Friday, February 10, 2006
THE BRAD BLOG: "EXCLUSIVE: Conyers Sends Letter to Bush, Cheney Challenging 'Authorized' Leaks of Classified National Security Intel!"
Thursday, February 09, 2006
$82 million War Profiteer - Robert J. Stein Jr. GUILTY plea
Robert J. Stein Jr., given the job by the Coalition Provisional Authority despite a prior conviction on felony fraud, will enter the guilty plea on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, the Times said, citing court papers.
The papers say the corruption ring also involved U.S. businessman Philip H. Bloom and five Army reserve officers.
Bloom received millions of dollars in contracts from Stein to build a police academy and other facilities in Iraq, the Times said. Stein also grabbed millions for himself.
Stein used some of the stolen money to buy grenade launchers, machine guns, a luxury automobile, a Cessna aircraft, North Carolina real estate and other goods, the newspaper reported.
Bloom used some of the money to maintain a villa in Baghdad where he provided women who supplied sexual favors to officials he hoped to influence, including Stein.
Bloom's lawyer, Robert A. Mintz, declined to comment.
In all, Stein is accused of stealing at least $2 million in U.S. taxpayer money and Iraqi funds, receiving at least $1 million in direct bribes and misappropriating another $600,000 in cash and goods from the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Stein and his co-conspirators used rigged bids to steer at least $8.6 million to Bloom and others, the Times reported."
Brown May Testify on White House, Katrina - Forbes.com
Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.
Free speech vs. fascism
Riots against editorial cartoons show scariest side of Muslim fundamentalism
|I've been astonished at how little commentary there's been on left-leaning blogs and web sites in recent days concerning the worldwide protests, riots, and fires stemming from the printing of (originally) a handful of European newspaper cartoons that some Muslims find spiritually offensive. |
Sorry, but I find riots and violence to be spiritually offensive. Am I the only progressive alive who thinks this?
While the Right goes apeshit on this issue, the Left's relative silence has been troubling. Me? I'm all for cultural sensitivity, and as a child of desegregation in the South Carolina of the late '60s, I'm fully aware of the power of words and images to wound.
But I've never been a fan of so-called "hate crimes" legislation, in which charges and sentences are increased when a defendant is allegedly motivated by racial, ethnic, religious, gender-based, sexual-orientation-based, or whatever-based hatred.
The problem with these laws is that it is inevitably the state -- people in power -- who are increasing penalties based on their interpretation of what someone else is thinking. Eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, the state (or the D.A.) realizes that this is a very handy tool for suppression of all sorts of untidy thought. Criticizing the state, magically, becomes a "hate crime," like when the guy in San Jose who defaced a statue of Christopher Columbus for being a genocidal bastard was charged with a "hate crime" for his purported unreasoning hatred of Italian-Americans.
It's a very, very slippery slope.
And now we are faced with one of the more fascistic tenets of Islamic fundamentalism, and one of its most terrifying -- their complete lack of interest in freedom of speech, and their complete lack of a sense of humor, respectively. Salman Rushdie knows what this is about. He had to live in hiding for years after some Muslim yahoo issued a fatwah against his life for having had the temerity to write a satirical novel about the prophet Muhammed. Rushdie's mistake, of course, was in thinking that because he lived in liberal, free-speech-loving England, he was safe from the Islamic censors.
And now a few European cartoonists and their publishers have discovered the same thing. Their admittedly tasteless, offensive depictions are worth condemning; they are not worth rioting over. The authors and publishers are being vilified by people whose own media frequently runs depictions of Jews and Christians that are as racist and offensive as anything imaginable. The Muslims' problem isn't with disrespect to religion; it's with disrespect to their religion. And in particular, pro-Western Arab dictatorships like Egypt and Pakistan don't dare let their populations demonstrate against the U.S. or Israel, but Denmark and Norway are nice, safe targets for the outrage of the masses. So cops normally inclined to crack open protester heads are encouraged instead to join the fun.
Regular readers of mine are well aware that I think George Bush's foreign policies are full of it. But when he and his fellow neo-cons warn that fundamentalist Muslims are fascists, they are right. They don't believe in freedom of speech, and they reserve the right to enforce their moral interpretation of the universe anywhere in the universe -- just like Christian fundamentalists. The difference is that while their religion is probably responsible for the spilling of more blood than any other religion in the history of the world, very few Christians issue death warrants or riot if someone draws Jesus or God. Even when it's not a very flattering drawing.
Muslim fundies are big on the being judge, jury, and executioner. And They're big believers in what they call "education" -- kids' memorizing of the Koran, or what we might refer to more quaintly as "brainwashing." I suppose that crack could land me on some fatwah list, too.
This isn't about "respecting cultural diversity." If someone wants to pray five times daily in the direction of a city in Saudi Arabia, that's cultural diversity. Fine by me. If someone wants to impose their religious beliefs on me, whether it's James Dobson or Mullah Omar, that's theocratic fascism. And it must be defended against.
That doesn't mean I want the U.S. to wage war, economic or military, in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, or any other Muslim enclave. It does mean I don't want them waging war on me, either, whether It's a bomb, an exploding jet liner, or someone's banned book list. The riots against these profane cartoons ought to inspire every newspaper in the Western world to print them, just to demonstrate that while we might have all the respect in the world for Islam (and some of our political leaders have a ways to go on that score), we won't be dictated to by any religion's lunatic fringe. Religion is the opiate of the masses -- and never more so than when it bans all those competing opiates.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Talkin about a revolution (Metro Times Detroit)
When singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron warned "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" 35 years ago, who knew how prophetic he'd prove to be?
As Venezuela's social and political revolution continues to unfold, the world — or at least most American audiences — seems largely in the dark about the goings-on of the troubled nation. Recently, there've been reports of such American activists as Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte embracing Venezuela's brazen President Hugo Chavez, but little information about the origins of the Venezuelan situation is readily available.
This week, the Detroit Summer Collective — a crew of activists, musicians and urban intellectuals — has organized a community dialogue entitled What Can Detroit Learn from Venezuela? The discussion will be part of their monthly Breaking Bread Community Potluck.
In addition to the Detroit Summer staples — music, good eats and community — the freeform discussion will feature 25-year-old activist and writer Chesa Boudin, who recently returned from a one-year stint in Venezuela working as a political analyst for President Chavez's International Relations office. His research will help him shed some light on Venezuela's current policy of offering cheap oil to U.S. cities hit by high fuel prices. Boudin will explain how Detroit can get in on the deal. More importantly, Boudin wants to explain how the struggle for social transformation in Latin America is relevant to the D.
The room will also be filled with scores of Detroiters returning from the World Social Forum (the lefty version of the World Economic Forum, which was held recently in Caracas). The energy in the room should be caliente.
One of Detroit's hardest-working welfare rights advocates, Maureen Taylor, will also be speaking on current issues relevant to Michigan's welfare recipients.
6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Center, 3535 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-0199.
Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com.
Nerve Agent Detecting Alarm Prompts Russell Building Evacuation
There are no indications that any staffers have exhibited any adverse symptoms at this time, a police spokesperson told Roll Call, and the hazardous materials division is still investigating the building. "
Center for Public Justice releases comments on President Bush's State of the Union Address that barely mentioned his Faith-Based & Community Initiative
The faith-based initiative was barely mentioned during President Bush's in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday
Annapolis, MD (PRWEB) February 7, 2006 -- The Center for Public Justice (http://www.cpjustice.org/), today released its Capital Commentary on President Bush's State of the Union Address (http://301url.com/CPJ-FBI).
|This press release was posted by the following PR Firm|
WORLDVIEW (View Listing in Directory of PR Firms)
EMAILS: Jack Abramoff Describes Relationship With President Bush
$13K for 911 truth?
NIST demands $13,278 for massive photo/video library of 9/11 NYC events
This author recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a massive visual database of 9/11/01 events; it was accepted, though the terms required payment of $13,278.88. This large fee amounts to a de-facto denial of the request, a significant event for those citizens actively questioning the events of that world-altering day.
The NIST Collection
NIST, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is a federal agency which conducted a massive $20 million Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster. During the course of this study the visual database, comprised of 6899 photos and 6977 segments of video, was exhaustively compiled, organized, indexed and cataloged by NIST. Much of the media came from private, corporate or independent photographers, while some of it came from various government agencies including the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the Federal Emergency Managemement Agency (FEMA) and the NYC Police Dept. (NYPD).
Despite the final NIST report being published late last year, few of the photographs and none of the videos from the visual database have been publicly released.
A Need for this Information
The Internet is teeming with 9/11 related media: websites, photographs, stories, videos, sound recordings and more. Yet much of this media is of poor quality. Videos have missing audio tracks, low visual resolution, or are missing frames, context or identification of the source.
In some cases, audio tracks appear to be dubbed over the original recordings. For example, the same exact exclamation of fright, in the form of a scream, can be heard in at least two different video recordings of the destruction the World Trade Center towers 1 & 2. In other cases, the voices of newscasters completely obscure any other sounds the recording might have held, yet the newscasters were obviously recorded later than the image.
In yet other cases, identical series of moving picture frames (movie clips) are available over the internet with varying audio tracks; this makes identification of the original exceedingly difficult. Unfortunately, the ease with which media, especially digital data, can be manipulated without leaving much of a trace renders the majority of the readily available 9/11 recordings questionable in terms of integrity (regardless of the appearance or apparent source).
This NIST visual database undoubtedly provides many details concerning what exactly happened to the three large buildings which were completely and suddenly destroyed on September 11, 2001. Fire engineers at home and abroad, as well as an American physics professor, have publicly questioned the NIST investigation; this further emphasizes the need for this visual database to be made public. Professors, writers, journalists, government officials, and ordinary citizens worldwide have seen through the inadequacies of the three official investigations (FEMA, NIST, 9/11 Commission) into the events of 9/11. The details of what happened in New York City that day are important because, despite the efforts of the mainstream media to repeat endlessly the conclusions of the unquestionably biased and ineffectual 911 Commission report, many United States citizens still have long lists of unanswered questions about that disastrous day.
The verified original source material for many of the 9/11 recordings, which NIST holds in its massive accumulation, would aid many professors, journalists, students, researchers and members of the general public to resolve their questions concerning some of the most contentious issues surrounding the total destruction of three buildings in NYC on 09.11.2001. For example, Professor Steven E, Jones, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, recently (Fall, 2005) released a paper, entitled Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?, in which he explains the evidence which supports an alternative hypothesis for the destruction of the three buildings WTC 1, 2, & 7 in New York City on September 11th, 2001. Citing the symmetrical nature of the collapses, the presence of molten metal deep in the debris, the failure of any building to collapse similarly prior to or since 9/11, the presence of horizontal ejections of smoke and debris during destruction & the duration of descent, Jones calls for a truly independent, international panel to consider all viable hypotheses. His 25 page paper ends with this call:
To this end, NIST must release the 6,899 photographs and over 300 hours of video recordings – acquired mostly by private parties – which it admits to holding (NIST, 2005, p. 81). In particular, photos and analyses of the molten metal (probably not molten steel) observed in the basements of both Towers and WTC7 need to be brought forth to the international community of scientists and engineers immediately. Therefore, along with others, I call for the release of these and all relevant data for scrutiny by a cross-disciplinary, international team of researchers.
This returns us to the aforementioned $13,278 demand by NIST in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the NIST visual database ( available here ). NIST is not making this material easily available to the public, nor to any individual researcher. Their demand for this large sum limits this valuable collection to a few well funded institutions, or to very wealthy private individuals. NIST claims that this sum is to cover search and review fees, as well as duplication costs; this is difficult to qualify, and is not explained or justified by NIST (Unfortunately, nothing requires them to do so).
The above assertions demonstrate the unreasonable, unhelpful stance NIST is taking with regard to the serious claims, questions and debates many people both here and abroad are engaging in. The timely release of this data, even if only to qualified academics, at a reasonable cost is absolutely necessary for the international research community. To fail the academic community by refusing to make available this material is to engender suspicions, fuel many conspiracy theories and waste the tax dollars which paid for the collection. This failure is currently achieving all three.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Corporate Forestry and Academic Freedom
by Richard York
Following the Biscuit Fire of 2002, which burned half a million acres in the Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon, the Bush administration geared up to circumvent national environmental laws and implement the largest public timber sale in recent history, all in the guise of "salvage logging" purportedly aimed at helping the forest regenerate. The Siskiyou region is one of the few areas in the lower 48 states that still contains extensive roadless wild forests and healthy salmon runs, and it is the most biologically diverse ecosystem on the West Coast. Environmentalists were naturally alarmed by this grab for timber, since they were well aware that burned forests are biologically rich and that dead trees provide habitat for a myriad of species as well as enriching the soil as they decompose. Furthermore, not widely known by the general public, in order to boost the value of the sales, a large portion of the timber taken in "salvage" sales comes from the cutting of live (often centuries-old) trees that survived the flames. Long-time environmental activists knew from experience that logging and the road-building that typically accompanies it damage soils, increase erosion, and undermine the integrity of forest ecosystems.
Disregarding the threats to the forest ecosystem, the U.S. Forest Service, backed by several prominent forestry professors from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University (OSU), supported logging in the burned area and, after extensive legal wrangling, managed to push through several timber sales despite widespread public opposition. Advocates of the sales argued that logging was necessary to help reduce the risk of future fires and speed forest recovery.
In an attempt to cut through the often emotionally charged debate over the effects of salvage logging on forest regeneration, Daniel Donato, a graduate student in the Department of Forest Science at OSU, and his five colleagues undertook a study examining sites burned in the Biscuit Fire before and after salvage logging operations to scientifically assess the effects of logging on the land. The results of this study, informatively titled "Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk," were published by the prestigious journal Science, initially on-line on January 5th of this year, followed in the print edition on January 20th.1 Donato and his colleagues concluded that their "data show that postfire logging, by removing naturally seeded conifers and increasing surface fuel loads, can be counter-productive to goals of forest regeneration and fuel reduction." These results, obviously, undermine the arguments made to justify the salvage logging and are particularly pertinent since Congress is considering developing legislation that would mandate logging on public lands after fires and bypass input from the public.
The scandal surrounding the shaky rationale used to support the logging in the first place may be surpassed by the one emerging after recent events. Press reports reveal that several forestry professors at OSU as well as officials at the U.S. Forest Service tried to suppress the study. In an unorthodox move, they appealed to the editor of Science, Donald Kennedy, a former President of Stanford University, to not publish the study unless it was modified to address their concerns. Kennedy, noting that the effort to stop publication raised concerns about censorship, rightly argued that debate on the issue should take place in an open scientific forum and published the study. The paper by Donato and his colleagues, like all papers submitted to Science, was subjected to rigorous external review by experts on the subject before being accepted for publication. Serious ethical concerns are raised by the attempt of the OSU professors who did not like the findings of the study to disrupt the typical publication process and undermine a graduate student in their own college.
One important issue at the heart of this controversy is the potentially malign effect of corporate interests on academic freedom and the scientific process. The OSU College of Forestry and many of its faculty members have long had close ties to the timber industry and a portion of the funding for the College comes from a tax on logging.
Click on the image for a larger view.
SOURCE: Oregon Department of Forestry, "OSU Forestry Research and Education Expenditures, in Thousands of Dollars"
Download the chart as an Excel file.
It is, then, perhaps unsurprising that OSU foresters often take actions that serve to further timber interests. The entire incident is reminiscent of a recent controversy at the University of California, Berkeley, where an ecologist, Ignacio Chapela, was denied tenure for dubious reasons in November 2003. Chapela was an outspoken critic of an academic-industrial partnership between the University and the Swiss agribiotech firm Syngenta and had published research in the leading scientific journal Nature reporting that the genome of Mexican maize had been contaminated by genes flowing from genetically modified crops.2 Following his appeal, an investigation found that a geneticist on a key committee reviewing Chapela's tenure had serious conflicts of interest, including having connections to biotech firms and being a central participant in the agreement with Syngenta (Chapela was finally granted tenure in May 2005). This controversy ultimately led to an external investigation that concluded that the deal with Syngenta was a mistake and argued that university partnerships with industry should be avoided.3
The incident at OSU and others like it raise serious concerns about the influence of private capital on the scientific research and publication process and on freedom of speech more generally. There are an alarming number of cases where scientists who are supposed to be impartial judges of scientific evidence have close ties to capital interests which favor certain types of research findings. Although it is heartening that there are more than a few scientists, like Donato and Chapela, who are willing to go against powerful interests, attempts to suppress research findings that conflict with corporate agendas ought to spur the public to question how power is distributed in our world.
Monday, February 06, 2006
A drum-banging, obscenity-shouting crowd estimated at 150 people came downtown to protest the State of the Union address. Similar demonstrations were held nationwide by World Can't Wait, an organization calling for the end of the "Bush regime.'' The timing coincided with the president's appearance before Congress.
Police say the demonstration here spilled from the sidewalk into the street, blocking traffic and causing detours. Ten officers had to be called in to augment the dozen already on hand to keep order.
The ugly encounter further deteriorated when protesters reportedly spotted a plainclothes officer videotaping licenses of cars parked on adjoining streets. A confrontation followed resulting in the injuries and arrests. Witnesses say, at some point, an officer confronted by the unruly crowd brandished a gun.
Had there been better communication between city officials and protest leaders, the outcome might have been different. If organizers had any inkling that the turnout would overflow into the roadway, they should have opted on the side of caution and obtained a parade permit.
And police must make it clear that they're acting within the law when photographing vehicles and even demonstrators congregating on public streets. If the situation were to threaten public safety or if a crime occurs, pictures could prove invaluable.
Nonetheless, it's troubling to hear reports that a gun was drawn and demonstrators carried concealed weapons. The close confines of downtown streets, an angry crowd and the chance of an unsecured weapon could lead to needless tragedy.
Police should be privy to sufficient prior information so that their initial response allows them to keep the upper hand. Likewise, protesters who show up at a supposedly peaceful rally with a concealed knife or police baton, as some are accused of doing, should be prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.
With the notable exception of the bloody 1979 Death to the Klan march near Morningside Homes that claimed five lives, Greensboro police have an enviable record of dealing effectively with protest gatherings.
Four decades ago, demonstrators rallying against racial segregation walked the same street without serious incident. An honest exchange of information with police was a key factor then, and it's a lesson worth remembering now.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Keith Decision -- United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972)
This is known as the 'Keith decision' after U.S. District Court Judge Damon J. Keith who ruled against the legality of domestic electronic surveillance.
James Bamford wrote in The Puzzle Palace (1982):
In the Keith decision, the Supreme Court, while recognizing the President's constitutional duty to 'protect our Government against those who would subvert or overthrow it by unlawful means,' held that the power inherent in such a duty does not extend to the authorization of warrantless electronic surveillance deemed necessary to protect the nation from subversion by domestic organizations."
Bush Heading for Major Legal Defeat
|February 5, 2006|
|Fourth Amendment History Repeats in Bush Spying |
by Michael Leon
As the Bush spying revelations continue, some words worth reading:
“History abundantly documents the tendency of Government — however benevolent and benign its motives — to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute when the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’...The price of lawful public dissent must not be a dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance power. Nor must the fear of unauthorized official eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and discussion of Government action in private conversation. For private dissent, no less than open public discourse is essential to our free society.”
So wrote conservative Justice Lewis Powell in the Supreme Court case United States v. United States Eastern District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, et al., ((407) U.S. 297 ).
As recounted in the brilliantly-written “Rights on Trial: The Odyssey of a People’s Lawyer” (Harvard University Press, 1983), by civil rights giant Arthur Kinoy who argued the case, the Nixon administration program to surveil and suppress dissent with the electronic tools available in the early 1970s was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court in 1972 as unconstitutional on Fourth Amendment grounds, and the Nixon administration was dealt a devastating legal and political blow.
As the Bush administration roars its chilling and Nixonian assertion of its executive spying authority to defend its warrantless, domestic eavesdropping operations, one hopes today’s Supreme Court will ultimately rebuff the Bush administration.
And make no mistake; Bush is in desperate legal and political straits on this one. Reformist, post-Nixon legislation and the Fourth Amendment specifically forbid Bush’s warrantless spying program.
The desperate Bush attempt to defend its spying in its Jan. 19, 2005 Justice Department white paper [”inherent constitutional authority as Commander in Chief”] echoes Nixon, and comes right as Bush rails at his political critics’ providing “comfort” to the enemy by criticizing Bush’s assault on our civil liberties.
As the Republican Congress self-consciously divests itself of its role as a constitutional check on the executive branch, the liberal blogosphere and the mainstream press (though not frequently enough) have come to function as a replacement institutional check on the Bush administration, and of course Bush can be counted on to go after the press now.
This week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will attempt to justify Bush’s warrantless spying operations before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But don’t count on much coming out of this Congress outside of some loud criticism, though this will lead to an even more politically weakened administration.
And the new press and liberal blogs — though effective in exposing the administration and spreading the word — in itself will not do.
What You Can Do
After the civil liberties and peace movement hero Daniel Ellsberg [of Pentagon Papers fame] appeared in Madison in late January blasting away at Bush’s spying, many in the crowd, as around the country, were asking what they could do.
What you can do right now is contribute to the Center for Constitutional Rights (co-founded by attorney Kinoy) and the American Civil Liberties Union who are among those leading the legal fight against Bush.
Bush is attempting a legal coup to dismantle the Fourth Amendment, and the legal arena must be bolstered with legal warriors who will stop Bush, just as people’s lawyers like Arthur Kinoy stopped Nixon 34 years ago.
No one thought southern conservative Lewis Powell capable of sounding like William O. Douglas when it came time to put an arrogant chief executive back in his place. But powerful legal arguments backed by political will took Nixon down, and there is every reason to believe history will repeat itself and Bush will fall as well, if we get the resources now where they are most needed.
Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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