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  • Friday, December 30, 2005

    Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold

    From Democracy Now!:

    [I]n news from Indonesia – the Associated Press is reporting the Indonesian military has acknowledged that an American gold company had been providing direct "support" to army units accused of human rights abuses in the remote province of Papua. The army says New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has provided it with “vehicles, fuel and meals directly to the units in the field." On Tuesday, the New York Times reported Freeport has paid at least $20 million to Indonesian military commanders to protect the company’s facilities in Papua.

    Helping people may literally become illegal in U.S.

    Astounding. Just astounding. From Democracy Now!:

    The New York Times is reporting several church, social service and immigrant groups are rallying against a provision in the recently passed House border-security bill that would make it a federal crime to offer services or assistance to illegal immigrants. The measure would leave people who assist or shield illegal immigrants subject to a sentence of up to five years in prison. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of the Conference of Catholic Bishops said the measure would put almost anyone who assists illegal immigrants at risk. Barnes said: "Current legislation does not require humanitarian groups to ascertain the legal status of an individual prior to providing assistance. The legislation would place parish, diocesan and social service program staff at risk of criminal prosecution simply for performing their jobs."

    Thursday, December 29, 2005



    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Cheney as mean old Mr. Potter

    Just in time for Christmas, too! From Democracy Now!:

    Senate Republicans managed to pass a fiercely contested $40 billion dollar-budget cutting bill with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney. The New York Times notes cuts to student aid account for nearly one-third of the budget bill’s savings. Students will be forced to pay higher interest rates, banks will receive lower subsidies for student loans, and eligibility for college aid will be narrowed down. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, said: "This is the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program."

    The budget bill also grants states new authority to impose fees and scale back benefits for millions of low-income Medicaid recipients. In addition, the bill imposes stricter work requirements for welfare recipients, and penalizes states for not reducing the number of families on welfare rolls.

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Get Smarter

    Get Smarter

    A conservative on Bush spying

    From Democracy Now!:

    Even conservative legal scholars have admitted the severity of Bush's actions. Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said "I think if we're going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed."

    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Philly prosecutor calling fair juries "ridiculous"

    The following is an excerpt from a training video featuring Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon telling how to pick a jury. From Democracy Now!:

    JACK McMAHON: [inaudible] to get a competent, fair and impartial jury. Well, that's ridiculous. You are there to win, and in order to win -- and the defense is there to win, too -- and the only way you’re going to do your best is to get jurors that are as unfair and more likely to convict than anybody else in that room. Let's face it again. There's the blacks from the low-income areas are less likely to convict. It's just -- I don't understand it. It’s an understandable proposition. There's a resentment for law enforcement, there’s a resentment for authority, and as a result, you don't want those people on your jury, and it may appear as if you’re being racist or whatnot but again you are just being realistic, you're just trying to win the case.

    If you are sitting down and you’re gonna take blacks, you want older blacks. You want older black men and women, particularly men. Older black women, on the other hand, when you have like a black defendant who is a young boy and they can identify as, you know, a motherly type thing, are a little bit more difficult. The men don't have that same kind of maternal instinct towards them, and they are a little bit more demanding and a little more law and order.

    You don't want smart people, because smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They hold you up to a higher standard. They hold the courts up to a higher standard, because they are intelligent people. They take those words “reasonable doubt,” and they actually try to think about them. And you don't want those people. Bad luck with teachers, bad luck with social workers, bad luck with -- intelligent doctors are bad. I always feel doctors are bad, too.

    Jack McMahon was the prosecutor who had Harold Wilson wrongfully convicted of a triple murder.

    "A shameful act"

    In the U.S., there is a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which the U.S. Code states "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance, as defined in section 101 of such Act, and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted." Given this, it is interesting to see what Bush sees as the "shameful act" in all of this. From Democracy Now!:

    "There's a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

    Wrong. The fact that we're discussing it is helping to get to the bottom of yet another illegal act by your administration.

    260 contaminants found in U.S. tap water

    From the Environmental Working Group:

    Tap water in 42 states is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals that lack safety standards, according to the Environmental Working Group's (EWG's) two-and-a-half year investigation of water suppliers' tests of the treated tap water served to communities across the country.

    In an analysis of more than 22 million tap water quality tests, most of which were required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EWG found that water suppliers across the U.S. detected 260 contaminants in water served to the public. One hundred forty-one (141) of these detected chemicals — more than half — are unregulated; public health officials have not set safety standards for these chemicals, even though millions drink them every day.

    EWG's analysis also found almost 100 percent compliance with enforceable health standards on the part of the nation's water utilities, showing a clear commitment to comply with safety standards once they are developed. The problem, however, is EPA's failure to establish enforceable health standards and monitoring requirements for scores of widespread tap water contaminants. Of the 260 contaminants detected in tap water from 42 states, for only 114 has EPA set enforceable health limits (called Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs), and for 5 others the Agency has set non-enforceable goals called secondary standards. (EPA 2005a). The 141 remaining chemicals without health-based limits contaminate water served to 195,257,000 people in 22,614 communities in 42 states.

    Peter Ferrara being as smug as he can

    From Democracy Now!:

    Business Week has revealed that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid two conservative columnists to write favorable articles about some of his clients. Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute was suspended Friday by the Copley News Service. He admitted to being paid to write up to two dozen columns. Peter Ferrara, of the Institute for Policy Innovation, was also paid off. He defended taking the money saying "I do that all the time ... I've done that in the past, and I'll do it in the future."

    U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. and library spying

    So much for academia. From Democracy Now!:

    [I]n Massachusetts, questions over the extent of the government's domestic surveillance apparatus have arisen after federal agents recently visited and questioned a student at Umass Dartmouth after he requested a book through the school's interlibrary loan program. Two agents from the Department of Homeland Security reportedly visited the house of the student's parents and said the book - Mao's "The Little Red Book" --- was on a "watch list." One of the student's professors said it appears that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans.

    Update: This story was a complete HOAX.

    Conratulations Evo Morales

    From Democracy Now!:

    In Bolivia, union leader Evo Morales has claimed a stunning victory in Sunday's presidential elections. Exit polls show Morales won just over 50% of the vote - giving him the greatest political mandate that any Bolivian president has had in decades. Morales would become the country's first indigenous head of state. He has vowed to increase state controls over Bolivia's key gas resources and to protect coca plantations.

    Next come the opeds in U.S. "news"papers calling him a dictator and manufacturing all sorts of alleged evils deeds he has committed.

    Gene splicing creates... allergenic properties

    The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry is telling the tale of Australian scientists who have given up trying to cross a pea with a bean because their creation also created an unforseen allergen causing lung inflammation. Apart from the desire to make money, there is, of course, no reason to try this.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    Anti-Aids video

    Médecins Sans Frontières video.

    Muslim Conspiracy Nonsense

    From the Toronto Star via Common Dreams:

    Muslim Conspiracy to Rule World Just Nonsense by Haroon Siddiqui

    We had Wahhabism. We had the madrassas. We had the houris of Heaven. Now we have the caliphate.

    Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld et al have been raising the spectre of a worldwide Islamic rule by a caliph, as envisaged by Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Zarqawi and other terrorists.

    The chances of a caliphate coming are zero. But raising its spectre helps keep Americans scared. Never mind that, just as the reasons given for the Iraq war proved false, the explanations offered for terrorism have not met the test of time either.

    When 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11 turned out to have been Saudis, Washington and its apologists blamed Wahhabism, the essentialist Islam practised in Saudi Arabia. The problem with that theory was that the Saudi ruling family, the guardians of Wahhabism, was and remains the staunchest ally of the U.S. and guarantor of its energy needs.

    We were also told that terrorists were hatched primarily in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in religious schools. But we know now that most of those who bombed Bali, Jakarta, Istanbul, Amman, etc. were not graduates of those schools. Nor were those responsible for the train bombings in Madrid and London. They were Muslims born or raised in Europe.

    So were the two Britons who went to Israel in 2003 to be suicide bombers. So was the man who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004. So have been some of those turning up in Iraq to join the insurgency.

    The third theory was that suicide bombers were inspired by Islam's promise of a Paradise full of virgins. That may have motivated the religiously inclined but not others, certainly not women bombers, who had no such sexual favours to look forward to in Heaven.

    Now comes the caliphate — from the Arabic word, khil'afah, rule by a khaleefah, successor to the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 632 A.D.

    A caliphate is an ideal Islamic polity governed by God's law. But a debate has raged for 1,400 years over whether it's a religious requirement or just a tool to regulate social order and public welfare. Is it local or worldwide? There's no consensus. The first caliphate lasted until 661 A.D. Others followed, the last one being the Ottoman Empire that ended in 1924.

    Since then, debate has turned to how best to combine religion and state. There's no agreement. States labelling themselves Islamic have offered varying models — Afghanistan of the Taliban, Iran of the mullahs, the semi-dictatorships of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and the moderate Malaysia. Iraq now calls itself an Islamic democracy, á la Israel's Jewish democracy.

    The dream of a caliphate is confined to the marginalized: a rallying cry by the bin Laden-Zarqawi crowd, and, among others, by a Central Asian group battling the dictatorships there.

    Uzbek President Islam Karimov invokes the caliphate to justify his brutality. Who would have thought he would be echoed by Washington?

    Gen. John Abizaid, U.S. commander in the Middle East, says Islamists "will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world." Rumsfeld magnifies the danger, saying "Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia."

    George W. Bush talks about "a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain."

    Exaggerating the power of the enemy is a standard war tactic (used against Saddam Hussein by both George H.W. Bush in the 1991 Gulf War and by George W. Bush in 2003). But this caliphate business takes the cake. One can laugh it off but for its possible long-term consequences.

    One of the biggest mistakes of the war on terrorism was the misreading of bin Laden's initial popularity among Muslims.

    He always had two constituencies; the few who joined his terrorist campaigns and the many who identified only with his articulation of Muslim grievances, albeit in religious terms.

    America analyzed his theology and ignored his political message, while Muslim masses tuned out his religious claptrap but identified with his political message. He has since lost even that lure but America remains hobbled by its fixation with his religious pronouncements.

    In being so, the Bush administration makes him and other terrorists sound more important than they are, thereby playing into their hands.

    They no doubt love their own caliphate talk getting such worldwide amplification from Washington.

    How about a "War on Santa"

    Ok, we've already looked at how bullshit the claims of a "war on Christmas" are. But how about having a "war on Santa"? From Common Dreams:

    War on Santa by Philip Kovacs

    After returning from the mall, I've decided that the "War on Christmas" is being waged in the wrong place, in the wrong way, and at the wrong time. The enemy is not "Happy Holidays," the enemy is Santa Claus, and if you'll bear with me, I think it's time for progressives and conservatives, and all the wise refusing such nonsense labels, to unite against this elf.

    Santa is Satan and his nefarious goal is replacing the spirit of Christ (open to a great deal of interpretation) with crass consumerism. "What are you getting for Christmas? What do you want for Christmas? What do you want from Santa? What's Santa bringing you? What's in Santa's bag this year?" Goodies, that's what's in Santa's bag. Goodies massed produced by, well, a bunch of enslaved minority workers secreted away in a hard to reach location.

    Eight Compelling reasons for the Satan-fication of Santa.

    1. The guy comes into your house under cover of darkness, appearing in the fire for goodness sake, and he doesn't get burned. He likes fire, and indeed, is fire.

    2. He's jolly all right; how many shots can you do in a night? The drunken glutton (leave cookies out for him do you?) then proceeds to scatter "presents" as if they were worth anything compared to the actual presence of spirit. Think "Dress Me Up Barbie" left under a tree vs. spending an hour contemplating or living the Sermon on the Mount. It's hard to wrap the latter, and even harder to wrap sitting mindfully and appreciative with family and friends. Or, for you Zen masters, how does one wrap a walk down the street with your forty year old, but still functional, rod-o-enlightenment?

    Is your child asking for a greater appreciation of life and love this year? Are you?

    3. Christmas today is about letters to Santa and praying for commodities. Unless I'm horribly mistaken letters to Santa generally go something like "This Christmas I want, and I want, and I want." Rarely, I venture to say, does a letter get to Santa along the lines of "Dear Santa, how about peace in the Middle East?" Or, "Dear Santa, how about genuine participatory democracy here before we 'give' it to others?" Or this rare one, "Dear Jesus, this Christmas, I was wondering if you could feed the 20,000 people who will die of malnutrition on your birthday. If it helps, you can tell Santa to take my presents, sell them, and use the money to help rebuild a home destroyed by a hurricane or war of his choice."

    How about an America where one million people wrote that letter?

    4. Elves. Where are they from? How are they paid? I bet it's seasonal, so no health care. Is there a union? Doubtful. Please picture Santa as CEO, a fat Bossman in a red leisure suit complete with sealskin boots. Where Jesus has disciples spreading the gospel, Santa has elves, manufacturing rewards for good behavior. In rags travels one, in riches travels the other.

    5. Enchanted, flying, glowing, deer. How many miracles involve flying deer? Let's see, there's water to wine, brilliant, but no flying deer. While the resurrection was impressive, maybe even frightening, no flying deer. Now if you turn to Harry Potter, a source for a number of hot commodities this Christmas season, well flying deer are just the beginning.

    "Thanks Jesus for the wand and robes and my first-person shoot-you-up video game, but you forgot the broom."

    6. In Dante's Inferno Satan is depicted as frozen because he is so far from God's love. Why the North Pole? If you had access to the hearts, minds, and homes of every kid in America would you live in an ice-castle? No, you'd live in Disney World. The North Pole is the only place you can keep an army of elves and enchanted deer, that's why the North Pole. And even more importantly, it's the only place Satan can reside without burning up. He's too hot to live anywhere else, and if he stops longer than a nanosecond, he combusts, which explains why you never see him. This brings us to his untraceable global presence.

    7. His sleigh moves faster than the speed of light so Satan can return to the North Pole, his frozen den if you will, without combusting. Environmentally friendly? I think not.

    "Dear Santa, this Christmas, when you are flying over the oceans and the cities and the mountains and the rivers, would you mind looking down and asking yourself, what would Jesus do? You do make judgments, right Santa?"

    8. How does Santa know if I've been good or bad? Ten thousand spies scattered throughout malls across the country helps. But who is he to judge? Only the most judgmental angel in the history of angels, Lucifer himself. Patriot Act my ass, the CIA has loads to learn from Santa. You want to talk about social control? Then let's talk about a nation of children disciplined by one phrase: "Stop or Santa won't be bringing you anything this year."

    Let the above argument settle in for a minute and ask yourself, "is this a guy I want my children writing?"

    Progressives who are against consumptive culture should find a welcoming ear amongst conservatives (conservatives - not extremists) troubled by the loss of Christian values as Santa upsets both. Are conservatives up in arms about what Christmas has really become? And are progressives who moan about consumptive culture actually doing anything about it?

    My modest proposal: nothing brings people together like a disaster. This Christmas, why don't we all celebrate the true spirit of giving by giving our children and our money to a War on Santa? We must unite and end Santa's reign with a full invasion of the North Pole. The elves will certainly greet us as liberators; we'll be out in less than 6 months; it won't cost more than a few billion dollars; and it will stabilize the region.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    U.S.A. No. 6!

    From NYT via Common Dreams:

    The United States has tied with Myanmar, the former Burma, for sixth place among countries that are holding the most journalists behind bars, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

    Each country is jailing five journalists. The United States is holding four Iraqi journalists in detention centers in Iraq and one Sudanese, a cameraman who works for Al Jazeera, at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. None of the five have been charged with a specific crime.

    This year, China topped the list of countries with the most journalists - 32 - in jail, many of them for activity on the Internet. This is the seventh year in a row in which China has led the list.

    Fifteen of the Chinese journalists are being held under national security legislation for writing critically about the Communist Party online, the report said.

    A total of 125 writers, editors and photojournalists were held in jails around the world on Dec. 1, 2005, the report said. The tally is 3 higher than were held on Dec. 1, 2004, but it is not the highest number in the 25 years that the committee has been keeping track. The highest was 182 journalists jailed in 1995.

    Cuba ranked second with 24, Eritrea was third with 15, Ethiopia was fourth with 13 and Uzbekistan ranked fifth, with 6 journalists in jail.

    Get ready to be propagandised...

    From Democracy Now!:

    In this country, USA Today is reporting the Pentagon has launched a $300 million dollar psychological warfare operation in which pro-American messages would be planted in foreign media outlets, without disclosing the U.S. government as the source. In addition to using traditional media to plant favorable reports, the operation would also produce "novelty items" such as T-shirts and bumper stickers. The contractors include the Lincoln Group, the company currently being investigated for planting pro-military stories in Iraqi newspapers.

    Better "liberate" Iraq again

    From Democracy Now!:

    In other Iraq news, a US-led search of prisons in the country has led to the initial discovery of over 120 prisoners subjected to harsh treatment. Many of the prisoners required immediate medical attention. An Iraqi official said several of the prisoners were subjected to torture that included broken bones, pulled fingernails, cigarettes stamped into skin and electric shocks. The disclosure follows last month’s discovery of over 170 detainees in a locked basement of an Iraq Interior Ministry compound. At a news conference, US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said over 100 of them had been abused.

    Another great election

    From Democracy Now!:

    Iraqi officials are denying a New York Times report that said border guards have seized a tanker filled with thousands of forged electoral ballots headed from Iran. According to the Times, the driver of the vehicle reportedly told interrogators another three trucks carrying forged ballots have already crossed into Iraq.

    Arnold's hometown may rename stadium “Stanley Tookie Williams Stadium”

    From Democracy Now! :

    In Austria, birthplace of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, opposition politicians proposed stripping Schwarzenegger of citizenship and removing his name from a sports stadium in his hometown. One group suggested it be re-named “Stanley Tookie Williams Stadium.”


    From the BBC:

    California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has hit back at his Austrian home town Graz after officials criticised his death penalty stance.

    Mr Schwarzenegger demanded that Graz stop using his name for a sports stadium and sent back a "ring of honour" bestowed on him in 1999.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Mohamed ElBaradei: Nukes must become taboo

    From Democracy Now!:

    "The hard part is how to create the environment in which all of us would look at nuclear weapons the way we look to slavery, genocide: a taboo and historical element. Fifteen years ago, the Cold War ended. At that time, we hoped for a new world order, a world order rooted in solidarity, a world order that is equitable, that is effective, and that is inclusive. Today, we are nowhere near that goal. We may have torn down the walls between the East and the West but we have yet to build bridges between the North and the South, between the rich and the poor... If we hope seriously to escape self-destruction, then I believe nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscious and no role in our security."

    Looks like a brutal state. Better invade it again.

    From Democracy Now!:

    Meanwhile a former Iraqi general told Agence France Press that he witnessed horrific scenes of torture while he worked in Iraqi-run prisons. He showed the news agency videotapes recorded inside the prison. Men were seen with whip marks and acid burns. One prisoner had lost an eye. Another prisoner had nails driven into his body. The general -- Muntazar al-Samarrai - said at least three people died as a result of torture at the prison, The general - who is a Sunni now living in Jordan - said the abuse is being carried out at nine secret prisons run by pro-Iranian Shiite militias who work for the Interior Ministry.

    Mexico abolishes the death penalty

    Mexico has abolished the death penalty. The list of nations still practising includes: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, North Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. Thanks to Hullabaloo.

    Republican attack on ius soli

    From American Progress:

    "For nearly 140 years, any child born on U.S. soil, even to an illegal immigrant, has been given American citizenship." (The 14th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.") This week a group of 92 conservative lawmakers in the House will attempt "to force a vote on legislation that would revoke the principle of 'birthright citizenship,' part of a broader effort to discourage illegal immigration." But the effort to revoke birthright citizenship has little to do with actually curbing illegal immigration, and much more with pandering to anti-immigrant conservatives. Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, says the prospect of citizenship is "absolutely not" a major incentive for "the vast majority of illegal entrants." Harry Pachon, executive director of USC's Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, agreed, noting there is "no evidence" to suggest large numbers of immigrants are motivated by birthright citizenship. In any case, "there is no support for the concept in the Senate," according to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH). "There are certain things that we have done as a nation for a long time that I don't think we're going to change. Rolling back the clock is not going to solve the problem of immigration."

    Pentagon underreporting casualties

    From American Progress:

    Seven Members of Congress issued a letter last week charging that the Pentagon is systematically "under-reporting casualties in Iraq by only reporting non-fatal casualties incurred in combat." They asked for a full accounting of the accurate numbers. Their letter quoted John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, who told CBS's "60 Minutes" that the uncounted casualty figure "would have to be somewhere in the ballpark of over 20, maybe 30,000." But that CBS report came in November 2004. Now, more than a year later, those numbers have risen significantly. On Saturday, Salon.com published details of an October 2005 Veterans Affairs (V.A.) report showing that 119,247 off-duty Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are receiving health care from the V.A. The report seemed to show "that a lot of those health problems are war-related. For example, nearly 37,000 have mental disorders, including nearly 16,000 who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Over 46,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receiving benefits from the V.A. have musculoskeletal problems. These are all veterans who within the last four years were considered by the military to be mentally and physically fit enough to fight."

    Lieberman vs. Lieberman

    From American Progress:

    "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." -- Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), 12/7/05


    "In our democracy, a president does not rule, he governs. He remains always answerable to us, the people. And right now, the president's conduct of our foreign policy is giving the country too many reasons to question his leadership." -- Sen. Joe Lieberman, 7/28/03

    Katrina? Oh yeah, I think I remember that...

    From American Progress:

    On September 15, President Bush stood in downtown New Orleans -- bathed in floodlights powered by generators -- and made a pledge. Bush said, "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. ... There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." It hasn't worked out that way. A presidential adviser told TIME Magazine reporter Mike Allen that Katrina "has fallen so far off the radar screen, you can't even find it." Bush hasn't visited the Gulf Coast since Oct. 11. Most significantly, critical funding to build stronger and higher levees has not been appropriated. The New York Time notes, "Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment [that stronger levees will be constructed] before they will stake their futures on the city." As it stands, we "are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die."

    It will cost an estimated $32 billion "to strengthen Louisiana's flood defenses so they could withstand a Category 5 hurricane." The price tag has "drawn a tepid response from the Bush administration." The administration's top reconstruction official, Donald Powell, said the decision about whether to provide funding for the levees will "[h]opefully...be made sooner rather than later." While the cost of the levees is significant, the New York Times notes "it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives," that would largely benefit the wealthy and are supported whole heartedly by the White House. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) says "she'll use parliamentary procedures to keep Congress in session over Christmas unless it approves spending for levees, Louisiana school districts and hospitals."

    Why Bush gives speeches in front of troops

    It's more than just the patriotic image... From American Progress:

    The Washington Post reports that "only a few hundred members [of the Council for Foreign Relations] showed up for the hastily organized event at a Washington hotel and empty chairs were removed from the back of the ballroom before Bush arrived." It wasn’t for lack of effort. ThinkProgress has published a desperate plea the Council sent out late Tuesday, asking people who were planning on coming to bring a friend. Bush broke Council traditional by refusing to accept questions after his speech. Apparently, most people aren’t that excited about being used as a presidential prop. This may explain why Bush has preferred giving his speeches in front of military audiences, who are required to attend.

    Judge blasts Schwarzenegger

    From Pr Watch:

    "The public's ability to participate in the rule-making process was undermined" when the administration of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger produced video news releases (VNRs) promoting controversial proposals, ruled Sacramento Superior Court judge Lloyd Connelly. "By including comments from the public that are solely supporting" of the proposed regulations, the fake TV news reports created "the misleading impression that the regulations are unopposed by any segments of the public and are not subject to criticism, thereby discouraging any further questioning or investigation of the matter by the public," Connelly wrote in his decision. Three labor unions had brought a lawsuit against the Schwarzenegger VNRs, which touted since-rejected proposals to remove workers' lunch break guarantees and to delay mandated nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. "The court has once again stopped the governor's extremely abusive practice of using public funds to promote the economic gains of his corporate donors," said a California Nurses Association spokesperson.

    Hide your shame vs. Right-to-know

    From PR Watch:

    Due to a proposed rewriting of the nation's environmental right-to-know law, thousands of communities stand to lose access to information on toxic chemicals that are released into their neighborhoods. The Bush administration wants to gut the national Toxics Release Inventory, which for the past two decades has reported "which industrial plants emit the most toxic substances, whether their emissions are increasing and what compounds may be contaminating their air and water," according to the Los Angeles Times. The public interest group OMB Watch has a Resource Center for concerned groups and individuals to learn more about the program.

    Rummy tries to pass the buck on Lincoln Group

    From PR Watch:

    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told international studies students he thought the media focused too much on the bad news in Iraq. "His criticism of the press, a theme to which Mr. Rumsfeld returns frequently in public and private statements, came only a few days after the Pentagon acknowledged that it had paid Iraqi newspapers to publish news articles that presented a positive view of developments in Iraq. That disclosure 'has been pounded in the media, Mr. Rumsfeld said. 'We don't know what the facts are yet,'" The New York Times reports. "[Rumsfeld] said blame for the propaganda program might rest with the Lincoln Group, the Washington-based public relations company that worked on the program under contract." He said that the question is whether the contractor was "implementing the policy properly."

    No matter how you hype it, it's just plain old Rice

    From PR Watch:

    "Despite the time-worn diplomatic formula of quiet airport greetings by often-dour foreign ministers," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been welcomed by a falconer (with bird) in Kyrgyzstan, a sumo wrestling champion in Japan, and athlete Nadia Comaneci in Romania. Rice's "rock star status ... has been one result of a deliberate strategy," writes the New York Times. Jim Wilkinson, one of Rice's senior aides, organizes her "image-making events," "serves as a gatekeeper" for people "who want to see her," and "is constantly looking out for image-making opportunities." The resulting buzz has fueled speculation that Rice will run for president in 2008, though she denies any "interest in running." One result of this focus on image is that Rice's appearances have been "skewed towards broadcast media. In October and November she gave 22 interviews to television and radio stations and only 3 to newspapers and magazines."

    Is Germany still spying on reporters?

    From PR Watch:

    The head of Germany's federal intelligence agency (Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND), August Hanning, "admitted that several journalists, scientists and public figures had been spied on by the German secret services between 1993 and 1998. ... More recently, Cicero magazine and German daily Der Speigel have complained about surveillance and harassment," following their exposes on terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi and plutonium trafficking, respectively. The BND's Hanning said, "I take this very seriously and will follow up on it." The spying was centered on investigative journalist Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, who authored a book on the BND. "Family, colleagues and other journlists who came to interview him about the book were followed by agents from the BND." An anonymous BND source said, "The measures were first taken to discover which 'traitors' had supplied information on how our services operate."

    Schwarzenegger Denies Clemency for Tookie

    See the AP story. Also see Pokie.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Bill O'Reilly at his best

    Thanks to the Daily Disent for this one.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    House Select Committee on Katrina

    Simply shocking. From Democracy Now!:

    ISHMAEL MUHAMMAD [ an attorney for the Advancement Project, part of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund]: The purpose of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition is to insure that those who have suffered the most before, during and after Katrina, and whose voices have been historically disregarded, are empowered to be heard and take charge of the monies being raised in their names, the reconstruction of their communities, and the repairing of their lives. Therefore, the testimony that I'm going to give today, on behalf of the legal work that we're doing and on behalf of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, will be from those voices. And we urge all of you to seek out those voices that we cannot bring you today.

    Denise, a 42-year-old black woman from New Orleans, interned in the Convention Center, reports, “I thought I was in hell. I was there for two days with no water, no food and no shelter, with my 63-year-old mother, 21-year-old niece and two-year-old grandniece and thousands of others. Police would not come out of their cars. National Guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, with soldiers with guns cocked and aiming at us. Nobody stopped to drop off water. A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all of the bottles exploded on impact. Many people were delirious from lack of water and food, completely dehydrated. Inside the Convention Center, conditions were horrible. The floors were black and slick with feces. Outside wasn't much better, between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, and old and very young dying from dehydration. There were young men with guns there, who organized the crowd and got food and water for the old people and babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When buses came, it was those men who got the crowd in order. Old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. Many people decided to walk across the bridge to the west bank, but armed police ordered them to turn around at the top of the bridge. The first day, four people died next to me, the second day, six. Make sure you tell everybody,” she said, “that they left us there to die.”

    Nicole, a young black woman from New Orleans, who was interned in the Superdome, states, "We survived despite being abandoned by federal, state and local government. Black families with children and no money were the majority in the Superdome. I noticed only 5% of people were not black and they were mostly unfortunate white and Asian tourists. While waiting in line behind a barricade for 18 hours to board a bus away from the Superdome, I noticed a group of tourists, three white and two Asian people, rushed quietly out one side of the barricade that held thousands of exhausted, financially underprivileged black families with babies. The looting was people's main rebellion, because it was hotter than Satan's oven in the Dome and people wanted cold drinks, ice, anything cold. The National Guard did not serve or protect. They were constantly threatening us and herding us by machine guns like cows. I saw a teenage boy beaten up by a National Guard officer in front of a crowd of thousands of people. The National Guard was disorganized. They did not try to instill order to the chaos of ration distribution. Nobody ever knew when or where food was given out, and people stood in line for hours. I was alone and female. Many of the older men and women were protective of me in the Superdome. Nobody really laid a hand on me, except for a white police officer, Officer Hall, badge 185 or 158 (I wish I could remember). He grabbed my booty in Texas during a 3:00 a.m. bus search, while we were on the way to Dallas. The U.S. is the richest country in the world. I don't understand why so many people would have to die in Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. has the money to evacuate people in a disaster, especially one that has been awaited for a number of years.”

    Shelly, a 31-year-old who was trapped in the Superdome, adds, "When buses came to take us from the Superdome, they were taking tourists first. White people, they were just picking them out of the crowd. I don't know why we were treated the way we were. But it was like they didn't care.”

    Alva, a 51-year-old grandmother from New Orleans East, remembers, “When we were taken to the higher ground in Jefferson Parish, what did we have to greet us? A line of military police with M-16 rifles. They watched us, caged us, laughed at us, took pictures of us with their camera-phones. I saw a young man get down on his knees and beg for water for his little baby, and I saw the child die right there on the concrete. This was murder. They wanted us dead. They just didn't think so many of us would survive."

    Tammy, a black woman in her mid-30s, complains, “I was trying to evacuate with my two daughters by car, when we were stopped by police, made to get out and told, ‘Lie down on the ground, you black monkey bitch.’ I was arrested and thrown in jail with my daughters and could not get out for several weeks.”

    John, a New Orleans resident displaced at the Houston Astrodome, says, “I was in the Astrodome and told to move from the bleachers to the field on the lower area, but I refused because I had seen dead bodies down there and I was with some of my 12 children in the upstairs area. There were just too many unsafe issues down there. I was forced to leave the stadium. Me and my family were taken out at rifle-point.”

    Agnes, a 70-something-year-old Creole woman who was a resident of Iberville Public Housing Development; Maybell, a woman in her late-70s, a longtime resident of St. Bernard Public Housing Development; Joseph and Cynthia, who are residents of B.W. Cooper Public Housing Development; and Alberta, who is a resident of Lafitte Public Housing Development, have all been displaced, and all are wondering why they have to be locked out of their public housing residence when their homes have received little to no flooding and are habitable.

    These stories illustrate that these are the people who need to be heard, because their stories illustrate the failures of the government on every level.

    Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job, Part II

    From Democracy Now!:

    Newly released e-mails show former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown was warned at least a year before Hurricane Katrina the agency was unprepared for a major disaster. In one e-mail dated June 2004, a FEMA official wrote national response managers were getting: “zero funding for training, exercise or team equipment." The managers, the official wrote, "provide the only practical, expeditious option for the (FEMA) director to field a cohesive team of his best people to handle the next big one." The official, William Carwile, said top FEMA officials ignored his recommendations and subsequent budget requests to fund national response teams.

    Al-Libi lied about Iraq to avoid torture

    I am second-guessing the United States, Mr. Bolton, and with good cause. From Democracy Now!:

    New details are emerging in the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- the detainee whose faulty claims on links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times is reporting government officials have acknowledged al-Libi fabricated his claims to avoid harsh punishment while in Egyptian custody. Al-Libi was handed over to Egypt by US agents in January 2002. The Times notes the disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of detainees.

    Katrina: The missing dead

    From Democracy Now! :

    Questions still remain over how many people died after Hurricane Katrina as well as the whereabouts of all of the evacuees. The official death toll stands at about 1,300 but thousands of people are still reported missing. Two weeks ago USA Today reported the whereabouts of 6,600 people reported missing have not been determined. And this past weekend Newsday reported the missing includes 1,300 children.

    The reports are based on figures provided by two groups: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Center For Missing Adults.

    Officials with both groups say the numbers are so high in part because government record-keeping efforts haven't caught up with Katrina survivors who were separated from their families during the evacuations. Hurricane shelters had no coordinated system for feeding evacuees" names, birth dates and other information into a national database.

    Union busting in American

    From American Progress:

    A new report released by American Rights at Work shows that a majority of employers are aggressively using both legal and illegal anti-union tactics before union representation votes to undermine union support. Thirty percent of employers fire pro-union workers, 82 percent hire high-priced "unionbusting" consultants, and 91 percent of employers force employees to have one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors. The report concludes that "union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want, need, or attempt to form unions [but] is related to employers’ systematic use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie union organizing." American Progress is also engaged in an international campaign to promote human rights and a decent work agenda through Global Progress.

    Bolton being Bolton

    From American Progress:

    U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is commemorating International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) by denouncing individuals who are working to uphold human rights. Bolton has attacked Louise Arbour, the U.N. human rights chief for her comments that the "absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice...is becoming a casualty of the so-called 'war on terror,'" singling out reports of U.S. practices of torture on detainees. Bolton countered that it is "inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second guess the conduct that we're engaged in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers." Secretary General Kofi Annan backed up Arbour, saying he had "no disagreement" with her comments and he "is confident that she will carry out her work without being impressed or intimidated by what happened."

    Progressive institutions finally wake up to peak oil

    It's good to see the larger progressive institutions finally acknowledging the problem of peak oil. From American Progress:

    PEAK OIL -- WHAT AND WHY: Why isn't it sustainable, if there's so much oil underground? Therein lies the notion of "peak oil": after about half the oil has been extracted from a field, production rates start to go down. "There's still oil left, but declining pressure, exhaustion of the best oil pockets, and increasing contamination bring it to the surface ever more slowly." And ever less profitably. In other words, the problem isn't that the world will run out of oil -- it's that, at one point, it will no longer be profitable to extract it. So no one will. This theory, it's worth noting, is neither new nor controversial. In 1956, M. King Hubbert of Shell Oil used it to predict that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s. His analysis was disregarded, if not derided. U.S. oil extraction peaked in December 1970.

    BUT IS IT HAPPENING GLOBALLY? The short answer is yes. "All or nearly all of the largest oil fields have already been discovered and are being produced. Production is, indeed, clearly past its peak in some of the most prolific basins," the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a recent report. The NETL report likewise detailed "a number of trends that suggest the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking of conventional world oil production." The natural follow-up question -- when will the global peak occur? -- is inherently speculative, and thus quite contentious. (The U.S. government puts the date at 2037; "most mainstream analysts" suggest it will come earlier, "in 10 or 15 years at around 100 million bpd.") But the question is also somewhat academic. "No matter who's right, what we can say with some certainty is that even if oil production continues to grow, it will grow slowly, which means that supply will barely keep up with rising demand. In other words, it's likely that we're now in a permanent state of near zero spare capacity, which in turn will lead to an increasingly unstable world."

    THE HIGH PRICE OF INACTION: The impact of an actual shortfall of supply would be immense. The DoE states plainly, "The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary." According to the New York Times, "If consumption begins to exceed production by even a small amount, the price of a barrel of oil could soar to triple-digit levels. This, in turn, could bring on a global recession, a result of exorbitant prices for transport fuels and for products that rely on petrochemicals -- which is to say, almost every product on the market."

    I hate to break it to the DoE, but the game is over. We can prepare as best we can, but if anyone thinks that the world as it is today will continue, they are in denial.

    Meet Pokie the Pusher

    Pokie the Pusher Now, before the comments start pouring in with hypothetical plaintiffs about how I would feel if someone I cared about were murdered, I'll point out that I don't have to imagine. On August 1st, 1997, my father was brutally murdered. This cartoon mocks the idea of "closure," as well it should. There is no such thing. The pain, while diminishing over time, stays with you for the rest of your life.

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    On the U.S. involvement in East Timor genocide

    From Democracy Now!:

    Thirty years ago today, on December 7 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor. This began a brutal occupation that lasted almost a quarter of a century and led to the deaths of over 200,000 people. Even the C.I.A. has described it as one of the worst mass-murders of the 20th century.

    Indonesia invaded East Timor almost entirely with U.S-made weapons and equipment. Newly released documents by the National Security Archive show the U.S government knew this and explicitly approved of the invasion. The formerly classified documents show how multiple U.S administrations concealed information on the invasion in order to continue selling weapons to Indonesia.

    The documents show US officials were aware of the invasion plans nearly a year in advance. They reveal that in 1977 the Carter Administration blocked declassification of a cable transcribing President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger's meeting with Suharto on December 6, 1975 in which they explicitly approved of the invasion.

    Right-wing crazies attack their own in "war on Christmas"

    More on the "war on Christmas" from American Progress:

    The right-wing has recently begun propagating the "War on Christmas" conspiracy. The myth, which has repeatedly cropped up in American history, attempts to suggest that progressives are anti-religious. The conservative Alliance Defense Fund said it would pursue legal action over perceived attempts by "government officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christ's birth." The Alliance has a new target: the White House. The Washington Post reports today that President Bush sent out the White House "Christmas" card omitting any mention of Christmas and instead referring to the "holiday season." "This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com.

    Well, at least by fighting a war without an opponent you are sure to win. The real goal, however, is distraction from real issues.

    For sale: Senator's vote - $12,000

    From American Progress:

    The Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Northern Mariana Islands hired disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2001 to stop legislation cracking down on the islands' sweatshop factories. In 2000, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) voted for the bill that “would have broadened federal oversight of immigration and labor rules on the islands.” But in May 2001, after at least eight meetings with Abramoff and his staff, a trip to the Super Bowl for two Burns staffers, and $12,000 in donations around the time of the deal, Burns voted against the exact same bill and took the unusual step of calling for a roll call vote, so that his vote was recorded. Burns received a total of $150,000 from Abramoff and his clients between 2001 and 2004.

    Iraq reconstruction has built utopia! (Yeah, right.)

    From American Progress:

    This morning, President Bush will make the second of three planned speeches on Iraq prior to the December 15 elections -- part of what the Associated Press deems a "public relations campaign" meant to "shore up slumping public support for the war." His address today will focus on reconstruction and Iraq's economy. But rather than reassuring Americans that he recognizes the reality of the challenges we face in Iraq, he plans to tout purported economic progress and "to highlight rebuilding of electrical plants, schools, hospitals and businesses." President Bush is ignoring the big picture. Iraq's reconstruction -- a behemoth effort on par with the post-World War II Marshall Plan -- is simply not achieving its goals. Iraq's economy remains weak and beset by unemployment; basic necessities like potable water and sewage treatment are scarce; and there remains little evidence that the Bush administration is prepared to shift course to reverse these trends.

    President Bush is expected to point today to Iraq's per capita gross domestic product, which "rose to $942 in 2004 and is expected to rise to more than $1,000 this year," as a sign of the country's economic progress. But as Brookings Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlon argues, "Growing GDP is good for those with access to the twin golden rivers flowing through Iraq - not the Tigris and Euphrates, but oil revenue and foreign aid. The rest of the economy is, on the whole, weak." Unemployment rates hover near 40 percent, meaning "the insurgency will always find fresh recruits," in Sen. Joseph Biden's (D-DE) words. And as "the money runs out on the $30 billion American-financed reconstruction of Iraq, the officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for the hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished." Moreover, serious challenges remain: "In its September World Economic Outlook, the IMF also notes that Iraq's new government 'faces daunting medium-term challenges, including advancing the reconstruction of the country's infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability and developing the institutions that can support a market-based economy.'"

    U.S. goals for electricity and oil infrastructure reconstruction have not been met. State Department figures show that power generation, "currently at 4,600 megawatts, has only recently exceeded the prewar level of 4,400 megawatts. That's still shy of the 6,000 megawatt objective stated by the Coalition Provisional Authority in September 2003." Most Iraqis continue to have only intermittent access to electricity, and typically "for just half the day." Daily oil production in Iraq is currently around 2.14 million barrels -- not only "less than the average 2.5 million barrels before the 2003 Iraq War," but down to the lowest levels in a decade, according to the London-based Center for Global Energy. "The sluggish production is due to pipeline attacks by insurgents, poor infrastructure, and lack of refineries."

    Of course they do: US Rejects Proposal on Global Warming

    From Democracy Now!:

    At the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal, the US has rejected a broad Canadian proposal that called on countries to begin talks on a global framework for further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration says it opposes the proposal because it falls under the rubric of the 1992 Kyoto protocol. Kyoto, which mandates countries to meet specific targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, went into effect in February without the participation of the US and Australia. The US, which emits 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, says regulating emissions standards should be left up to individual nations.

    Democrats, time to kick out Lieberman long overdue

    Honestly, what is the point of a right-wing Democrat? If you want to give gifts to large corporations, just vote for the Republicans. There is no need for Republican-Lite. From Democracy Now!:

    In this country, the war in Iraq is threatening to open up a serious divide within the Democratic Party. On Monday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told a San Antonio radio station: "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." Dean’s remarks came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week endorsed Congressman John Murtha’s call for withdraw US troops from Iraq within six months. Several Democrats rebuked Dean on Tuesday. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman said: "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander in chief for three more years. We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril."

    German Citizen Files Abduction Lawsuit Against US

    From Democracy Now!:

    Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a German citizen who says American agents kidnapped and rendered him to Afghanistan, where he was held captive and tortured. Five months after his December 2003 arrest, Khaled El-Masri was returned to Europe when the CIA realized they had the wrong man. After a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice Tuesday in Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel said Rice had admitted the mistake. But a senior US official traveling with Rice told the Financial Times this was not the case. Referring to Chancellor Merkel, the official said: “We are not quite sure what was in her head.”

    Jury Acquits Jailed Palestinian Professor

    From Democracy Now!:

    In a case observers are calling a major blow the Bush administration, a prominent Palestinian-American professor has been acquitted of several terrorism charges. Sami Al-Arian was accused of helping finance and direct the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight charges. Jurors deadlocked on nine others, leading the judge to declare a mistrial. Three other co-defendants were also cleared of most of the charges against them.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Reaping industrial monoculture

    Twenty-one percent of the Earth's surface is cropland, 24% is pasture, one third is unsuitable for agriculture, pasture or forests. Top soil builds at an average rate of 5 centimetres per millenium, yet modern agriculture loses 0.7 % of the Earth's top soil per year. Modern irrigation is salting out landscape at a horrific rate. In short, everything permaculture founder Bill Mollison has been saying for 25 years is happening. From the Guardian via Common Dreams:

    New maps show that the Earth is rapidly running out of fertile land and that food production will soon be unable to keep up with the world's burgeoning population. The maps reveal that more than one third of the world's land is being used to grow crops or graze cattle.

    "The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, a member of the Wisconsin-Madison team. By comparison, only 7% of the world's land was being used for agriculture in 1700.

    The Amazon basin has seen some of the greatest changes in recent times, with huge swaths of the rainforest being felled to grow soya beans.

    "One of the major changes we see is the fast expansion of soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, grown for export to China and the EU," said Dr Ramankutty.

    This agricultural expansion has come at the expense of tropical forests in both countries.

    Meanwhile, intensive farming practices mean that cropland areas have decreased slightly in the US and Europe and the land is being gobbled up by urbanisation.

    The research indicates that there is now little room for further agricultural expansion.

    Bolton still trying to make America hated

    From American Progress:

    "Muscular diplomacy is one thing. But John Bolton has been all muscle and no diplomacy" during his tenure as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, concluded the New York Times's editorial staff. He is threatening to block the entire two-year operating budget of the U.N. "unless his demands for major reforms are met almost immediately." Bolton "has called for the United Nations to approve a budget for three or four months rather than the usual two-year budget," a move opposed by the vast majority of the U.N. members, including Britain and Japan. A stop-gap budget would leave the United Nations "with a deficit of $320 million in the first quarter of 2006" and would likely cut "recruitment, travel, equipment purchases and salary payments," according to Warren Sach, assistant secretary general and controller.

    Iraq "on greatly improved path, says Rummy. Yeah right.

    From American Progress:

    In an address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld blamed the press for depicting a deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq, arguing the country is "on a greatly improved path." Rumsfeld said "news media organizations were focusing too much on casualties and mistakes by the military in Iraq and were failing to provide a full picture of the progress toward stabilizing the country." Washington Post columinst Richard Cohen responds by noting it was Rumsfeld's "mistakes, miscalculations and arrogant dismissal of dissent [that] have cost American (and Iraqi) lives and prolonged the conflict." Rumsfeld's numerous miscalculations, writes Cohen, include, among other things "fighting the war on the cheap -- in terms of both manpower and money" and dismissing the "looting that stripped Iraq bare following the war, setting the stage for the chaos and lawlessness that persist to this day." Cohen concludes, "When it comes to Iraq, if the United States is going to stay, then Rumsfeld has to go." Some pundits inside the beltway have begun speculating Rumsfeld may be on his way out, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) may be on his way in.

    Ford caves in to right-wing homophobia

    From American Progress.

    Ford Motor Company has announced that "it will cut back on advertising in gay-oriented publications" after the right-wing American Family Association (AFA) threatened a boycott of the company for Ford's "track record for supporting the homosexual agenda." In the past, Ford received praise from gay rights organizations, promoting LGBT workplace diversity and donating to gay causes, including the Human Rights Campaign. While Jaguar and Land Rover ads will be pulled from gay publications, a Ford spokesperson could not confirm whether donations to LGBT organizations will continue. AFA chairman, Donald E. Wildmon, was pleased with Ford's decision: "They've heard our concerns," he said. "They are acting on our concerns." The right-wing Christian organization, Focus on the Family, was less successful in convincing its banker, Wells Fargo, to change its agenda. Focus has fired Wells Fargo after the banking company's decision to make a matching grant to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

    Suspects moved before Rice went to Europe

    From American Progress:

    ABC News reported last night that the "United States scrambled to get all the suspects [held in secret prisons] off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there" and "11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert." During their detainment, the prisoners were reportedly subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as water boarding - a form of interrogation that originated during the Italian Inquisition, and which Vietnam-era generals designated as illegal.

    What the GOP really thinks of the Christians: "Wackos"

    From The Brad Blog:

    From testimony by Republican fundraiser Michael Scanlon at Wednesday's Republican-run Senate hearings:

    "The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote in the memo, which was read into the public record at a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them." The brilliance of this strategy was twofold: Not only would most voters not know about an initiative to protect Coushatta gambling revenues, but religious "wackos" could be tricked into supporting gambling at the Coushatta casino even as they thought they were opposing it.

    Oy Vey! Now going to troops funerals is bad with the Right

    From Think Progress:

    Appearing on Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) argued that Rep. John Murtha is advocating redeployment of U.S. forces – not because he believes it is in the best interest of the country – but because he has become overly emotional:

    MCCAIN: I think he has become too emotional and understandably so. He goes to funerals. He goes, as many of us do, out to Walter Reed, and he sees the price of war. And I think that that has had some effect on him…

    Of course, George W. Bush doesn’t go to soldiers funerals. That’s why his policy in Iraq has been so successful.

    The courage to tell bold-faced lies.

    From Terrorism News: The Independent seemed to have no trouble reporting what it was IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said regarding Iran's nuclear programme:

    Although IAEA officials have said it would take at least two years for Natanz to become fully operational, Mr ElBaradei believes that once the facility is up and running, the Iranians could be "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon. "That's why there is the concern of the international community about Iran," he said, "because lots of people feel it could be a dual purpose programme". [emphasis mine]

    Now the version from the Jerusalem Post [read: right-wing newspaper] being hyped on the Drudge Report [read: right-wing rumour site]:

    IAEA chairman Muhammad ElBaradei on Monday confirmed Israel's assessment that Iran is only a few months away from creating an atomic bomb.

    If Teheran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take it only "a few months" to produce a nuclear bomb, El-Baradei told The Independent.

    Thanks for this, Terrorism News.

    Famous American druggie favours Iraqi kidnappings

    Rush Limbaugh on the kidnapping of four Christian Peacemaker Teams. From Media Matters:

    LIMBAUGH: [A]s warped as these people are, you know they're going to blame Bush for this. ... They wouldn't have been kidnapped because they wouldn't have been there in the first place if Bush hadn't gone and caused the war and created all these terrorists. I mean, these people are liberals, they're warped. Well, I mean, that's why there's -- I'm telling you, folks, there's a part of me that likes this. Probably, even with this, though, you know, they're not going to see the light of day...

    At that point, Limbaugh paused before saying, apparently to someone in his studio, "I know, let them take me out of context. I don't care anymore."

    There it is Mr. Drug Addict, in context; and you are still a monster.

    Ann Coulter calls herself a nazi (and she's right)

    From Media Matters:

    Ann Coulter.... She posted the personal phone number and email of a blogger who was critical of her. And she called other groups which disagree with her "Nazi block watchers." "You know," she explained, "They tattle on their parents, turn them in to the Nazis."
    Ann, honey, I know this is going to be hard for you to comprehend, but publishing the email and phone number of someone who is critical of you is being a "Nazi block watcher."

    Connecticut gets serious about representative democracy

    It's a step in the right direction, but democracy is kind of like a glass of water: You've either got one or you don't. You don't 'represent' it. From Democracy Now!:

    The state legislature in Connecticut has passed one of the most sweeping campaign finance laws in the country. The bill would create a voluntary publicly funded election system and would place a ban on political contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. Nick Nyhart, head of the organization Public Campaign, called the Connecticut bill "the strongest campaign finance law in the nation." Nyhart said "It gives ordinary people, without connections to big money, a greater role in the electoral process while ratcheting down the clout of lobbyists and powerful state contractors." The bill, however, is coming under criticism from the Green Party and others because it places stiff restrictions on non-major political parties from receiving public funding for races.

    Scott McClellan turns his hand to comedy

    I don't know if Americans will get it, but it's a howler to the rest of the world. From Democracy Now!:

    The Bush administration is claiming that it is the world's leader in defending human rights. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan made the claim as he was being questioned over reports that the CIA is operating secret prisons overseas.

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Right-wing religious kooks meeting to set UN policy

    When the first Amendment doesn't matter... From American Progress:

    United Nations ambassador John Bolton is meeting with right-wing religious groups to set U.N. policy. In James Dobson's daily Focus on the Family broadcast, Dobson and Focus's president, Jim Daly, describe a private hour-long meeting they recently had with Bolton in New York. Dobson and Daly confirmed that they had an "opportunity to talk to him about the possibility of Focus on the Family working with the United Nations" and that Bolton "is pro-life and pro-family and he gave us an invitation to work with him in setting some policy there at the U.N. that would support the values we believe in." (People for the American Way has more on Focus's values.) Former U.N. ambassador and U.S. senator John Danforth wrote in the New York Times against government identifying solely with one religion, which is exactly what Bolton seems to be doing: "When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment...and to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another."

    Outrage Redirected: The Christmas Bait and Switch

    When you are constantly enacting legislation that makes people's lives worse, there will be anger. The trick - well learned by the Republicans - is to focus that anger on to something trivial... or in this case, something nonexistent. From American Progress:

    'Tis the season for the conservatives' "War on Christmas" conspiracy theory to rear its head. The purported progressive plot to ban Christmas from the public square is now a daily staple of conservative talk radio and television, the focus of a popular new book (Fox News anchor John Gibson's "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought"), and the battle cry for some 1,600 lawyer-volunteers working with Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel and the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund. In the latest teapot tempest, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) made much ado over his insisting that the decorated spruce tree on Capitol Hill be called a Christmas tree. But the truth is, there is no war on Christmas. As Salon.com's Michelle Goldbert points out, "What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union."

    If Speaker Hastert really wants to put Christ back into Christmas, we would join him in celebrating around the Christmas tree if he, in turn, starts concerning himself with the hardships felt by millions of poor and working-class Americans this holiday season. Before the House went on Thanksgiving break, it passed $50 billion in spending cuts that would squeeze recipients of Medicaid funding, food stamps, and student loans. The House bill plans to cut $12 billion in Medicaid access and benefits for the poor (read the details about how the House budget harms millions). "The Medicaid provisions would allow state governments to impose co-payments even on the poorest beneficiaries for emergency room visits for non-emergency health problems and for drug prescriptions not on a list of preferred treatments." The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the House bill "would cut food stamp benefits by about $45 a month for 225,000 people" and that 40,000 children would lose their eligibility for free meals at school. At the same time, conservatives are seeking to "extend several of Mr. Bush's biggest tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains" -- over half of the benefits from those cuts benefit people earning over $1million per year. Hastert should heed the true spirit of Christmas by caring for those who cannot care for themselves. Jesus reminds us, in Luke 4:18-20, that by following his example we can "bring good news to the poor."

    It turns out that the game of "the war on Christmas" is old hat for this ilk. First to attack the Jews, then the Soviets, then the UN.

    Conspiracies of a "war on Christmas" are not at all new, though the scapegoats have changed some. In the 1921 screed "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem," automaker and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford observed that "most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth." He noted menacingly, "Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards." Later, the Soviet Union and the United Nations were fingered for plotting to undermine Christmas. A 1959 John Birch Society pamphlet stated, "One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas -- to denude the event of its religious meaning." The writer breathlessly sounded the alarm: "Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations." As Salon.com's Michelle Goldberg writes, "To compare today's 'war on Christmas' demagogues to Henry Ford is not to call them anti-Semites." Yet they to promote a conspiracy theory "that repeatedly crops up in America," in which the "scheme is always massive, reaching up to the highest levels of power." In O'Reilly's words, "There's a very secret plan...to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A"; in Gibson's telling, "I began to connect the dots and discerned the outlines of the conspiracy."
    As with anyone caught repeatedly lying, when O'Reilly speaks on the issue, it should set off alarm bells:
    In the latest incarnation, the war on Christmas is used to falsely portray progressives as anti-religious. According to O'Reilly, the self-described "leading general of the anti-secular forces in this country," it is just one arm of the "secular progressive agenda to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square." Comparing progressivism to Nazism and fascism, O'Reilly claimed, "In every secular progressive country, they've wiped out religion ... Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, all of them." Others on the right echo this line: Pat Buchanan writes, "What we are witnessing here are hate crimes against Christianity." Meanwhile, the Alliance Defense Fund says it pursues legal action over perceived attempts by "government officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christ's birth." The White House could be a potential target; no mention of "Christmas" is made anywhere in the White House Christmas card.

    Enough of the manufactured outrage. Now it's time for reality:

    The truth is that "one can in fact offer Christmas greetings without legal counsel." Christmas trees, legally considered secular symbols, are permitted in public schools. Following the Supreme Court decision in 1984's Lynch v. Donnelly, nativity scenes "are allowed on public property, although if the government erects one, it has to be part of a larger display that also includes other, secular signs of the holiday season, or displays referring to other religions." Additionally, the law protects students who wish to distribute religious holiday cards and literature in school. As Salon.com points out, "If the administration tries to stop them, the ACLU will step in to defend the students' free-speech rights, as they did in 2003 when teenagers in Massachusetts were suspended for passing out candy canes with Christian messages." There is a strong progressive religious movement that honors Christmas and holds fast to Christian values that put the needs of the poor first.

    In short, save the outrage for things that not only really matter, but that actually exist.