23 December 2005

Mosques monitored for radiation: report

Fri Dec 23, 2005 4:28 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials have secretly monitored radiation levels at Muslim sites, including mosques and private homes, since September 11, 2001 as part of a top secret program searching for nuclear bombs, U.S. News and World Report said on Friday.
"In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program," the magazine said.
An FBI spokesman declined to confirm or deny the U.S. News and World Report article and said, "We can't talk about a classified program."

"The FBI's overriding priority is to prevent, disrupt and defeat terrorist operations in the U.S. All investigations and operations conducted by the FBI are intelligence driven and predicated on specific information about potential criminal acts or terrorist threats, and are conducted in strict conformance with federal law," he added.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group said the report, coupled with news of the domestic eavesdropping, "could lead to the perception that we are no longer a nation ruled by law, but instead one in which fear trumps constitutional rights."

"All Americans should be concerned about the apparent trend toward a two-tiered system of justice, with full rights for most citizens, and another diminished set of rights for Muslims," it said in a statement.
Vice President Dick Cheney was among those briefed on the monitoring program, the publication said.

22 December 2005

Boosting Democracy, On Purpose or Not

By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, December 22, 2005; A29
...the reasonable guy that Bush and his speechwriters brought forth on Sunday night vanished when the president strode into a White House news conference on Monday. He went back into combat mode to dampen the outcry over the powers of the presidency and domestic intelligence surveillance.

Not even conservatives will rush to endorse the expansive powers that Bush claims to find in the Constitution to enable the National Security Agency to evade existing law and systematically conduct wiretaps against terrorism suspects on U.S. soil without warrants.
The kind of secrecy and obsessive concern about the powers of the presidency for their own sake that this administration showed even before Sept. 11, 2001, are inconsistent with the workings of American democracy, as well as with the fragmentation of power that marks the nation-state system today.

21 December 2005

Senate Blocks Arctic Drilling Provision

Democrats Stymie Defense Bill
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 21, 2005; 2:42 PM
The Senate today failed to pass a major defense appropriations bill after a Democratic-led bloc stymied it with a filibuster in an effort to force removal of a controversial provision on oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

With 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster and cut off debate on the bill, its backers fell short by four votes. The tally on a motion to invoke cloture so the Senate could move to a vote on the bill itself was 56-44.

The Senate showdown came over a provision allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a measure that was added to the $453 billion fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The bill includes money to support U.S. troops in Iraq, as well as $29 billion to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) charged on the Senate floor, "Our military is being held hostage by this issue, Arctic drilling." Calling the provision "another gift to special interests," he said, "It's time we said no to an abuse of power."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said that even though the bill provides vital defense funding, he was joining the filibuster on principle to prevent attachments such as the drilling provision. "If we yield to this tactic on ANWR," he said, "next year it will be someone else's pet project attached to the defense spending bill."
The provision would allow oil companies to drill in a coastal plain that covers about 1.5 million acres of the wildlife refuge, which encompasses a total of about 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska.

More than 10 billion barrels of crude oil are estimated to lie under the refuge, and President Bush has repeatedly urged that they be tapped to help ease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

But opponents say oil drilling is incompatible with environmental protection in the refuge. Moreover, they say, the impact on the U.S. fuel supply would be minimal and would not be seen for years.

Big Leaf Maple

A photo from the archives: this big leaf maple is host to lichen and fern in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest.

19 December 2005

Iraq: as in Football, Citizens Need to Call Their Own Plays

Posted on Saturday, December 17, 2005. Looking through the goalposts at the changing nature of American freedom. Originally from The Providence Journal, Tuesday, December 6, 2005.
By John R. MacArthur.

Football aphorisms and analogies usually leave me cold—such “life lesson” clichés seem designed to pacify an already somnolent population of television-addicted zombies.

Even as a football-loving kid, I suspected there was something truly screwed up about Vince Lombardi's celebrated phrase, “Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.”
Probably none of this would matter much to me if I hadn't played football for Martin J. “Mac” McCarty, a coach who considered excessive sideline intervention anathema to his idea of education. Call it quaint, but Mac sincerely believed that football built character in adolescent boys—that is, if you let the boys play the game. We ran a very simple offense (with some audibles), and with few exceptions Mac insisted on his quarterbacks' calling their own plays in the huddle.
After he retired, in 1988, Mac would call me occasionally to chat. Sometimes our conversation would turn to the degraded state of modern sports and society. To his horror, even North Shore football had changed for the worse: His young successor was calling all the plays from the sidelines, in total contravention of Mac's mantra of independence and initiative. “Jeez,” he would say disgustedly, “the whole point was to learn how to think for yourself out there.”
So is the top-down control of football an apt analogy for the political arena? To be sure, said Robinson. “It's part of the culture. I'm sick to death of the [overly scripted, overly managed politician] not answering the question. But the media deserves the blame, too, because they tear down anybody who says what they think.”

Which led Robinson to President Bush and his latest advertising campaign: “I pick up the paper the other day and there's Bush and the 'Plan for Victory' in Iraq.” The old coach laughed, then added, with some irony, “I wish him well—but the Plan for Victory in Iraq?”

link to original

15 December 2005

Report: Bush Had More Prewar Intelligence Than Congress

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005; A23
A congressional report made public yesterday concluded that President Bush and his inner circle had access to more intelligence and reviewed more sensitive material than what was shared with Congress when it gave Bush the authority to wage war against Iraq.

Democrats said the 14-page report contradicts Bush's contention that lawmakers saw all the evidence before U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, stating that the president and a small number of advisers "have access to a far greater volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information."
The Bush administration has routinely denied Congress access to documents, saying it would have a chilling effect on deliberations. The report, however, concludes that the Bush administration has been more restrictive than its predecessors in sharing intelligence with Congress.

14 December 2005

Political Language Orwell Quote

"Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
– George Orwell
(Quotes change daily at antiwar.com/casualties/)

12 December 2005

The 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers

A Global Exchange Report
Corporations carry out some of the most horrific human rights abuses of modern times, but it is increasingly difficult to hold them to account. Economic globalization and the rise of transnational corporate power have created a favorable climate for corporate human rights abusers, which are governed principally by the codes of supply and demand and show genuine loyalty only to their stockholders.

Several of the companies below are being sued under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law that allows citizens of any nationality to sue in US federal courts for violations of international rights or treaties. When corporations act like criminals, we have the right and the power to stop them, holding leaders and multinational corporations alike to the accords they have signed. Around the world--in Venezuela, Argentina, India, and right here in the United States--citizens are stepping up to create democracy and hold corporations accountable to international law.

10 December 2005

Table Ware

Iraq and the Democrats

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 08 December 2005
There is a tactic in the art of debate and argument known as "Rejecting the premise." To wit: when someone tosses a straw-man into a debate, you are wise to point it out as such, instead of validating its existence by arguing against it. A perfect example of where this can apply comes in the latest round of nonsense from the far Right about a so-called "War on Christmas."

Person #1: "Do you think the liberal elite are aiding in the war against Christmas?"

Person #2: "I reject the premise. There is no war against Christmas. Christmas is doing just fine."

Here's another good one. Vice President Cheney was speaking on Tuesday to troops at Fort Drum, NY.

Cheney: "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq, and the terrorists hit us anyway."

Me: "I reject the premise. The fact that we had not invaded Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. As Richard Cohen said of Cheney's comments in Thursday's Washington Post, 'Yes, and the crowing of the rooster makes the sun come up. Cause and effect is being mocked here.'"

See? It's that simple. By the way, when did you stop beating your wife?

There is a cluster of Democrats who could learn about rejecting the premise, especially when it comes to the occupation of Iraq. The most recent and galling example came after Congressman John Murtha made his courageous demand for a withdrawal from Iraq. Murtha is the guy the generals talk to, because the generals know they are wasting their breath trying to talk to Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush. Murtha knows exactly how bad things are in Iraq. His call for withdrawal specifically said that such an action should come "at the earliest practicable date."
The rest of article is linked above.

What do you think about bringing indictments against Bush and Blair, not to mention the greater of two evils; Dick Cheney? I can think of only a few things that have the potential to benefit humanity as much as holding these men accountable for what they have permitted to happen on their watches: Bring indictments in the court of law and hold these men accountable.

09 December 2005

Pinter Lays it All Out

Pinter Lays It All Out: Indict Bush, Blair
By Matthew Rothschild
December 8, 2005
Occasionally, an award recipient will chuck the clichés and park the platitudes and actually say something meaningful, something daring.

Such a thing happened on December 7 in Stockholm, when Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize-winner for Literature, delivered an amazing, taped address.

Taped, because he was too ill to deliver it in person.

But he was by no means weak.

He let Bush have it.

But it wasn’t just Bush.

It was Blair and Britain too, a country he called America’s “own bleating little lamb tagging behind it” on a leash.

Pinter asked, “How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?”

He said that was “more than enough,” adding, “Therefore, it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice.”

May I live so long!

Pinter not only assailed the Iraq War, which he called “a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.”

He also denounced the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Pinter’s theme was the abuse of language, and the abuse of power, by politicians, who, he said, “are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lives.”

At the end of his speech, he urged all of us to see through that tapestry.

Circus Court

08 December 2005

My Natal Horoscope chart (w/ transits) Courtesy of AstroDienst

AstroDienst may be the only website you need to fulfill your desire to become introduced with the field of astrology. It's really interesting, fascinating stuff - to me.

Check it out at www.astro.com.

Here's a copy of my chart.

07 December 2005

"Sweet Music" John Murtha

From Daily Kos:
Murtha versus Lieberman by kos

Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 01:21:52 PM PST

Think Progress:
Lieberman yesterday: "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." Murtha today: "Undermining his credibility? What has he said that would give him credibility?"
I eagerly await Lieberman's response.

06 December 2005

Europe's Night Aglow

more information about this computer simulated image at this link

Diebold insider alleges company plagued by technical woes, Diebold defends 'sterling' record

12/06/2005 @ 1:44 pm
Filed by Miriam Raftery
In an exclusive interview with RAW STORY, a whistleblower from electronic voting heavyweight Diebold Election Systems Inc. raised grave concerns about the company’s electronic voting technology and of electronic voting in general, bemoaning an electoral system the insider feels has been compromised by corporate privatization.

The Diebold insider, who took on the appellation “Dieb-Throat” in an interview with voting rights advocate Brad Friedman (BradBlog.com), was once a staunch supporter of electronic voting’s potential to produce more accurate results than punch cards.

But the company insider became disillusioned after witnessing repeated efforts by Diebold to evade meeting legal requirements or implementing appropriate security measures, putting corporate interests ahead of the interests of voters.
Previous revelations from the whistleblower have included evidence that Diebold’s upper management and top government officials knew of backdoor software in Diebold’s central tabulator before the 2004 election, but ignored urgent warnings—such as a Homeland Security alert posted on the Internet.

“This is a very dangerous precedent that needs to be stopped—that’s the corporate takeover of elections,” the source warned. “The majority of election directors don’t understand the gravity of what they’re dealing with. The bottom line is who is going to tamper with an election? A lot of people could, but they assume that no one will.”
California decertified Diebold TSX touch screen machines after state officials learned that the vendor had broken state election law.

“In California, they got in trouble and tried to doubletalk. They used a patch that was not certified,” the Diebold insider said. “They’ve done this many times. They just got caught in Georgia and California.”

The whistleblower is also skeptical of results from the November 2005 Ohio election, in which 88 percent of voters used touch screens and the outcome on some propositions changed as much as 40 percent from pre-election exit polls.

“Amazing,” the Diebold insider said.

Diebold is headquartered in Ohio. Its chairman Wally O’Dell, a key fundraiser for President Bush, once promised in an invitation to a Republican fundraising dinner to deliver Ohio’s electoral votes for Bush. The staffer said the company has a deep conservative culture.

“My feeling having been really deep inside the company is that initially Diebold, being a very conservative and Republican company, felt that if they controlled an election company, they could have great influence over the outcome,” the source, a registered independent, said.
The insider described a systematic process Diebold uses to woo election officials via cash doled out by lobbyists or attorneys and favors to assist budget-strapped public officials. “They promise the election directors the moon and deliver things to them that really aren’t legitimate parts of the contract.” Those promises range from providing personnel to equipping warehouses with electrical systems to recharge batteries in voting machines.

“The corporation pretty much takes over. That’s how they capture so many of these people. Diebold is making them look good and they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them.”

Diebold creates a “monetary incentive” to stay involved via future servicing contracts after selling election equipment, the whistleblower noted, adding, “The machines are purposely complex and poorly designed.”
Diebold consultant convicted for embezzlement

The Diebold insider noted that the initial GEMS system used to tabulate votes for the Diebold Opti-scan systems was designed by Jeffrey Dean, who was convicted in the early 1990s of computer-aided embezzlement. Dean was hired by Global Election Systems, which Diebold acquired in 2000. Global also had John Elder, a convicted cocaine trafficker, on its payroll. Diebold spokesman David Bear told Citybeat that Dean left shortly after the acquisition and that Elder also left “long ago.” Black Box Voting reported that Diebold gave Elder a “golden parachute” in 2004 and that he was let go only after his criminal past was revealed by BBV and mainstream publications.

But the Diebold whistleblower told RAW STORY that Elder remained working for Diebold “as recently as the summer of this year… [Elder creates ] the paper ballots for absentee voting…They were making the ballots for the November election for sure, for all over the country.”

Bear denied that Elder is still on Diebold’s payroll as either an employee or independent contractor.

05 December 2005

The Ethics of the "Defense" Industry

Weekly Review
Posted on Tuesday, December 6, 2005. By Paul Ford.
At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, President George W. Bush gave a speech on the Iraq war. “As Iraqi forces grow more capable,” he said, “they're increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the terrorists.” Operation Steel Hammer, intended to end Al Qaeda operations in Hit, west of Baghdad, was launched with a force of 1,500 U.S. Marines, 500 U.S. Army soldiers, and 500 Iraqi soldiers. Nineteen Iraqi soldiers were killed in an attack north of Baghdad, and ten U.S. Marines were killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah. In New York City, a defense contractor named David H. Brooks rented out two floors of the Rainbow Room for his daughter Elizabeth's bat mitzvah. Tom Petty, Kenny G, and members of Aerosmith performed, as did 50 Cent. The total cost of the party was reported as $10 million. “Go shorty,” rapped 50 Cent, “it's your bat mitzvah, we gonna party like it's your bat mitzvah.” Two women told a reporter that Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the California Congressman who resigned after he was found to have accepted bribes from defense contractors, once changed into pajama bottoms and a turtleneck sweater and offered the women champagne by the light of a lava lamp. The House Ethics Committee had not opened a new case in the last 12 months. “I would say by the early part of January, we will be fully organized,” said Representative Alan Mollohan (D., W. Va.). “Or should be really close to that.” Senator John McCain said that he didn't think “the ethics committees are working very well.” In Tennessee a man was arrested for firing a gun at traffic while wearing only a pair of socks.
Great work, Mr. Ford.

04 December 2005

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake

German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005; A01
In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.

The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret.
At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."

Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official.
Meanwhile, Masri was growing desperate. There were rumors that a prisoner had died under torture. Masri could not answer most questions put to him. He said he steadied himself by talking with other prisoners and reading the Koran.

A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam. Masri said he asked him if he were from the German government and whether the government knew he was there. Sam said he could not answer either question.
Sam told Masri he was going to be released soon but that he would not receive any documents or papers confirming his ordeal. The Americans would never admit they had taken him prisoner, Sam added, according to Masri.

On the day of his release, the prison's director, who Masri believed was an American, told Masri that he had been held because he "had a suspicious name," Masri said in an interview
Masri has been reunited with his children and wife, who had moved the family to Lebanon because she did not know where her husband was. Unemployed and lonely, Masri says neither his German nor Arab friends dare associate with him because of the publicity.

Meanwhile, a German prosecutor continues to work Masri's case. A Macedonia bus driver has confirmed that Masri was taken away by border guards on the date he gave investigators. A forensic analysis of Masri's hair showed he was malnourished during the period he says he was in the prison. Flight logs show a plane registered to a CIA front company flew out of Macedonia on the day Masri says he went to Afghanistan.

Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."

03 December 2005

The Revolt of the Generals

"Broken, Worn Out" and "Living Hand to Mouth"
The immense significance of Rep John Murtha's November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the US senior officer corps, seeing the institution they lead as "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth", to use the biting words of their spokesman, John Murtha, as he reiterated on December his denunciation of Bush's destruction of the Army.

A CounterPuncher with nearly 40 years experience working in and around the Pentagon told me this week that "The Four Star Generals picked Murtha to make this speech because he has maximum credibility." It's true. Even in the US Senate there's no one with quite Murtha's standing to deliver the message, except maybe for Byrd, but the venerable senator from West Virginia was a vehement opponent of the war from the outset , whereas Murtha voted for it and only recently has turned around.

So the Four-Star Generals briefed Murtha and gave him the state-of-the-art data which made his speech so deadly, stinging the White House into panic-stricken and foolish denunciations of Murtha as a clone of Michael Moore.
Listen once more to what the generals want the country to know:
"The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

Ten days after Murtha's speech commentators on the tv Sunday talk shows were clambering aboard the Bring eem home bandwagon. Voices calling for America to istay the course" in Iraq were few and far between. On December 1 Murtha returned to the attack in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, telling a civic group there that he was wrong to have voted for the war and that most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year because the Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth".

The stench of panic in Washington that hangs like a winter fog over Capitol Hill intensified. The panic stems from the core concern of every politician in the nation's capital: survival. The people sweating are Republicans and the source of their terror is the deadly message spelled out in every current poll: Bush's war on Iraq spells disaster for the Republican Party in next year's midterm elections.

02 December 2005

US civil rights group to sue CIA

News from the BBC
A US civil rights groups says it is taking the CIA to court to stop the transportation of terror suspects to countries outside US legal authority.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the intelligence agency has broken both US and international law.

It is acting for a man allegedly flown to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan.
"The lawsuit will charge that CIA officials at the highest level violated US and universal human rights laws when they authorised agents to abduct an innocent man, detain him in incommunicado, beat him, drug and transport him to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan," the ACLU said in a news release.