Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Being Good for Goodness' Sake, or Bad for the Hell of It

...Primatologists like Frans de Waal have long argued that the roots of human morality are evident in social animals like apes and monkeys. The animals’ feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are essential behaviors for mammalian group living and can be regarded as a counterpart of human morality.

Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. In a new book, “Moral Minds” (HarperCollins 2006), he argues that the grammar generates instant moral judgments which, in part because of the quick decisions that must be made in life-or-death situations, are inaccessible to the conscious mind.

People are generally unaware of this process because the mind is adept at coming up with plausible rationalizations for why it arrived at a decision generated subconsciously.

Dr. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. But it is an idea that he roots in solid ground, including his own and others’ work with primates and in empirical results derived by moral philosophers.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying “that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine.” Dr. Hauser argues that the moral grammar operates in much the same way as the universal grammar proposed by the linguist Noam Chomsky as the innate neural machinery for language. The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

The moral grammar too, in Dr. Hauser’s view, is a system for generating moral behavior and not a list of specific rules. It constrains human behavior so tightly that many rules are in fact the same or very similar in every society — do as you would be done by; care for children and the weak; don’t kill; avoid adultery and incest; don’t cheat, steal or lie.

But it also allows for variations, since cultures can assign different weights to the elements of the grammar’s calculations. Thus one society may ban abortion, another may see infanticide as a moral duty in certain circumstances. Or as Kipling observed, “The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu, and the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.”

Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser’s proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.

Much of the present evidence for the moral grammar is indirect. Some of it comes from psychological tests of children, showing that they have an innate sense of fairness that starts to unfold at age 4. Some comes from ingenious dilemmas devised to show a subconscious moral judgment generator at work. These are known by the moral philosophers who developed them as “trolley problems.”

Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.
[Many other people will ask, though, "Is he really fat enough to stop the train?" And keep their mouths shut about what they'd really do.]

...Why does the moral grammar generate such different judgments in apparently similar situations? It makes a distinction, Dr. Hauser writes, between a foreseen harm (the train killing the person on the track) and an intended harm (throwing the person in front of the train), despite the fact that the consequences are the same in either case. It also rates killing an animal as more acceptable than killing a person.

Many people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, Dr. Hauser says, a sign that it is being made at inaccessible levels of the mind. This inability challenges the general belief that moral behavior is learned. For if people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, how can they teach it?

Kind of reminds me of the chemistry teacher who doesn't understand quantum theory...

Dr. Hauser began his research career in animal communication, working with vervet monkeys in Kenya and with birds. He is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, “The Evolution of Communication.” He began to take an interest in the human animal in 1992 after psychologists devised experiments that allowed one to infer what babies are thinking. He found he could repeat many of these experiments in cotton-top tamarins, allowing the cognitive capacities of infants to be set in an evolutionary framework.

His proposal of a moral grammar emerges from a collaboration with Dr. Chomsky, who had taken an interest in Dr. Hauser’s ideas about animal communication. In 2002 they wrote, with Dr. Tecumseh Fitch, an unusual article arguing that the faculty of language must have developed as an adaptation of some neural system possessed by animals, perhaps one used in navigation. From this interaction Dr. Hauser developed the idea that moral behavior, like language behavior, is acquired with the help of an innate set of rules that unfolds early in a child’s development.

Social animals, he believes, possess the rudiments of a moral system in that they can recognize cheating or deviations from expected behavior. But they generally lack the psychological mechanisms on which the pervasive reciprocity of human society is based, like the ability to remember bad behavior, quantify its costs, recall prior interactions with an individual and punish offenders. “Lions cooperate on the hunt, but there is no punishment for laggards,” Dr. Hauser said.

The moral grammar now universal among people presumably evolved to its final shape during the hunter-gatherer phase of the human past, before the dispersal from the ancestral homeland in northeast Africa some 50,000 years ago. This may be why events before our eyes carry far greater moral weight than happenings far away, Dr. Hauser believes, since in those days one never had to care about people remote from one’s environment.

You realize, of course, if it's biological and evolving their is no final shape. Only a current one that changes with selection pressure. If you can select for morality, then under some circumstances you can select against it too.

Dr. Hauser believes that the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.

Still, there are different successful survival strategies that a species can adopt. For example, take the violent, male-oriented chimpanzee family, and compare it to the maternal, affectionate bonobos. Altruism isn't the only group-oriented success strategery among human subspecies, either.

Many evolutionary biologists frown on the idea of group selection, noting that genes cannot become more frequent unless they benefit the individual who carries them, and a person who contributes altruistically to people not related to him will reduce his own fitness and leave fewer offspring.

But though group selection has not been proved to occur in animals, Dr. Hauser believes that it may have operated in people because of their greater social conformity and willingness to punish or ostracize those who disobey moral codes.

“That permits strong group cohesion you don’t see in other animals, which may make for group selection,” he said.

His proposal for an innate moral grammar, if people pay attention to it, could ruffle many feathers. His fellow biologists may raise eyebrows at proposing such a big idea when much of the supporting evidence has yet to be acquired. Moral philosophers may not welcome a biologist’s bid to annex their turf, despite Dr. Hauser’s expressed desire to collaborate with them.

Nevertheless, researchers’ idea of a good hypothesis is one that generates interesting and testable predictions. By this criterion, the proposal of an innate moral grammar seems unlikely to disappoint.
And once identified, the genes provide a whole new way to discriminate against people.

Although in some cases , there may be good reason.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Future Projection

Forget all about Diebold promising to "deliver Ohio" to Bu$h.

We're talking about a whole brand new way for Rove to make sure his moneymaker doesn't get impeached, Darth Rumsfeld to make sure his War on Terra continues winning hearts and minds and livers, and Dear Leader's Crusade continues.

If you've stolen two Presidential elections, but your base gets unreliably squishy in places where democracy's crept in on little cat's feet , why, accuse them of being influenced by companies owned by scurrilous furriners!

The federal government is investigating the takeover last year of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting systems by a small software company that has been linked to the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez.

The inquiry is focusing on the Venezuelan owners of the software company, the Smartmatic Corporation, and is trying to determine whether the government in Caracas has any control or influence over the firm’s operations, government officials and others familiar with the investigation said.

The inquiry on the eve of the midterm elections is being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, the same panel of 12 government agencies that reviewed the abortive attempt by a company in Dubai to take over operations at six American ports earlier this year.

The committee’s formal inquiry into Smartmatic and its subsidiary, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, Calif., was first reported Saturday in The Miami Herald.

Officials of both Smartmatic and the Venezuelan government strongly denied yesterday that President Chávez’s administration, which has been bitterly at odds with Washington, has any role in Smartmatic.

“The government of Venezuela doesn’t have anything to do with the company aside from contracting it for our electoral process,” the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said last night.

Smartmatic was a little-known firm with no experience in voting technology before it was chosen by the Venezuelan authorities to replace the country’s elections machinery ahead of a contentious referendum that confirmed Mr. Chávez as president in August 2004.

Seven months before that voting contract was awarded, a Venezuelan government financing agency invested more than $200,000 into a smaller technology company, owned by some of the same people as Smartmatic, that joined with Smartmatic as a minor partner in the bid.

In return, the government agency was given a 28 percent stake in the smaller company and a seat on its board, which was occupied by a senior government official who had previously advised Mr. Chávez on elections technology. But Venezuelan officials later insisted that the money was merely a small-business loan and that it was repaid before the referendum.

With a windfall of some $120 million from its first three contracts with Venezuela, Smartmatic then bought the much larger and more established Sequoia Voting Systems, which now has voting equipment installed in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Since its takeover by Smartmatic in March 2005, Sequoia has worked aggressively to market its voting machines in Latin America and other developing countries. “The goal is to create the world’s leader in electronic voting solutions,” said Mitch Stoller, a company spokesman.

But the role of the young Venezuelan engineers who founded Smartmatic has become less visible in public documents as the company has been restructured into an elaborate web of offshore companies and foreign trusts...

Okay, that cuts it. If Pravda won't give details about the web, it leads back to the CIA, the Saudi Royals, or both.

In fact, Sequoia is an interesting corporation also owned in part by- guess who?

...Another example of the Carlyle Group's total disregard for ethics and morality is Sequoia Systems, Inc. Sequoia is a major manufacturer of the new touch-screen-voting-machines that have been stirring controversy in the United States. Opponents claim that the American election process has been sold off to private companies like Sequoia Systems, which is yet another subsidiary of the Carlyle Group.

How ethical is it to have the father of the President of the United States spearheading a company that owns another company that manufactures machines that count votes?

At least as ethical as it would be to have him set up a November surprise to invalidate a midterm election that would otherwise produce a predomiminantly Democratic Congress that would threaten his cash flow- and impeach his son.

But it seems the Carlyle Group has recently divested itself of Sequoia into the hands of the Venezuelan corporation mentioned in the Pravda article. Who better to know than Kennard? The timing of the deal certainly is handy and could be the work of the Fixer himself, scandalously profiteering by selling good 'Murikan Rethuglican elections to the highest bidder.

Bipolar Universe

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Just Clap Louder

...if you want Tinkerbell to live to eat cake!

Payson @ Think Progress:

54 percent of Americans think the economy is getting worse. And Friday, the Commerce Department reported that “U.S. economic growth slowed during the summer to its lowest growth rate in three years” — 1.6 percent — “amid a slump in the housing sector.”

The conservative response? Blame the media. On Fox News yesterday, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said “a bigger story is that so much of the media - and I don’t put Fox News in this category - has constantly talked down this economy.” “Believe me, if we were in the mid-90s, Bill Clinton was president,” Blunt said, “I am convinced there would be a totally different national media coverage by most of the media of this economy...”

The economic data points to a slumping economy that is squeezing the poor and the middle class. Wages are stagnating, poverty rates are climbing, family debt is rising, and the housing market is slowing.

If we don't talk about the 500 lb gorilla in the room, surely he won't eat all the bananas.

It's worked for Iraq, right?

When Ruled by a "C" Average Yale Cheerleader

It's hard to run an Empire for Royalty dumber than Paris Hilton...

Revolt of the fairly rich
Today's lower upper class is seething about the ultrawealthy.
FORTUNE Magazine
By Matt Miller, Fortune columnist
October 25 2006: 8:43 AM EDT

Not long ago an investment banker worth millions told me that he wasn't in his line of work for the money. "If I was doing this for the money," he said, with no trace of irony, "I'd be at a hedge fund." What to say? Only on a small plot of real estate in lower Manhattan at the dawn of the 21st century could such a statement be remotely fathomable. That it is suggests how debauched our ruling class has become.

The widening chasm between rich and poor may well threaten our democracy. Yet if that banker's lament staggers your brain as it did mine, you're on your way to seeing why America's income gap is arguably less likely to spark a retro fight between proletarians and capitalists than a war between what I call the "lower upper class" and the ultrarich.

Here's my outlandish theory: that economic resentment at the bottom of the top 1 percent of America's income distribution is the new wild card in public life. Ordinary workers won't rise up against ultras because they take it as given that "the rich get richer."

But the hopes and dreams of today's educated class are based on the idea that market capitalism is a meritocracy. The unreachable success of the superrich shreds those dreams.

"I've seen it in my research," says pollster Doug Schoen, who counsels Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton, among others. "If you look at the lower part of the upper class or the upper part of the upper middle class, there's a great deal of frustration. These are people who assumed that their hard work and conventional 'success' would leave them with no worries. It's the type of rumbling that could lead to political volatility."

Lower uppers are doctors, accountants, engineers, lawyers. At companies they're mostly executives above the rank of VP but below the CEO. Their comrades include well-fed members of the media (and even Fortune columnists who earn their living as consultants).

Lower uppers are professionals who by dint of schooling, hard work and luck are living better than 99 percent of the humans who have ever walked the planet. They're also people who can't help but notice how many folks with credentials like theirs are living in Gatsby-esque splendor they'll never enjoy.

This stings. If people no smarter or better than you are making ten or 50 or 100 million dollars in a single year while you're working yourself ragged to earn a million or two - or, God forbid, $400,000 - then something must be wrong...

[thanks xenophon]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Domestic Terrorism

Avedon reminds us who the real homegrown terrorists in America are.

These guys send fake anthrax.

They have apologists and adherents in the highest echelons of Bu$hCo's military:

Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, is a much-decorated and twice-wounded veteran of covert military operations. From the bloody 1993 clash with Muslim warlords in Somalia chronicled in "Black Hawk Down" and the hunt for Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar to the ill-fated attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, Boykin was in the thick of things.

Yet the former commander and 13-year veteran of the Army's top-secret Delta Force is also an outspoken evangelical Christian who appeared in dress uniform and polished jump boots before a religious group in Oregon in June (2003) to declare that radical Islamists hated the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin told another audience, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

"We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this," Boykin said...

On at least one occasion, in Sandy, Ore., in June, Boykin said of President Bush: "He's in the White House because God put him there..."

The majority of voters damned sure didn't.

General Boykin is an example of the religious attitude that's actively infiltrating and subverting the armed forces of the United States. They build megachurches near Air Force academies and bases seeking to influence the people that live and work there. They claim to be above politics but share an obsession with political power. They're the Dominionists.

And they work for the Republican Party.

Trickle Down On You

How the Bush Family Makes a Killing from George's Presidency
by Heather Wokusch

Halliburton scored almost $1.2 billion in revenue from contracts related to Iraq in the third quarter of 2006, leading one analyst to comment: "Iraq was better than expected ... Overall, there is nothing really to question or be skeptical about. I think the results are very good."

Very good indeed. An estimated 655,000 dead Iraqis, over 3,000 dead coalition troops, billions stolen from Iraq's coffers, a country battered by civil war - but Halliburton turned a profit, so the results are very good.

Very good certainly for Vice President Dick Cheney, who resigned from Halliburton in 2000 with a $33.7 million retirement package (not bad for roughly four years of work). In a stunning conflict of interest, Cheney still holds more than 400,000 stock options in the company. Why pursue diplomacy when you can rake in a personal fortune from war?

Yet Cheney isn't the only one who has benefited from the Bush administration's destructive policies. The Bush family has done quite nicely too. Just a few examples:

Bush Sr.: Bush's dad has strong connections to the Carlyle Group, a massive private equity investment firm whose Chairman Emeritus is Frank Carlucci, a former college roommate of Donald Rumsfeld's and former Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. Imagine the pull Carlucci has with today's White House.

But Carlucci has another secret weapon - Bush Sr. Amid conflict-of-interest allegations, the elder Bush resigned from the Carlyle Group in 2003, but reportedly remains on retainer, opening doors to lucrative profits in the Middle East and elsewhere. Bush Sr.'s specialty is Saudi Arabia; in fact, he was at a Carlyle investment conference with Osama bin Laden's estranged brother, Shafiq bin Laden, when the 9/11 attacks took place.

Carlyle specializes in military and security investments, and with Bush Jr. in office, the company's profits have soared; it received $677 million in contracts in 2002, then a whopping $2.1 billion in 2003. Carlyle's investors currently enjoy an equity capital pool of over 44 billion dollars.

In January 2006, Bush Sr. wrote China's Foreign Affairs Ministry that it would be "beneficial to the comprehensive development of Sino-US relations" if Beijing approved the sale of a Chinese bank to a consortium which included Carlyle. Bluntly put, Bush Sr. asked China to grant Carlyle a lucrative business deal or risk his son's wrath. Foreign policy at its finest.

William H. T. "Bucky" Bush: George's "Uncle Bucky" joined the board of military contractor Engineered Support Systems Inc. (ESSI) in 2000 and perhaps not surprisingly, the value of the company's governmental contracts has strongly increased with Bush Jr. in office. Uncle Bucky earns monthly consulting fees as well as options to buy stock at favorable prices, and considering that ESSI's stock tripled two weeks after 9/11 then settled into comfy territory, it's safe to say that George's uncle is doing quite well. In fact, Bucky cashed out on 8,438 stock options in January 2005, earning himself a cool $450,000 in the process. As of 2005, he still owned options on 45,000 more shares of the company's stock and accrues more each year.

War is profitable for ESSI, or as an executive explained: "The increasing likelihood for a prolonged military involvement in Southwest Asia by U.S. forces well into 2006 has created a fertile environment for the type of support ... products and services that we offer."

But lest anyone conclude that Bucky has opened doors for the company, ESSI's vice-president of investor relations explained in 2005, "The fact his nephew is in the White House has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Bush being on our board or with our stock having gone up 1000 per cent in the past five years." Absolutely nothing at all.

Neil Mallon Bush: Neil rose to infamy in the 1980s as director of the Colorado-based Silverado Savings and Loan; after Silverado collapsed due to mismanagement and corruption, US taxpayers were stuck with the billion-dollar bailout, yet Neil managed to escape the crisis with a small fine and no jail time. It helps to have a dad as Vice President.

In 1993, Neil joined Bush Sr. in Kuwait to drum up business in the Middle East, and today, he makes a profit by helping companies cash in on the occupation of Iraq. For example, in late 2003, The Financial Times reported that Neil earned $60,000 per year through the Crest Investment Company, a private firm generating contracts in Iraq. Crest was headed by Jamal Daniel, a longtime Bush family contact, who was also on the advisory board of New Bridge Strategies, a company specifically set up "with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq."

In 2003, Neil's messy divorce proceedings revealed that he was to get $2 million in stock options from a Chinese semiconductor firm despite having limited education or business experience in that area; critics complained that the Chinese company was buying access to his brother, the president. Neil later testified that on repeated business trips to Asia, he'd had sex with women who showed up at his hotel rooms, presumably prostitutes hired by companies trying to curry favor with the White House.

Neil has also profited from George's disastrous No Child Left Behind educational policy. His company, Ignite! (partially owned by Bush Sr. and funded by Crest Investment) has been awarded with lucrative federal contracts to place its educational products in school districts across the country.

Marvin Pierce Bush: Marvin joined Bush Sr. and Neil on their Middle Eastern sales trip in 1993 and then made a mint in the investment banking business. He is a co-founder of Winston Partners, a private investment firm whose investments in military and security firms profit from Bush's "war on terror."

Having a sibling as president has helped Marvin in other ways, too. He is on the board of HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc., which had insured parts of the World Trade Center; HCC benefited from the 9/11 insurance bailout legislation pushed through by brother George.

Marvin was also on the board of Securacom, a company which provided electronic security for both Dulles International Airport and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Marvin stepped down in 2000, but how intriguing that Bush's brother was so well connected to the security of two critical locations on that fateful day.

In short, the "results are very good" for the Bush dynasty, perhaps even "better than expected," thanks to George's stint in the Oval Office. Dad's still setting up international deals. Uncle Bucky's cashing in his stock options. Brothers Neil and Marvin are laughing all the way to the bank.

It's just the American people who have paid the ultimate price.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What happened at Camp Falcon?

No American casualities- right. They wouldn't lie to us about the spike in fatalities this month, would they?

“US occupation forces are accusing Iraqi translators of leaking information on the location of arms and ammunition depots in the Falcon military base (Al-Rashid military base) to the resistance.

“We are sure that two Iraqi translators working with US forces leaked information and gave the base altitudes to the resistance. There are also doubts that a third interpreter had left the base one day before the bombing only and did not join again”.

The Iraqi source, who refused to reveal his identity, said that dozens of American soldiers were killed in those explosions. The source pointed out that six Iraqi translators were killed in those explosions. American forces refused to hand over the bodies of the dead Iraqis to their families without giving reasons...”

Who needs translators when there are Google Maps?

There are emailed reports, yet to be confirmed, that the number of dead American soldiers at Al-Rashid military base (camp Falcon) has reached 300. See below pictures on the extent of some of the devastation there as a result of just a few Grad and Katyusha rockets (cost: no more than $300 - Effect: estimated at $billions of munitions, structures and American lives wasted).

Wonder why there is a ’spike’ in American casualties this month?

Wonder why Bush is huddled with his military?

The Video shows the US “Falcon” base in Baghdad, Iraq set on fire by mujahedeen fighters with motors. At 3.56 mins you see a major explosion, a white flash, followed by a mushroom cloud.

Mushroom clouds happen whenever there is a sudden, intense plasma caused by enough of an explosive agent. I saw some of these explosions live on CNN- they went on for hours. While not thermonuclear, you can bet a lot of depleted uranium munitions went off all at once.

Those soldiers, and anyone downwind breathed a lot of uranium oxide dust that will doubtless stay with them the rest of their lives.

Their lives will also be shortened by decades if they inhaled substantial amounts of it.

While Bu$h may have cringed, Darth Rumsfled has not. After all, if billions in munitions did go up in uranium oxide, that means the Company sells billions more again to the United States government. Business is booming...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Free Enterprise

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (AP) — The authorities in northern New Mexico have stumbled onto what appears to be classified information from Los Alamos National Laboratory while arresting a man suspected of domestic violence and dealing methamphetamine from his mobile home.

Sgt. Chuck Ney of the Los Alamos Police Department said the information was found last Friday during a search of the man’s records for evidence of a drug business.

The police alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the secret documents, which agents traced back to a woman linked to the man suspected of drug dealing, officials said. The woman is a contract employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said an F.B.I. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official would say only that the documents appeared to contain classified material and were stored on a computer file...

Los Alamos, where they design build your new nukes- or Dear Leader's at any rate- has recently been taken over by Bechtel.

Aside from being the Carlyle Group's and the bin Laden family's multinational energy firm of choice, or maybe because of it, Bechtel's had more than its share of scandals.

Whatever private contractor was involved, this was serious.

...According to unconfirmed sources, the information was classified as Secret Restricted Data which means it would involve nuclear weapons data and may have concerned detection of underground nuclear weapons testing. Also unconfirmed, the person in possession of the information worked either in Technical Area 55 where all of the Lab’s plutonium is stored or in the X Division which handles nuclear weapons design data for a maintenance subcontractor of the Lab...

Why worry about Iran getting nuclear weapons from North Korea? Bechtel, who after all handles a lot of Iraq action anyway, probably can supply them with the best plutonium money can buy, and the plans to use it, too.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Please Prove Us Wrong

GOP will win in November
by Stuart Kiehl

In spite of the La Cage aux Foley Pedophile Scandal, the GOP cover up, and a sense of hope on the side of the Democrats, the Republicans will retain the House and Senate this November. Why? The GOP and their corporate allies have control and the security of the voting machines we have been forced to use without our consent.

The most fundamental and primary consideration for this country, and the world, is voter disenfranchisement and fraud in the vote count. This crime occurred in 2000 and 2004 and nothing has changed for this election or 2008. Ohio and Florida are being stolen again, and other states are vulnerable.

On a near daily basis, the fraud and corruption of the voting machines is now being exposed for what it really is: a GOP power play to monopolize all aspects of voting.

The system now in place was created by a corporate/government program called Help America Vote Act, which is essentially a federally mandated program of vote counting, without any independent security oversight, done by machines made and controlled by GOP supporters, including Diebold, whose CEO publicly guaranteed Ohio to Bush in 2004. That was the presidency and they knew it. But, none of the $3.9 billion HAVA funding may be used to purchase new punch card machines or to update an existing
punch card system. In simple terms, there is no verifiable vote counting process in these machines or in this GOP controlled process, nor are other systems permitted!

A Princeton computer professor took 10 seconds to hack into a Diebold voting machine. Burger King can count the number of french fries sold daily, and all other major industrial countries have accurate and fair voting systems, but we do not. This is intentional.

The question, then, should be asked, what is the purpose of government and who controls it? The corporations or the people? Lincoln wrote, "Government of the people, by the people and for the people...shall not perish."

Well, folks, this administration is not for the people and we are perishing. Not one single piece of legislation has been passed willingly by the GOP where the people benefit over profit. The charade of helping America vote is in fact a velvet coup d'etat, ignoring what this country was founded on: no taxation without representation. The Declaration of Independence reminds us, "Governments....deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

We have no representation if we can't vote, and the consent of the governed has been hijacked by GOP/corporate/government manipulation under the guise of fair voting.
The freedom our forefathers fought for has been prostituted by no bid private profiteering, our values and ideals perverted, our resources plundered, our treasury emptied and our hopes dashed by corporate greed lubricated with this administrations's planning and collaboration.

Solution? Today, and tomorrow, and the day after, ask every official representing you, from the local city council to federal senators, for emergency legislation for this coming election requiring that all voting equipment produce a paper record that lets voters verify how they voted, regardless of the cost or inconvenience, and to decertify the voting machines in their current configuration, as they are attempting to do in Colorado.

Do not relent. Create a groundswell. If enough towns, cities, counties and states refuse to accept this stranglehold, we will make a difference. Ultimately, this outcry will go up the political foodchain, forcing a fair federal system of vote counting.

It is time to take this country back, demanding NOW that the charade for this November's election cannot continue under the current stacked deck. Anything less is acceptance of what Mussolini called Fascism, "... the merger of State and Corporate Power."

Please make me wrong, please make this column incorrect.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's Still the Economy, Chimpy

Pravda seeks to obfuscate the issues for Dear Leader, with an air of perplexity:

...President Bush, in hopes of winning credit for his party’s stewardship of the economy, is spending two days this week campaigning on the theme that the economy is purring. “No question that a strong economy is going to help our candidates,” Mr. Bush said in a CNBC interview yesterday, “primarily because they have got something to run on, they can say our economy’s good because I voted for tax relief.” Well, for the top 5% of incomes, anyway.

Back to Pravda:

...But Republican candidates do not seem to be getting any traction from the glowing economic statistics with midterm elections just two weeks away.

The economy is virtually nowhere to be found among the campaign ads of embattled Republican incumbents fighting to hold onto their House or Senate seats. Nor is it showing up as a strong weapon in the arsenal of Republican governors defending their jobs from Democrats.

“I don’t know of another election cycle in which the economy was so good, yet the election prospects for the incumbent party looked so bad,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist . “If something goes wrong, Republicans are to blame. If something goes right, Republicans don’t get credit...”
None is so blind, as those who can not see beyond their own stock portfolio.

It's because it's only the top 5% of incomes that benefit from the "good" Bush economy. Bush's plans are good for his campaign supporter base, including the owners of the main$tream media, and bad for everyone else.

As you might expect, some Democrats are all over this issue. John Sweeny of the AFL-CIO:

...For workers, a "perfect storm" is already happening. Ordinary workers aren't making ends meet -- and it's not their imagination, either. As President Bush transverses the country touting a "growing" and "healthy" economy, working people are painfully aware that Bush's economic reality is not the same reality they face in their communities every day.

While corporate profits and productivity have soared, wages are a different story -- wages and salaries now make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947.
Working people have lost serious economic ground under Bush. The typical family's real income today is still almost $1,300 lower than in 2000, while household debt is out of sight.

The good manufacturing jobs that provide working families with a decent standard of living continue to vanish before our eyes. Since Bush took office, our country has seen nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs disappear -- including another 19,000 jobs last month alone.

Five million more people are in poverty today than in 2000, including 1 million more children. The poverty rate for black children hit a disgraceful 34.5% in 2005.
Health care coverage continues to fall: 46.6 million people were not covered by health insurance in 2005 -- that is more than 5 million people who have lost coverage since 2001. Health care costs rose three times faster than wages last year.

While Bush and his political team have mastered the art of diverting working people's attention from key economic issues in elections past, polling by Peter Hart Research suggests that America's workers won't allow that to happen this November.

Fifty-five percent of voters and 66% of union members report being dissatisfied with the current economic situation in this country. And 55% of voters and 60% of swing voters say their incomes are falling behind the cost of living...

Molly Ivins really caught this nicely today, too.

Oh, goody. According to the White House press office, President Bush will spend much of the next two weeks discussing what a swell economy we have. Did you know that the Dow Jones industrial average is at its highest point EVER? And the NASDAQ, ditto. Wow, breathtaking, huh? But the Dow is not a good indicator of how thing are really going for the majority of Americans.

I just love listening to the Bushies play with numbers. When Bush took over in 2001, he predicted a surplus of $516 billion for fiscal year 2006. Last week, the administration announced a 2006 deficit of $248 billion, missing its projection for this year by $764 billion. Bush said the numbers are “proof that pro-growth economic policies work” and are “an example of sound fiscal policies here in Washington.”

This is highly reminiscent of Dick Cheney’s recent observation about the Iraqi government, “If you look at the general, overall situation, they’re doing remarkably well.”

Bush’s main talking point on the budget is that he “cut the deficit in half”—that would be from 2004, the year the White House inflated the projected deficit for political reasons. Even conservatives disagree. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation said, “The White House has a track record of projecting budget numbers to be a lot worse than they end up, which therefore helps them defeat the gloomy expectations and declare victory.” If Bush does manage to make the tax cuts permanent, he will add more than $3 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. The federal budget would be virtually in balance if there had been no tax cuts.

Bush’s version of “doing remarkably well” includes a trade gap—now a record $69.9 billion—up 2.7 percent since July. “Short of a big correction in consumer spending, the best we can hope for is that the trade deficit stabilizes,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital, told Bloomberg.com.

Meanwhile, what we see in the economy as a whole is an immense shift of wealth from the poor and middle class to the very rich. It seems a little painful to have to point this out yet again after six solid years of it, but these are lies, damn lies and statistics.

Just to give you an idea of how dependable the Bush numbers are, the Department of Health and Human Services put out a press release a few weeks ago telling senior citizens they will have “new options with low costs” and that monthly premiums in ’07 will be the same as in ’06.

“The Medicare prescription drug benefit ... just keeps getting better,” burbled HHS. They seem to have been taking too much in the way of prescription drugs. Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the most singularly useful members of Congress, found that average premiums will actually increase by over 10 percent next year. And for the lowest-priced plans, average premiums will be up over 44 percent. “It is not merely confusing arithmetic, it is deceptive advertising,” said Waxman.

While lightening the tax burden for the rich, other parts of the Bush economic program continue to undermine the middle class in this country. As you may recall, in 2005 the credit industry successfully rammed a disgraceful bankruptcy reform bill through Congress. It’s working out just the way we expected it to: Middle-class families are borrowing more than ever to make ends meet. Most families go under if: (a) they lose a job or (b) they have a health emergency crisis.

One attorney sums up the legislation’s impact: “It’s designed to make life miserable for anybody who owes money. It’s a help-the-banks, squish-the-little-guy law.”

Bush’s remarkably good economy is good only for the richest; for the rest of us, incomes are stagnant and education and healthcare costs are skyrocketing. The Republican Congress blindly rubber-stamps policies designed to help only a few. Are you better off than you were six years ago?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mixed Motivations

More good stuff from Tom Paine:
War Climates
Jeffrey Sachs
October 23, 2006

Our political systems and global politics are largely unequipped for the real challenges of today’s world. Global economic growth and rising populations are putting unprecedented stresses on the physical environment, and these stresses in turn are causing unprecedented challenges for our societies. Yet politicians are largely ignorant of these trends. Governments are not organized to meet them. And crises that are fundamentally ecological in nature are managed by outdated strategies of war and diplomacy.

Consider , for example , the situation in Darfur, Sudan . This horrible conflict is being addressed through threats of military force, sanctions and generally the language of war and peacekeeping. Yet the undoubted origin of the conflict is the region’s extreme poverty, which was made disastrously worse in the 1980s by a drought that has essentially lasted until today. It appears that long-term climate change is leading to lower rainfall not only in Sudan, but also in much of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert—an area where life depends on the rains, and where drought means death.

Darfur has been caught in a drought-induced death trap, but nobody has seen fit to approach the Darfur crisis from the perspective of long-term development rather than the perspective of war. Darfur needs a water strategy more than a military strategy. Its 7 million people cannot survive without a new approach that gives them a chance to grow crops and water their animals. Yet all of the talk at the United Nations is about sanctions and armies, with no path to peace in sight.

Water stress is becoming a major obstacle to economic development in many parts of the world. The water crisis in Gaza is a cause of disease and suffering among Palestinians, and is a major source of underlying tensions between Palestine and Israel. Yet again, billions of dollars are spent on bombing and destruction in the region, while virtually nothing is done about the growing water crisis.

China and India, too, will face growing water crises in the coming years, with potentially horrendous consequences. The economic takeoff of these two giants started 40 years ago with the introduction of higher agricultural output and an end to famines. Yet part of that increased agricultural output resulted from millions of wells that were sunk to tap underground water supplies for irrigation. Now the water table is falling at a dangerous pace, as the underground water is being pumped much faster than the rains are recharging it.

Moreover, aside from rainfall patterns, climate change is upsetting the flow of rivers, as glaciers, which provide a huge amount of water for irrigation and household use, are rapidly receding due to global warming. Snow pack in the mountains is melting earlier in the season, so that river water is less available during summer growing seasons. For all of these reasons, India and China are experiencing serious water crises that are likely to intensify in the future.

The United States faces risks as well. Midwestern and southwestern states have been in a prolonged drought that might well be the result of long-term warming, and the farm states rely heavily on water from a huge underground reservoir that is being depleted by over-pumping.

Just as pressures on oil and gas supplies have driven up energy prices, environmental stresses may now push up food and water prices in many parts of the world. Given the heat waves, droughts, and other climate stresses across the U.S., Europe, Australia and elsewhere this year, wheat prices are now shooting up to their highest levels in decades. Thus, environmental pressures are now hitting the bottom line—affecting incomes and livelihoods around the world.

With rising populations, economic growth and climate change, we will face intensifying droughts, hurricanes and typhoons, powerful El Nino’s, water stress, heat waves, species extinctions and more. The “soft” issues of environment and climate will become the hard and strategic issues of the 21st century. Yet there is almost no recognition of this basic truth in our governments or our global politics. People who speak about hunger and environmental crises are viewed as muddle-headed “moralists,” as opposed to the hard-headed “realists” who deal with war and peace. This is nonsense. The so-called realists just don’t understand the sources of tensions and stresses that are leading to a growing number of crises around the world.

Our governments should all establish Ministries of Sustainable Development, devoted full-time to managing the linkages between environmental change and human well-being. Agriculture ministers by themselves will not be able to cope with water shortages that farmers will face. Health ministers will not be able to cope with an increase in infectious diseases due to global warming. Environment ministers will not be able to cope with the pressures on oceans and forests, or the consequences of increasing extreme weather events like last year’s Hurricane Katrina or this year’s Typhoon Saomai—China’s worst in many decades. A new powerful ministry should be charged with coordinating the responses to climate change, water stress and other ecosystem crises.

At the global level, the world’s governments should finally understand that the treaties that they have all signed in recent years on climate, environment and biodiversity are at least as important to global security as all of the war zones and crisis hotspots that grab the headlines, budgets and attention. By focusing on the underlying challenges of sustainable development, our governments could more easily end the current crises (as in Darfur) and head off many more crises in the future.

Dr. Sachs, professor of Economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is absolutely right about what should be done.

Water as an issue that precipitates war? You might as well try to get them to think about the air they breathe , or change the way they build their cities .

But how would treating these complex issues as environmental rather than religious/ ethnic/ security problems appeal to the higher emotions that cause people to think of Great Causes and march off to war?

How would treating these complex issues as environmental rather than religious/ ethnic/ security problems profit those selling a lot of guns (among other things) to all of these desperate people?

Let's Hire Someone to Figure This Out

Army punts on Iraq contractor census
By Jenny Mandel

An Army effort to count the number of contractors working or living in Iraq has foundered, and a spokesman acknowledged that the census, when complete, will not meet the standards set out when it was requested.

The Office of Management and Budget in May forwarded agencies a call for data from the Army Central Command and the international forces in Iraq. It asked that they collect survey information on contractor personnel based in Iraq, including data on the camp or base at which contractors are located; the company and agreement under which work is performed; services such as mail, emergency medical care or meals obtained from the military; and whether the contractors carry weapons.

The initial data request gave a June 1 deadline. But since then, the Pentagon has repeatedly said the data was not yet available, and on Friday, an Army spokesman acknowledged that the information is not likely to be reported as originally requested. No timeline is available for when any data might be available, he said.

...Arasin said CENTCOM has had trouble getting information from the various services' contracting offices, and collecting and analyzing data from operating locations. "The issue is still being looked at," he said. "The folks who work in contracting are all forward right now."

Similar efforts to measure the size of the contractor workforce have failed in the past, including an initiative to tally Army contractors in 2000 that got bogged down by procedural hurdles.

Paul Light, a professor at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University who specializes in federal workforce issues, said industry typically has resisted head counts because they reveal how many more people work for government than are reported in federal employee figures.

"It raises questions about why there are so many contractor personnel and is easily understood by the American public," Light said. "The public may not be able to grasp the money issue -- how much is being spent -- because it is always so large, but they can get the number of employees, and that's dynamite."

In a recent report, Light analyzed what he calls "the true size of government," which he said includes civil servants, postal workers, military personnel, contractors and grantees, including state and local government officials working on federal mandates. He said his research methods produced an estimate for the contractor contribution to federal work worldwide, but did not lend themselves to the type of detailed country-by-country assessment that would be necessary to isolate the type of information CENTCOM is seeking on Iraq contractors...

Doubtless a matter of National Security, and Classified. In fact, the fact it's Classified is Classified, so all unauthorized personel reading this post should immediately report to the nearest private contractor for work camp assignment.

Back to the story:

...data for 2005 -- the most recent year available -- suggest that roughly 14.6 million people worked, directly or indirectly, for the federal government. That would represent about five and a half contractors and grantees for every federal civil servant...

Exactly who is Grover gonna strangle where ?

[with thanks]

Say hi to the KGB

It turns out the NSA isn't the only thing to think about out here in the high plains of cyberspace.

Veronica Khokholva via Xeni Jardin:

The Russian-language blogosphere (commonly known as ZheZhe) is on fire: some users are shutting down their blogs, others are emigrating to the virtual Trinidad & Tobago - all because LiveJournal.com's owner Six Apart has decided to team up with the Russian internet company Sup, founded this year by Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian "oligarch," and Andrew Paulson, an American entrepreneur.
Assurances from managers of Six Apart and Sup have left many unconvinced and still concerned over whether the Russian security services would gain access to their personal information and whether the new Abuse Team would carry out ruthless purges...

Somehow I think the purges they're talking about aren't just kicking people off the blogroll.

But it's inevitable. The KGB, long a tool of organized crime in Russia (and vice-versa), meets DynCorp/ CIA/ NSA. It's impossible to tell who's adopted whose tacics, because these boys have been playing the same game all along.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Language of the Serpent

If you could stand on Mars -- what might you see? Like the robotic Opportunity rover rolling across the red planet, you might well see vast plains of red sand, an orange tinted sky, and wispy light clouds. The Opportunity rover captured just such a vista after arriving at Victoria Crater earlier this month, albeit in a completely different direction from the large crater. Unlike other Martian vistas, few rocks are visible in this exaggerated color image mosaic. The distant red horizon is so flat and featureless that it appears similar to the horizon toward a calm blue ocean on Earth. Clouds on Mars can be composed of either carbon dioxide ice or water ice, and can move quickly, like clouds move on Earth. The red dust in the Martian air can change the sky color above Mars from the blue that occurs above Earth toward the red, with the exact color depending on the density and particle size of the floating dust particles.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. All helment and no starship. Theresa Hitchens and Haninah Levine:

After four years and some 35 drafts, the Bush White House has finally released its long-awaited rewrite of the U.S. National Space Policy. Obviously, the administration was keen to get the word out – they quietly posted a 10-page unclassified summary [.pdf] on the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s website at 5 pm on Oct. 6 – the Friday before the Columbus Day long weekend...

While the Clinton version focuses on civil and commercial space, the Bush NSP gives primacy to national security and military space. Example: of Clinton’s five goals for U.S. space programs, two mention national security; of Bush’s six goals, four are related to national security and defense.

While the Clinton policy aimed to highlight international cooperation and collective security in space, the Bush NSP takes a go–it-alone stance, using strong language that asserts U.S. unilateral rights in space while possibly also being intended to "negate" the rights of other space-faring nations. In ominous tones, the document threatens in one section to "dissuade or deter others from either impeding [U.S.] rights or developing capabilities intended to do so" – raising the specter of preemptive action against other nations’ dual-use space technology.

Indeed, even as the Bush policy emphasizes the importance of space security, it goes out of its way to make clear that this security may not, under any circumstances, come from (shudder) international law: "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduce research, development, testing and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests" [emphasis added].

While the new NSP doesn't go as far as some space hawks wanted it to in openly endorsing the strategy of fighting "in, from and through" space, neither has it served to put a blanket – even a thin one – on those ambitions. And in taking a decidedly "us against them" tone, it is likely to further cement the view from abroad that the United States has taken on the role of a "Lone Space Cowboy." And as much as people love John Wayne movies overseas, that will not be a good thing.

Indeed. And some people even with in the Company aren't impressed. The editor at Pravda, for one:

The Bush administration has adopted a jingoistic and downright belligerent tone toward space operations. In a new “national space policy” posted without fanfare on an obscure government Web site, and in recent speeches, it has signaled its determination to be pre-eminent in space — as it is in air power and sea power — while opposing any treaties that might curtail any American action there.

This chest-thumping is being portrayed as a modest extension of the Clinton administration’s space policy issued a decade ago. And so far there is no mention of putting American weapons in space. But the more aggressive tone of the Bush policy may undercut international cooperation on civilian space projects — a goal to which the new policy subscribes — or set off an eventual arms race in space.

The new policy reflects the worst tendencies of the Bush administration — a unilateral drive for supremacy and a rejection of treaties. And it comes just as the White House is desperately seeking help to rein in the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. That effort depends heavily on cooperation from China and Russia, two countries with their own active space programs.

The administration regards the policy as a necessary update to reflect how important space is becoming for the American economy and defense. But outside experts who have parsed the language are struck by how forceful and nationalistic it sounds.

Whereas the 1996 policy opened with assurances that the United States would pursue greater levels of partnership and cooperation in space, the new policy states: “In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not. Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”

The only solace is that the new policy does not endorse placing weapons in space or fighting in, through or from space, as the Air Force has been urging. But neither does it rule out these activities.

In keeping with the more muscular stance, the administration is also opposing any negotiations on a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space — arguing that it may impede America’s ability to defend its satellites from ground-based weapons. That seems shortsighted. An international treaty to keep space free of weapons might well provide greater security than a unilateral declaration that we will do whatever we have to do to preserve our own space assets.

Michael Griffin, the NASA administrator, insisted he did not intend to sound jingoistic when he addressed a conference in Spain this month — but he sure came across that way. He wondered aloud what language future settlers of the Moon and Mars would speak. “Will my language be passed down over the generations to future lunar colonies?” he asked. “Or will another, bolder or more persistent culture surpass our efforts and put their own stamp on the predominant lunar society of the far future?”

We fear the old notion that space might provide the perfect arena for international cooperation may be yielding to a new era of competition — one not seen since the cold war race to the moon.

Don't worry, Mikey. That "bolder and more persistent culture" is probably quite at home with DynCorp tactics.

A Little More than Sunspots

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann at Real Climate do a takedown of the oil industry-funded experts who assert the increased global temperatures are purely solar driven.

To do so, they do an analysis of this recent review in Nature (by P. Foukal1, C. Fröhlich, H. Spruit and T. M. L. Wigley, Nature 443, 161-166(14 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05072) concerning just this effect. Given in abstract but graphically supplemented:

Variations in solar luminosity and their effect on the Earth's climate

Variations in the Sun's total energy output (luminosity) are caused by changing dark (sunspot) and bright structures on the solar disk during the 11-year sunspot cycle. The variations measured from spacecraft since 1978 are too small to have contributed appreciably to accelerated global warming over the past 30 years. In this Review, we show that detailed analysis of these small output variations has greatly advanced our understanding of solar luminosity change, and this new understanding indicates that brightening of the Sun is unlikely to have had a significant influence on global warming since the seventeenth century. Additional climate forcing by changes in the Sun's output of ultraviolet light, and of magnetized plasmas, cannot be ruled out. The suggested mechanisms are, however, too complex to evaluate meaningfully at present.

Which is the nice careful, way scientists say: it sure as Hell doesn't look like brightness is driving the temperature increase, but yeah, it might be something we can't measure.

Now that's a reality-based statement.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

L'état vous veut

Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that "no court, justice, or judge" can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future.

Beyond those already imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, the law applies to all non-U.S. citizens, including permanent U.S. residents.

The new law already has been challenged as unconstitutional by lawyers representing the petitioners. The issue of detainee rights is likely to reach the Supreme Court for a third time...

The third strike for Habeas Corpus.

And it's not just for people who aren't American citizens, campers. As pointed out by Peter Van Erp to the esteemed Dr. Juan Cole's virtual classroom, although the original Senate version specified the law applied to non citizens, that wording was removed by the House and wasn't present in the version our Dear Leader signed. Instead, it was:

" '...a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.'

"When the Senate version originally passed, the version published in Thomas as “Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by Senate” ( http://thomas.loc.gov/) included that language. That has lead to most of the media stating, as you did, that the Military Commissions Act does not apply to American citizens.

"In the past two weeks since the Senate passed S 3930, the published version has been changed to align with the House.

"I can only speculate that the language in the published version of S 3930 was not changed immediately after passage in order to mislead the media. The other possibility is that the Senate passed the bill as originally written, and persons unknown changed the published version in order to avoid the need for a reconciliation vote where the import of the bill could be revisited. In any case, the various efforts of the ACLU and others to correct the public perception are lost in the general furor, and the media keep repeating that the bill only applies to them. We have met the enemy and he is us..."

If the Blackwater/ DynCorp mercs working your neighborhood for the usual terra'ist suspects (hypothetically) under the Authority of Darth Rumsfeld say you're an Enemy Combatant because you couldn't pay 'em off, to the work camp you go. The Company needs a certain number of warm bodies occupying their facility to justify their budget. Nothing personal.

More interesting Constitutional points at Informed Comment here, and all over the good doctor's site.

Company Soapbox

It's always good to hear from William E. Kennard, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2001, on the board of The New York Times.

And it's even more amusing to read his words.

It seems those of us in Blogistan, Left Behind or Righteous, just don't have our priorities right.

Any serious discussion of the future of the Internet should start with a basic fact: broadband is transforming every facet of communications, from entertainment and telephone services to delivery of vital services like health care. But this also means that the digital divide, once defined as the chasm separating those who had access to narrowband dial-up Internet and those who didn’t, has become a broadband digital divide.

The nation should have a full-scale policy debate about the direction of the broadband Internet, especially about how to make sure that all Americans get access to broadband connections.

Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over “net neutrality” — that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth. This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues...

Yes, pity the poor telecoms, mired up with all those net neutrality nattering natterbobs of negatism. You know those limousine liberals at Google and Amazon hate the hard working blue collar types that own AT&T...

...First, to ensure that broadband reaches into rural, low income and other underserved communities, Congress should reform the Universal Service Fund, the federal subsidy paid to companies that provide telephone service to rural areas. For decades, the fund has been financed by a federal fee or surcharge that consumers pay on interstate phone calls. But the fund in its current form is not an effective way to support expanded broadband access. It is not fair to expect telephone consumers to bear the sole burden of the subsidy, and the decline in revenue from traditional long-distance calling is shrinking the base for contributions to the fund.

We must find a new source of revenue for the fund that does not exclusively tax users of the phone network. And we should adopt a much more efficient way to distribute precious fund dollars. All communications companies — telephone, cable TV or wireless network operators — that want government financing to provide broadband services to specific underserved communities should submit competitive bids to the fund. The F.C.C.’s chairman, Kevin Martin, has opened the debate on this proposal, called a reverse auction, which would ensure that only the most efficient companies would be granted subsidies to provide service to rural areas. This is a step in the right direction...

Reverse auction? Ya gotta wonder what kind of scam that is. The Feds hold an auction to figure out how much cash they give telcoms?

...Second, Congress should put all broadband providers on a level playing field. Both the cable and telephone industries are racing to provide a bundle of services to consumers. Each wants to be the consumer’s one-stop shop for video, voice and data services. Unfortunately, the legacy of historic regulation puts the telephone companies at a serious regulatory disadvantage in quickly deploying video services...

Yup, it's those pesky gummint regulations. Look how well deregulation worked for, example, Enron. Now there's a model the Company loves!

...Both industries could benefit from national franchising legislation that would streamline the franchising process and promote innovation and competition. (Disclosure: Some companies in which I invest at The Carlyle Group could also benefit from the wave of investment that would result from such legislation...)

Really? Who woulda knowed? So now it's okay, right, you've assured us how nonpartisan and disinterested you are.

Good ol' Slick Willie Kennard, the shyster responsible for turning the Gray Lady into a courtesan for the Powers. It's always nice to know what you think, Willie. I always appreciate an obvious crook.

New and Improved TIA Beta

The Eye of Sauron cops a new feel.

Ready for your test drive?

Shane Harris at Defense Tech:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is building a new terrorist profiling system, called Tangram. What's wrong with the old profiling systems, you might ask? Well, according to an unclassified document describing Tangram, they're not all that good at catching terrorists.

The document, which is a description of the Tangram program for potential contractors, describes other, existing profiling and detection systems that haven't moved beyond so-called "guilt-by-association models," which link suspected terrorists to potential associates, but apparently don't tell analysts much about why those links are significant. Tangram wants to improve upon these methods, as well as investigate the effectiveness of other detection links such as "collective inferencing," which attempt to create suspicion scores of entire networks of people simultaneously.

Tangram's pedigree also is familiar. It is apparently the next generation of DARPA's Total Information Awareness system, which has been conducted in secret since Congress pulled public funding on the project in 2003. TIA programs form the foundation for Tangram, the document describing the system shows. (With one big difference: no privacy protections.)

Obviously, people without terra'ist links have no need to worry.

...Read the full story on Tangram in National Journal here.

Collective inferencing. I like that. How many degrees of separation do you require for your work camp/ waterboarding invitation?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Rosa Brooks at the Los Angeles Times via Common Dreams:

Has Hillary Clinton been watching too many episodes of "24," or is she just determined to prove that she really is entirely without principles?

Whichever it is, Clinton hit a new low last week, telling the New York Daily News that the president should have "some lawful authority" to use torture or other "severe" interrogation methods in a so-called ticking-bomb scenario.

These comments appear to directly contradict her previous statements on the Military Commissions Act, which President Bush signed into law Tuesday. In late September, Clinton objected that the bill "undermines the Geneva Conventions by allowing the president to issue executive orders to redefine what are permissible interrogation techniques. Have we fallen so low as to debate how much torture we are willing to stomach?"

It sure looks that way.

The ticking-bomb scenario has routinely been used to justify the legalization of torture in exceptional circumstances. This is how the argument goes: You capture the terrorist who has just placed a nuclear bomb somewhere in a major American city. If you can't locate and disarm the bomb, millions of people will die. If the terrorist won't talk, should you torture him until he tells you what you want to know?

When you put it that way, of course, few of us would decline to torture the terrorist...

As one of the few, let me point out, what you want to know would in all likelihood not be what you need to know in such a circumstance.

That's because suicidal mass murderers don't care, and torture only confirms their hatred.

That's an incredibly stupid straw man of a scenario, and every time we accept it as an argument, we argue about a fallacy.

But back to our post:

...Clinton ought to know better. Plenty of immoral things might conceivably be justified in far-fetched hypothetical situations, but that doesn't mean the law should bless those exceptions in advance.

Take treason. Is it possible to construct far-fetched hypothetical situations in which treason might be justified? Sure. If one were faced with a choice between betraying one's country and allowing the Earth to be destroyed, treason might well be morally justified. But that doesn't mean we should pass laws laying out the conditions under which treason would be permissible.

Or how about rape? If torture can be justified by utilitarian principles, then in some "very, very limited circumstances," rape can presumably be justified as well. Would Clinton — would any American — truly want to see legislation laying out the unique circumstances in which rape should be permitted?

No. We really, really don't want to go there.


Jim Henley has a good take on this point [thanks, Avedon]:

Let’s say you’ve caught a suspect and you’re sure that he’s a terrorist, and you’re sure there’s a nuclear bomb planted somewhere in Manhattan, and you’re sure that he knows where the nuclear device has been planted in Manhattan, and you’re sure that this particular terrorist has been trained to resist torture just long enough that you could never get the true location of the bomb out of him in time. But you’re also sure that this particular terrorist is a pervert! And he tells you that if you’ll let him watch you rape your own child in front of him, he’ll tell you exactly where the bomb is and how to disarm it. And you’re sure that he will, because your intelligence is that good in exactly that way.

Wow! What a fascinating hypothetical, huh? And really, no less unlikely than the ticking bomb scenario you’re more familiar with, when you consider just how precisely the foundation of that dilemma has to be laid. So how come we hear so much about the other one and nothing about mine?

The answer is simple: State agents don’t have any ambition to rape their own children...

Good Occam's Razor, Jim.

Back to Rosa Brooks:

...Clinton was right about one thing: When you start to contemplate writing those "very, very narrow" exceptions into law, you've fallen as low as it's possible to go.

Once again, we Democrats misjudge the depths to which people can fall.

Rosa Brooks has no idea how low it can get.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Drinking Their Own Kool Aid

...A classified Defense Department inspector general's report said regulations were followed when the military paid to have favorable stories about coalition forces planted in Iraqi newspapers, according to the unclassified executive summary obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

"Psychological operations are a central part of information operations and contribute to achieving the ... commander's objectives," the summary said. They are aimed at conveying "selected, truthful information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions ... reasoning, and ultimately, the behavior of governments" and other entities, it said...

And when the government you disinform happens to be your own?

FORMER US secretary of state James Baker was visibly shocked when he last visited Iraq, and said the country was in a "helluva mess", the BBC reported today.

Mr Baker is leading a review of the situation in Iraq by a bipartisan US committee of experts, and is expected to recommend a change in US strategy for rebuilding Iraq.

Citing a unnamed close friend and ally of Mr Baker's, himself a top politician, the BBC reported that Mr Baker said "there simply weren't any easy solutions"...

A day after George Bush conceded for the first time that America may have reached the equivalent of a Tet offensive in Iraq, the Pentagon yesterday admitted defeat in its strategy of securing Baghdad.

The admission from President Bush that the US may have arrived at a turning point in this war - the Tet offensive led to a massive loss of confidence in the American presence in Vietnam - comes during one of the deadliest months for US forces since the invasion...

The Sergeant Schultz defense won't work for Bu$hCo.

Unless, of course, you're one of the Faithful .

Clean Books

The cleanest books being no books at all.

Lambert makes a nice analysis of the eminent trainwreck of the 2006 Congressional $elections.

You can't recount something without a paper trail.

Follow his links for a first class education.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Top Secret, Except for Our Old Buddy Bandar

Project Orion, the "abandoned" NASA-D.o'D. project to fly to different planets using the propulsive power of mini-nuclear explosions, was always kept Top Secret.

Although abandoned, you couldn't get the uncensored plans for it.

Unless, as Xeni Jardin's uncovered over at Boing Boing, you speak Arabic.

What are friends for?

[Thanks to Defense Tech for the tip. And if you're an offended Saudi Prince, well, that's life. I guess there are some things money can't buy.]

The Ghost in the Machine

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman at Common Dreams are calling it the way I do:

...We coined the phrase "loaves and fishes vote count" to describe the tally in Gahanna, Ohio, 2004. This infamous precinct in suburban Columbus registered 4258 votes for George W. Bush where just 638 people voted. The blessed event occurred at a fundamentalist church run by a close ally of the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

These numbers were later "corrected." But they reflect a much larger reality: the 2004 election was stolen with scores of dirty tricks for whose second coming the Democrats have yet to fully prepare.

In the two years since the fraudulent defeat of John Kerry, we've unearthed an unholy arsenal by which that election was stolen. They include: outright intimidation, wrongful elimination of registered voters, theft, selective deployment of (often faulty) voting machines, absentee ballots without Kerry's name on them, absentee ballots pre-punched for Bush, absentee ballots never mailed, touch screens that lit up for Bush when Kerry was chosen, lines for black voters five hours long while white voters a mile away voted in fifteen minutes, tens of thousands of provisional ballots pitched summarily in the trash, alleged ex-felons illegally told they could not vote, Hispanic precincts with no Spanish-speaking poll workers, deliberate misinformation on official web sites…and that's not even the tip of an iceberg whose bottom we may never see.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit, we have finally been able to look at some of the actual ballots from Ohio 2004. Just for starters, researchers Stuart Wright and Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips have found a precinct in Delaware County where 359 consecutive voters allegedly cast ballots for Bush. Dr. Ron Baiman found another precinct in Clermont County where a random inspection found 36 straight replacement ballots, a phenomenon that can be accomplished only by divine intervention or outright fraud.

These initial snippets have been unearthed with no cooperation or participation from the Democratic Party. The official Democratic spin is that they have "looked into the matter." But public records indicate that they have yet to visit the actual ballot storage facilities to examine the public records from the 2004 election.

In sum, we see no indication that the Democrats are prepared for the inevitable… that Karl Rove will steal again, and more, in 2006...

I dunno- this guy looks ready to guard your freedom and count every vote...

Back to the real deal:

...In Ohio alone, four election boards have already eliminated some 500,000 voters since the 2000 election---ten percent of the state's electorate---from the registration rolls in four Democratic counties. No similar purges have occurred in rural Republican counties. The Democrats have said or done very little about it.

To date there is no logical explanation from John Kerry as to why he conceded with 250,000 votes still uncounted while Bush's alleged margin was just half that. Nor have we heard about Democrat plans to monitor the ever-larger numbers of electronic voting machines deployed throughout the United States with no paper trail and no transparency for programming codes and memory cards that are privately owned, with no public inspection allowed.

Which is brings us to the Holy Ghost turnout. As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has reported in Rolling Stone Magazine, in Georgia 2002, U.S. Senate incumbent Max Cleland went into Election Day with a very substantial lead in the polls. He proceeded to allegedly lose by a substantial margin. Church-state operatives like Ralph Reed attributed this astonishing turn-around to an alleged last-minute mass turnout of evangelical voters.

Similar things were said about Florida and Ohio 2004.

But it never happened. There are no visual reports or other reliable indicators of extraordinary lines or massive late-in-the-day crowds at the polls. Throughout all those election days, it was every bit as quick and easy to vote in rural precincts that gave Bush his miraculous victory as it was impossible to do so in your average black neighborhood. But there was no extraordinary turnout of last-minute Bush voters.

What happened instead hearkens to the Holy Ghost, made manifest in electronic voting machines that cannot and will not be monitored. The miraculous pro-Bush margins give new meaning to the phrase "ghost in the machine." While the Democratic vote count was slashed and trashed in urban precincts, the rural voting stations, through the miracle of untrackable electronics, materialized just the right number of GOP votes to keep the Men of God in the White House (where it's recently reported they dare to mock those earthly evangelicals who allegedly gave them their margin of victory).

There's absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening again in 2006. Major studies from the Conyers Committee, the Government Accountability Office, Princeton University, the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Commission, and esteemed others, have all come to the same conclusion: it takes just one individual with inside access---or even just a wi-fi machine---to change the outcome of any election anywhere...

People even at progressive web sites get all snitty when warned about this. I hope, come next month, a solid Democratic Congress emerges like all the polls suggest. But if it doesn't, it will not surprise me in the least.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Four Republicans of the Apocalypse

Via Attaturk at Eschaton:

"Famine, War, Pestilence and Cheney"

Torture is now the law of the land, and your rights of habeas corpus only exist as long as you don't annoy someone important.

But the two Big Dogs are triangulating themselves, all the way on to the waterboard.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Apocalypse Planned

Chris Hedges at Truthdig:

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, guided-missile destroyer USS Mason and the fast-attack submarine USS Newport News, is, as I write, making its way to the Straits of Hormuz off Iran. The ships will be in place to strike Iran by the end of the month. It may be a bluff. It may be a feint. It may be a simple show of American power. But I doubt it.

War with Iran—a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East—is probable by the end of the Bush administration. It could begin in as little as three weeks. This administration, claiming to be anointed by a Christian God to reshape the world, and especially the Middle East, defined three states at the start of its reign as “the Axis of Evil.” They were Iraq, now occupied; North Korea, which, because it has nuclear weapons, is untouchable; and Iran. Those who do not take this apocalyptic rhetoric seriously have ignored the twisted pathology of men like Elliott Abrams, who helped orchestrate the disastrous and illegal contra war in Nicaragua, and who now handles the Middle East for the National Security Council. He knew nothing about Central America. He knows nothing about the Middle East. He sees the world through the childish, binary lens of good and evil, us and them, the forces of darkness and the forces of light. And it is this strange, twilight mentality that now grips most of the civilian planners who are barreling us towards a crisis of epic proportions.

These men advocate a doctrine of permanent war, a doctrine which, as William R. Polk points out, is a slight corruption of Leon Trotsky’s doctrine of permanent revolution. These two revolutionary doctrines serve the same function, to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to silence domestic critics who challenge leaders in a time of national crisis. It works. The citizens of the United States, slowly being stripped of their civil liberties, are being herded sheep-like, once again, over a cliff.

But this war will be different. It will be catastrophic. It will usher in the apocalyptic nightmares spun out in the dark, fantastic visions of the Christian right. And there are those around the president who see this vision as preordained by God; indeed, the president himself may hold such a vision...
[Only when Franklin Graham is in the room.]

Given that we are actively engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian regime by recruiting tribal groups and ethnic minorities inside Iran to rebel, given that we use apocalyptic rhetoric to describe what must be done to the Iranian regime, given that other countries in the Middle East such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are making noises about developing a nuclear capacity, and given that, with the touch of a button Israel could obliterate Iran, what do we expect from the Iranians? On top of this, the Iranian regime grasps that the doctrine of permanent war entails making “preemptive” and unprovoked strikes.

Those in Washington who advocate this war , knowing as little about the limitations and chaos of war as they do about the Middle East, believe they can hit about 1,000 sites inside Iran to wipe out nuclear production and cripple the 850,000-man Iranian army. The disaster in southern Lebanon, where the Israeli air campaign not only failed to break Hezbollah but united most Lebanese behind the militant group, is dismissed. These ideologues, after all, do not live in a reality-based universe. The massive Israeli bombing of Lebanon failed to pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 70 million people? As retired General Wesley K. Clark and others have pointed out, once you begin an air campaign it is only a matter of time before you have to put troops on the ground or accept defeat, as the Israelis had to do in Lebanon. And if we begin dropping bunker busters, cruise missiles and iron fragmentation bombs on Iran this is the choice that must be faced—either sending American forces into Iran to fight a protracted and futile guerrilla war or walking away in humiliation...

Oh, it'll be troops on the ground in 2007. Count on it. They'll Diebold things here this year. Then the Company'll be thinking that if they institute the draft in '07, and let John Negroponte act on dissenters at home the same way he set up in the Honduras and Iraq, there will be no opposition at all when they Diebold the '08.

They will be wrong in the reality-based world, of course, but maybe that's part of the plan, too.

...An attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with Silkworm missile attacks by Iran on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send oil soaring to well over $110 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a huge, global depression. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey will turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We will see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and the widespread sabotage of oil production in the Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for American troops as Shiites and Sunnis, for the first time, unite against their foreign occupiers.

The country, however, that will pay the biggest price will be Israel. And the sad irony is that those planning this war think of themselves as allies of the Jewish state. A conflagration of this magnitude could see Israel drawn back in Lebanon and sucked into a regional war, one that would over time spell the final chapter in the Zionist experiment in the Middle East. The Israelis aptly call their nuclear program “the Samson option.” The Biblical Samson ripped down the pillars of the temple and killed everyone around him, along with himself.

If you are sure you will be raptured into heaven, your clothes left behind with the nonbelievers, then this news should cheer you up. If you are rational, however, these may be some of the last few weeks or months in which to enjoy what is left of our beleaguered, dying republic and way of life.

There will be no rapture, even as there will be no global nuclear war. Not all at once like we used to fear, anyway. It will be more like a city here, a city there, over the space of years, with an occasional flurry of destruction interspaced with distraction from the long slow poisonous decay of Civilization.

After all, nuclear winter is the Company solution to global warming.

Global Depression is part of the Company plan, as is misery in the Middle East- and Middle West- that hasn't been seen since the Trail of Tears while TheoConfederate feudalism strengthens its grip.

But all this silliness about Dear Leader believing in the Second Coming? Too many Democrats haven't read The Prince. Dear Leader has or at least has heard the audio book.