – with 80% accuracy.
Scientists also found they could use brain scans to predict which object was present even when the objects had been masked to appear invisible to the volunteer, suggesting that unconscious processes in the brain were registering the object.
Dr Geraint Rees of the UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience said: “If our approach could be expanded upon, it might be possible to predict what someone was thinking or seeing from their brain activity alone.”
A “mind-reading device” would undoubtedly be a boon to market researchers – though it would raise serious ethical questions. For the time being, however, the sheer size and cost of buying or hiring an fMRI scanner make it an impractical and expensive MR tool.
Instead, Dr David Lewis, research and development director at neuromarketing agency Neuroco, told Research: “Studies such as these help to emphasise the vital importance of taking into account not only those perceptions an individual can consciously report but equally the multiplicity of other things going on in the brain below the level of conscious awareness.”
One year after the start of a series of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by University of Delaware Professor Ralph Begleiter with the assistance of the National Security Archive, and six months after a lawsuit charging the Pentagon with failing to comply with the Act, the Pentagon made public more than 700 images of the return of American casualties to Dover Air Force Base and other U.S. military facilities, where the fallen troops received honor guard ceremonies. The Pentagon officially refers to the photos as "images of the memorial and arrival ceremonies for deceased military personnel arriving from overseas." Many of the images show evidence of censorship, which the Pentagon says is intended to conceal identifiable personal information of military personnel involved in the homecoming ceremonies.
The U.S. Department of Defense is spending billions of dollars on military construction of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the specific nature and purpose of those expenditures is not entirely clear, a Congressional Research Service memo stated.
"Very little information is available publicly on DOD's plans for bases in or around Iraq or Afghanistan," the CRS noted. The information that is publicly available on such military construction appropriations and related statutory authorities was helpfully compiled and described by CRS earlier this month. See "Military Construction in Support of Afghanistan and Iraq," CRS memorandum, April 11, 2005 (thanks to CH): http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/milcon041105.pdf
Following criticism that the Bush Administration was improperly withholding data showing that terrorist activity increased last year, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) released its chronology of terrorist incidents for 2004, which does indeed show a marked increase.
However, the NCTC document states, "Because terrorism is a tactic, used on many fronts, by diverse perpetrators in different circumstances and with different aims, NCTC cautions against using incident data alone to gauge success in the War on Terrorism." But for precisely the same reasons, one may say that the concept of a "War on Terrorism" itself is incoherent and misleading. See "A Chronology of Significant International Terrorism for 2004," National Counterterrorism Center, April 29, 2005 (2.8 MB PDF file): http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/nctc2004.pdf
The State Department was sharply criticized earlier this week by Rep. Henry Waxman for withholding this information and marking it "for official use only." See Rep. Waxman's April 26, 2005 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20050426105426-41669.pdf
Congressional Research Service: President Does Not Have Unlimited Power to Detain Americans During Wartime
A new report from the Congressional Research Service disputes the Bush Administration's claim that the President has unlimited authority to detain American citizens in wartime if he deems them to be enemy combatants.
The CRS report reviews the legislative history of the 1950 "Emergency Detention Act," which was repealed in 1971, and finds that it clearly limited the authority of the entire executive branch, and not only the Attorney General, to detain American citizens. To argue otherwise, "one would have to believe that Congress, in 1971, intended to limit imprisonment or detention [only] by civilian authorities [but not by military authorities].
The legislative history does not support that nterpretation...." Most CRS reports are even-handed to a fault and do not normally endorse either side of a disputed issue. So it is noteworthy that the new report deviates from that standard practice and concludes that the Bush Administration is simply wrong. A copy of the report, issued today (though not publicly "released"), was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Detention of U.S. Citizens," by Louis Fisher, Congressional Research Service, April 28, 2005: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22130.pdf
Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forebears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls.
This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.
James Madison warned us in Federalist #10 that sometimes, "A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction."
Unfortunately the virulent faction now committed to changing the basic nature of democracy now wields enough political power within the Republican party to have a major influence over who secures the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election. It appears painfully obvious that some of those who have their eyes on that nomination are falling all over themselves to curry favor with this faction.
They are the ones demanding the destructive constitutional confrontation now pending in the Senate. They are the ones willfully forcing the Senate leadership to drive democracy to the precipice that now lies before us.
Professor Alexei Yablokov, President of the Centre for Russian Environmental Policy, said the concrete and metal sarcophagus was riven with cracks, already leaking radiation and at risk of collapse unless repairs were undertaken and work on a replacement urgently begun.
"If it collapses, there will be no explosion, as this is not a bomb, but a pillar of dust containing irradiated particles will shoot 1.5 kilometres into the air and will be spread by the wind." Depending on how the wind is blowing, Russia or Belarus would bear the brunt of such a dust cloud. Ukraine, where Chernobyl is located, would also be affected.
A small delegation of protesters was inside the meeting. But company Chairman David O'Reilly limited comments from protesters, there to press him about pollution in the Ecuadorian rain forest they contend was caused by a former Texaco subsidiary.
The crowd in front of ChevronTexaco -- whose large sign in front had been dismantled before Wednesday's protests -- swelled from one to dozens to about 150, supporting various environmental or human rights groups.
Common sense – maybe. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld presumably disagrees. Back in December, regular Defense Tech readers will recall, Rummy's braintrust decided to dip into the Army's payroll into order to fund truck armor and other wartime expenses. Congress would make up the difference later on, they figured, with a second, emergency "supplemental" funding bill. The fact that the payroll accounts would dry up in May didn't seem to factor into the Pentagon calculus -- except maybe as a lever to force Congress into action.
But as senators loaded the $80 billion supplemental with pet projects -- $23 million for a baseball stadium in DC, $32 million for forest roads in Cali -- and the Pentagon added billions in long-term programs to the supposedly last-minute funding measure, its progress slowed.
Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, spelt out to Mr Blair the dangers of Britain going to war without a second resolution. It is understood that he then went on to warn that British soldiers could be hauled before the International Criminal Court.
He warned that while he could be able to argue a "reasonable case" in favour of military action, he was far from confident a court would agree. Indeed, he added, a court "might well conclude" that war would be found unlawful without a further UN resolution.
Exxon Mobil (XOM), the world's largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that first-quarter earnings soared 44% from last year, due mainly to strong crude and natural gas prices.
The company said it will boost its share repurchase rate by $1 billion in the second quarter.
Net income surged to $7.86 billion, or $1.22 a share, from $5.44 billion, or 83 cents, a year ago. Excluding a $460 million gain on the sale of Exxon's stake in China Petroleum and Chemical, the company earned $1.15 a share in the latest quarter.
Revenue climbed to $82.05 billion from $67.60 billion last year.
Shell Profit Beats All Forecasts
Royal Dutch/Shell comfortably beat analysts' forecasts to report a 28 percent rise in first-quarter profits on Thursday, helped by surging oil prices and strong refining margins.
Shell, the world's third-largest oil group, said it expected high oil prices to underpin its strong performance for the year ahead.
ConocoPhillips' profits shoot higher
ConocoPhillips, the nation's third-largest oil and gas company, said today that first-quarter earnings soared year-over-year on high oil prices, though they were partially offset by unplanned downtime in the company's exploration and production unit.
Net income jumped to $2.91 billion, or $4.10 per share, from $1.62 billion, or $2.33 per share, a year ago. Total revenue was $38.9 billion, up from $30.2 billion last year. [from DailyKos.com]
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in an interview that "I think there is" a majority of senators supporting Bolton. He predicted a few Democrats would be among them.
She is sick with Gulf War Syndrome, an illness with numerous possible causes and even more symptoms. She has suffered through three heart attacks and two heart surgeries as well as chronic fatigue syndrome caused by her exposure to depleted uranium (DU) and she has had to fight the government for disability since she filed for it in 1995. She is by no means alone.
By current estimates, 300,000 Gulf War veterans are on permanent disability and have had to fight to gain and keep it. Since the end of the war, in which we lost 165 troops during combat operations, unofficial estimates place the death toll at 40,000 out of 694,000 deployed troops that have died of Gulf War Syndrome. The National Vital Statistics Report predicts that by 2013, 80,000 to 100,000 veterans will have died.
The Department of Children & Families, which has been responsible for the girl for many years, argued to a West Palm Beach judge Tuesday that the girl is too immature to decide for herself whether to carry the pregnancy to term.
...Writers from Scientific American dedicated the May issue to the chamber's development and technology, calling it "brilliant... unsurpassed and unsurpassable. No mere milestone, the EHC-1 Alpha hyperbolic chamber is the achievement from which all future milestones shall be measured."
Not to be outdone, Nature is planning a June special issue in which it will call the device "singular in its quasi-divine perfection... the ne plus ultra of human ingenuity."
"Using an earth-penetrating weapon to destroy a target 250 meters deep - the typical depth for most underground facilities - potentially could kill a devastatingly large number of people," said John Ahearne, chair of the report committee.
The report is unlikely resolve the heated debate over the Bush administration’s plans to develop a new Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator - a weapon hardened to penetrate deep into the ground.
The problem is that earth penetrators cannot plunge deeply enough into the ground to fully contain the effects of a nuclear blast, so casualties would be "for all practical purposes, equal to [those] from a surface burst of the same weapon yield”, the report suggests. That means surface casualties could be high.
And half of the 1000 “strategic” hardened or buried targets identified by the Pentagon are in urban areas, where the panel estimate death tolls would range "from thousands to more than a million, depending primarily on the weapon yield".
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Commission Says Too Many Tax Breaks for... (Guess Who. Here's a Hint: It's a Presidential Commission.)
"We have lost sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues to fund government," according to President Bush's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.
The commission's chairman, former Florida Sen. Connie Mack, said its nine members have been surprised at the number of tax deductions and credits.
Most consulting companies just provide regular marketing solutions. Not us. We provide groundbreaking solutions. Our marketing solutions are newer than anyone else's, and they sound better because we give them cool titles like "Global Awareness Paradigms," and "Market Consciousness Philosophies," and "Creative Product Re-development Support."
When we deliver your new designs and business strategies to you, they'll be in really snazzy binders that look nice sitting on big, round meeting tables, so you'll think you got your money's worth. When your project has been completed, we'll give you several follow-up phone calls to give the appearance that we even remember who you are or what we sold you.
...But promotional materials for "Justice Sunday" made just such attacks. In a letter to supporters describing the event, Perkins wrote: "As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion for liberalism." In addition, Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's vice president of public policy, accused Democratic senators currently opposing President Bush's judicial nominees of anti-Catholic bigotry. "As a Catholic, I would think the senator [Ken Salazar (D-CO)] would be especially alarmed about the anti-Catholicism of some of his colleagues," Minnery said. And Dobson himself accused Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, of attacking people of faith. "Patrick Leahy is a 'God's people' hater. I don't know if he hates God, but he hates God's people," Dobson said [Daily Oklahoman, 10/23/04].
The discussions, which took place in e-mail messages between interrogators and Army officials in Baghdad, were used in part to develop the interrogation rules of engagement approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of U.S. troops in Iraq. Two specific cases of abuse in Iraq occurred soon after.
Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to "turn it up a notch."
In both incidents, a previously disclosed Aug. 14, 2003, e-mail from the joint task force headquarters in Baghdad to top U.S. human-intelligence gatherers in Iraq is cited as a potential catalyst.
Capt. William Ponce wrote that "the gloves are coming off" because casualties were mounting and officers needed better intelligence to fight the insurgency. Ponce solicited "wish lists" from interrogators and gave them three days to respond. That message was forwarded throughout the theater, including to officials at Abu Ghraib, where notorious abuse followed.
The report says that in many cases the wrong people were detained, and subjected to questioning by "inexperienced and uninformed" interrogators. It estimates that 105 scientists and officials suspected of involvement in WMD programmes are still in detention.
"Others may have reasons for not letting them go. I wanted to be on the record that, in respect to the WMD inquiry, we're done," the report's author, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the Guardian.
The report is an addendum to a more comprehensive document published last September, which concluded that Iraq had abandoned almost all of its WMD programmes over 10 years before the 2003 invasion.
The increased loss of ozone allows more harmful ultraviolet light to reach the earth's surface, making children and outdoor enthusiasts such as skiers more vulnerable to skin cancer - a disease which is already dramatically increasing.
Scientists yesterday reinforced the warning that people going out in the sun this summer should protect themselves with creams and hats.
Research by Cambridge University shows that it is not increased pollution but a side effect of climate change that is making ozone depletion worse. At high altitudes, 50% of the protective layer had been destroyed.
The research has dashed hopes that the ozone layer was on the mend. Since the winter of 1999-2000, when depletion was almost as bad, scientists had believed an improvement was under way as pollution was reduced. But they now believe it could be another 50 years before the problem is solved.
The Pentagon on Tuesday notified Congress of the possible sale of 5,000lb GBU-28 bombs, developed during the 1991 Gulf war to destroy Saddam Hussein's hardened command centres. Congress has 30 days to object.
[It's important to emphasize that the IAEA found no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. -- McLir]
Infinity plans to convert San Francisco's 1550 KYCY, an AM station, to listener-submitted content. The station, previously devoted to a talk-radio format, will be renamed KYOURadio.
Infinity, one of the country's largest radio operators with more than 183 stations around the country, will invite do-it-yourselfers to upload digital audio files for broadcast consideration by way of the KYOURadio.com website.
"I'm excited," said Infinity Broadcasting CEO Joel Hollander. "We're creating a new way to let a lot of people participate personally in radio -- sharing their feelings on music, news, politics, whatever matters to them.
Matthew Simmons, an adviser to President George Bush and chairman of the Wall Street energy investment company Simmons, said that "peak oil" - when global oil production rises to its highest point before declining irreversibly - was rapidly approaching even as demand was increasing.
Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total -- a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration's assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.
The State Department announced last week that it was breaking with tradition in withholding the statistics on terrorist attacks from its congressionally mandated annual report. Critics said the move was designed to shield the government from questions about the success of its effort to combat terrorism by eliminating what amounted to the only year-to-year benchmark of progress.
So what really constitutes critical thinking? I did some checking. According to the Center for Critical Thinking, it is (now, stay with me here):
The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Try shouting that to your reporter as she heads out the door on a challenging story.
Let's look more closely. Much of the work of critical thinking can be broken down more simply. One team of experts broke it down into 35 individual skills. Here are some of those 35 that have great meaning for journalists...
Advertising drugs directly to patients has a “profound effect” on the way doctors prescribe, finds a new study in which actors posed as patients.
Drug companies have poured billions of dollars into direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising in the US since the rules governing mass media advertising for prescription drugs were relaxed in 1997. Other countries - such as the UK, for example - do not permit advertising directly to patients.
But critics charge that DTC advertising can lead to over-prescribing which might be potentially harmful, while proponents say that giving patients knowledge about drugs can avert the under-use of effective treatments.
Now a study by US researchers shows that actors consulting doctors and mentioning a particular antidepressant drug advertised on television are much more likely to get that prescription than if they do not request any medication.
As the emcee of Justice Sunday, Tony Perkins positioned himself beside a black preacher and a Catholic "civil rights" activist as he rattled off the phone numbers of senators wavering on President Bush's judicial nominees. The evening's speakers studiously couched their appeals on behalf of Bush's stalled judges in the vocabulary of victimhood, accusing Democratic senators of "filibustering people of faith."
What do the Beatles, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Patricia Arquette and Michael Keaton all have in common?
... What we have here is a signal-to-noise problem. Humans evolved brains that are pattern-recognition machines, adept at detecting signals that enhance or threaten survival amid a very noisy world. This capability is association learning--associating the causal connections between A and B--as when our ancestors associated the seasons with the migration of game animals. We are skilled enough at it to have survived and passed on the genes for the capacity of association learning.
Unfortunately, the system has flaws. Superstitions are false associations--A appears to be connected to B, but it is not (the baseball player who doesn't shave and hits a home run). Las Vegas was built on false association learning.
The move comes after protests by groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. They argued that the proposed new electronic passports, which would broadcast personal information to speed processing of travelers, would have served as a virtual bull's-eye for terrorists or others who wanted to harm Americans.
Frank E. Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, said in an interview on Tuesday that government tests confirmed privacy advocates' suspicions that the electronic passport might be vulnerable to so-called skimming from a greater distance than officials had previously said, meaning a matter of three or so feet instead of inches.
...The relative share of total taxes paid by various income groups -- which the Journal cites -- is a flawed measure of actual progressivity in the tax code. Economists do not consider a tax system "more progressive" simply because high-income earners pay a larger share of total taxes. Rather, a tax system is "more progressive" if taxpayers pay a progressively larger share of their incomes in taxes as these incomes go up. In the online supplement (PowerPoint exhibit for chapter 12, slide 35) to the third edition of his introductory economics textbook, Principles of Economics (Thomson South-Western, 2004), N. Gregory Mankiw, who served as the chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers until late February 2005, defined the term "progressive tax" as "one for which high-income taxpayers pay a larger fraction of their income than do low-income taxpayers." The Journal presented no evidence that the U.S. tax system has become "more progressive" in this sense.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Political Friendster is a parody of the social network Friendster. It allows a visualization of the connections between players in the political game. This site has absolutely no affiliation with the real Friendster.
forward to me by anyone in the course of the following events.
1. The coordination and publication of a classified National Intelligence Estimate
2. The declassification and publication of the NIE’s key judgments and findings
3. The production and publication of an unclassified White Paper on Iraq’s WMD
4. The preparation of testimonies both closed an open before the Senate Intelligence,
Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees
5. The briefings provided to members of Congress in which Curveball’s information
regarding Iraq’s mobile BW production capability was cited
6. The preparation of Secretary Powell’s speech to the United Nations
7. The White Paper CIA and DIA issued in May of 2003 regarding the trailer found
8 CIA’s internal inquiry into Iraq WMD directed by the Deputy Director of
9 My speech at Georgetown University in February of 2004 and subsequent
appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session on March
Ultimately, the former intelligence officials said, most of what Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state, said publicly about Syria hewed to the limits on which the C.I.A. and other agencies had insisted. But they said that the prolonged and heated disputes over Mr. Bolton's proposed remarks were unusual within government, and that they reflected what one former senior official called a pattern in which Mr. Bolton sought to push his public assertions beyond the views endorsed by intelligence agencies.
Networks ignored humanitarian worker Ruzicka's claims that Pentagon conceals civilian casualty figures
News reports indicate that the Pentagon routinely claims it does not track civilian casualties for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that "the United States adamantly refuses to estimate the number of people it kills in combat" [5/3/03]. The Washington Post reported that "Pentagon officials say they do not keep tallies of civilian casualties" [10/29/04]. Similarly, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, declared in March 2002: "We don't do body counts."
Yet other news reports suggest that the Pentagon does in fact track civilian casualties, a discrepancy that ABC and other media outlets failed to note in their coverage of Ruzicka's death.
Ruzicka is not the only researcher to question the Pentagon about civilian casualty figures: [more]
Texas House votes to ban gay unions. A layout editor for The Dallas Morning News has some fun with it.
Matthew Haughey says he won't read our blogs if we use the term "mainstream media" (a.k.a. MSM).
A news flash for Matt: We don't care.
We don't care if you read our web logs.
The difference, Matt, is that we are independent actors, not part of a small set of multi-billion dollar corporations. The difference is that we are not under the constraints of making a 15% profit. The difference is that we are a distributed information system, whereas MSM is like a set of stand-alone mainframes. The difference is that we can say what we damn well please.
If we were the mainstream media (perhaps better thought of as corporate media), we would care if you threatened to stop reading us. Because although we might be professional news people, we would have the misfortune to be working for corporations that are mainly be about making money.
Take, for example, God's Gift to Women (the title of a manliness guide for young men), male "headship" of the American family. Women can't get enough of good headship, but a man must be careful; a woman's hunger for his headship may lead him to abuse its potency through the sin of anger. A few years ago, I learned in an evangelical magazine what to do in such a situation: push your anger down and store it inside your heart, where Jesus will work it over it until it is ready to be "released," transformed into "white-hot brother love."
Look at some of the titles offered by Regnery, the right’s premier publishing house: Invasion Within: Overcoming the Elitists' Attack on Moral Values and the American Way; Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids; Mugged by the State: Outrageous Government Assaults on Ordinary People and Their Property; Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage; Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity; Power Grab: How the National Education Association is Betraying Our Children; Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security .
The message of each is the same: Sinister, powerful liberals are attacking you, your children and everything you believe in. While good Americans lie slumbering in their complacency, the mighty liberals continue their assault, and if we don’t wake up soon it’ll be too late, as our nation tumbles into a moral abyss and the streets run red with the blood of innocents. The end is near.
As anyone who has listened to right-wing radio or tuned in to Fox News knows, the angry cry of the victim is the lexicon of the conservative media. As the novelist David Foster Wallace recently wrote in the Atlantic Monthly , “It is, of course, much less difficult to arouse genuine anger, indignation and outrage in people than it is real joy, satisfaction, fellow feeling, etc. The latter are fragile and complex, and what excites them varies a great deal from person to person, whereas anger et al. are more primal, universal, and easy to stimulate.”
Florida law enforcement officials want Matrix II to include more types of data than the original, including financial and insurance records, according to an April 12 official call (.pdf) for information from vendors.
The document outlines Florida's intention to rebuild the system, an early step in the project's competitive bidding process.
Mark Zadra, chief of Florida's Office of Statewide Intelligence, said the state wants to rebuild the system and hopes other states will join.
Part TiVo, part BitTorrent file swapping, the network puts publishers' content into a peer-to-peer distribution network that could help lower bandwidth costs substantially. The service then creates a TV-like program directory that potential viewers can use to find and subscribe to automatic downloads of individual shows.
..."We're trying to create a free consumer service that would allow the viewing of public service content on the Internet," said Homer, who is chairman of the Open Media Foundation, which is backing the project, as well as Kontiki's chairman. "Right now there is no easy way for consumers to (publish and view) these things. It has not been a consumer phenomenon, it's been an early adopter phenomenon."
The Family Research Council, the lovely group that brought you 'Justice Sunday,' has posted on its website a list of Senators and their corresponding phone numbers urging you to call and support the Nuclear Option.
We think you should call, too. Only say the opposite.
Here is the list.
Alaska - Sen. Murkowski - 202-224-6665
Arizona - Sen. McCain - 202-224-2235
Arkansas - Sen. Pryor - 202-224-2353
Arkansas - Sen. Lincoln - 202-224-4843
Colorado - Sen. Salazar - 202-224-5852
Connecticut - Sen. Lieberman - 202-224-4041
Florida - Sen. Nelson - 202-224-5274
Indiana - Sen. Lugar -202-224-4814
Indiana - Sen. Bayh - 202-224-5623
Louisiana - Sen. Landrieu - 202-224-5824
Maine - Sen. Collins - 202-224-2523
Maine - Sen. Snowe - 202-224-5344
Nebraska - Sen. Hagel - 202-224-4224
Nebraska - Sen. Nelson - 202-224-6551
Nevada - Sen. Reid - 202-224-3542
New Hampshire - Sen. Sununu - 202-224-2841
North Dakota - Sen. Dorgan - 202-224-2551
North Dakota - Sen. Conrad - 202-224-2043
Ohio - Sen. Dewine - 202-224-2315
Oregon - Sen. Smith - 202-224-3753
Rhode Island - Sen. Chafee - 202-224-2921
The administration's directive said such efforts were required by a 2002 law known as the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, said the federal government would "aggressively enforce" the law.
Under the law, the administration said, a fetus that survives an abortion procedure is no longer a fetus, but a person entitled to emergency medical care and protection against child abuse and neglect.
...By its terms, the law protects "every infant member of the species Homo sapiens" who "breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles" after expulsion or extraction from the womb as a result of normal childbirth, a Caesarean section or an induced abortion.
...The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had no immediate comment on the new directives. Defenders of abortion rights, including Naral Pro-Choice America and the Center for Reproductive Rights, said they had no comment.
The group, based in Washington, does not disclose names of its donors, though spokesman Mike Burita said casual dining restaurant chains “are predominant sources of funding for us.”
SourceWatch to the rescue:
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network") is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture -- the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.' "
CCF is one of the more active of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a public affairs firm owned by lobbyist Rick Berman. Based in Washington, DC, Berman & Co. represents the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains.
The group actively opposes smoking bans and lowering the legal blood-alcohol level, while targeting studies on the dangers of red meat consumption, overfishing and pesticides. Each year they give out the "nanny awards" to groups who, according to them, try to tell consumers how to live their lives.
Anyone who criticizes tobacco, alcohol, fatty foods or soda pop is likely to come under attack from CCF. Its enemies list has included such diverse groups and individuals as the Alliance of American Insurers; the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; the American Medical Association; the Arthritis Foundation; the Consumer Federation of America; New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the Harvard School of Public Health; the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems; the National Association of High School Principals; the National Safety Council; the National Transportation Safety Board; the Office of Highway Safety for the state of Georgia; Ralph Nader's group, Public Citizen; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and the U.S. Department of Transportation. [more]
But the president proposes cutting $4.2 billion from youth and crime-prevention programs with similar aims.
Most of the reductions would eliminate programs that are not getting results and shift the money to programs that work, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Those the White House considers effective are slated for a $1.3 billion increase.
Overall, Bush proposes to cut federal funding for youth and crime-prevention programs by 5%.
U.S. officials have held out the possibility that Syria worked in tandem with Hussein's government to hide weapons before the U.S.-led invasion. The survey group said it followed up on reports that a Syrian security officer had discussed collaboration with Iraq on weapons, but it was unable to complete that investigation. But Iraqi officials whom the group was able to interview "uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria," the report said.
The justices let stand a lower court's ruling that threw out the lawsuit by the 17 former POWs, including Jeffrey Zaun of Cherry Hill, and 37 of their family members. That ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year, said Congress never authorized such lawsuits against foreign governments.
The dispute pitted the Bush administration, which argued the money was needed to rebuild Iraq, against former service members.
The decision by the appellate court "runs roughshod over decades of United States dedication to the laws of war, and sends a message to United States military personnel that while they protect their country, their country will not protect them," wrote the National League of POW/MIA Families in a friend-of-the-court filing.