Friday, March 17, 2006
'South Park'-Scientology Battle Rages On - Yahoo! News
NEW YORK - "South Park" has declared war on Scientology. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the animated satire, are digging in against the celebrity-endorsed religion after a controversial episode mocking outspoken Scientologist was yanked abruptly from the schedule Wednesday — with Internet rumors it was covert warfare by Cruise that led to its departure.
Internet bloggers accused Cruise of threatening to not promote "Mission Impossible 3," a surefire summer blockbuster, if the offending episode ran. Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, as is Paramount, which is putting out "MI:3."
But Cruise's representative, Arnold Robinson, told The Associated Press Friday that the mega-star made no such demands.
"Not true," Robinson said. "I can tell you that he never said that."
A call by The Associated Press to a Paramount representative was not returned Friday.
The episode in question, "Trapped in the Closet," which first aired last November, shows Scientology leaders hailing Stan, one of the show's four devilish fourth graders, as a savior. A cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won't come out. An animated , another famous Scientologist, enters the closet to try to get him out.
In another dig at the famously secretive religion, the credits at show's end are filled with names like "John Smith" and "Jane Smith."
The battle began in earnest earlier this week when Scientologist and longtime show member — voicing the ladies' man Chef — quit the show, saying he could no longer tolerate its religious "intolerance and bigotry.", another celebrity
Stone and Parker didn't buy that either.
On Monday, Stone told The Associated Press, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith in Scientology...He has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians."
A Comedy Central spokesman said Friday that the network pulled the controversial episode to make room for two shows featuring Hayes.
"In light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most known for," the spokesman said.
In Bush's dark hours, Democrats shine no light | IndyStar.com
"Four months ago, the U.S. News cover photo showed the president and vice president frowning darkly, with the headline, 'The White House's darkest hour -- and why it could get worse.'
The featured problem then was the indictment of Dick Cheney's top deputy, Scooter Libby. That followed the president's failed campaign for Social Security reform, the bungled response to Katrina, and ballooning budget deficits. On the congressional side, there was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's indictment and an investigation of the financial dealings of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Casualties in Iraq had just passed 2,000 and the president's approval ratings had just passed 40 percent, heading south.
And the Democrats? Well, they were content just to watch, apparently following Napoleon's rule, 'Never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.'"
US spends its way to 28 Eiffel towers: made out of pure gold
The increase, passed by Congress, allows the Government to borrow another $781 billion (£447 billion), increasing the national debt limit — the maximum America can borrow — from $8 trillion and $184 billion to $8 trillion and $961 billion.
The vote to increase the debt limit, requested by the White House, is the fourth since Mr Bush took office. In 2001 the national debt was $5.7 trillion. Today it has ballooned to $8.2 trillion, figures rarely talked about in Washington.
The national debt is the total amount owed by the Government. It is not to be confused with the federal budget deficit, which is the yearly amount by which spending exceeds revenue. When budget deficits are big, the national debt inevitably increases.
When Mr Bush took office he inherited a $236 billion budget surplus. Bill Clinton, his predecessor, had used budget surpluses to pay down some of the national debt in his last two years in office. Mr Bush also inherited some extraordinarily overoptimistic projections. Experts pronounced that budget surpluses would increase to $5.6 trillion over ten years, and there was even heady talk of paying off the entire national debt with the proceeds.
Since then a combination of factors — the September 11, 2001, attacks, unexpectedly low tax revenues, Mr Bush’s tax cuts and runaway government spending — have plunged the yearly budget back into deficit. This year it will reach nearly $400 billion.
What worries many analysts is the amount of US debt financed by foreign governments and banks, particularly in Asia. The national debt is split between publicly held debt — money owed to US and foreign investors — and money owed to branches of the Government. Nearly half the publicly owed debt is held by foreigners. Japan is the biggest creditor, at $668 billion. China, the second-biggest, recently increased its stake by $40 billion to $263 billion.
“We used to have much less held by foreigners,” Alice Rivlin, a former budget director for Mr Clinton, said. “It makes you much more vulnerable to people’s agendas.”
Historically, today’s national debt is the highest in dollar terms, but not as a percentage of GDP. In 1946 it was $270 billion — 122 per cent of GDP.
Today it is 65 per cent of GDP, very close to the postwar high of 67 per cent in 1996.
America has had a national debt since 1791, when it was $75 million. Today it rises by that amount every hour.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Bush, Google and online porn
In my mind the most amusing aspect of the Bush administration's attempt to grab users' search information from Google is the reason they actually want the info in the first place.
The Bush administration claims it's trying to prove how easy it is for minors to come across pornographic content. They tried using the Internet Archive, but didn't get much. (So, in case anyone wanted to know whether archive.org is a kid-friendly, the US government says "yes!").
The really funny thing is that making the net safer for children could have been partially achieved by the creation of a .xxx Top Level Domain. Unfortunately, Bush's own Department of Commerce helped kill the idea - apparently, acknowledging the existence of pornography somehow legitimises it, perhaps in the same way that acknowledging the existence of HIV/AIDS means that risky sexual practices are suddenly okay. I don't know - false logic and backward thinking seems to be the hallmark of a functioning government these days.
As far as the Bush White House is concerned, forcing Google to hand over search data serves two functions:
1) They don't have to dip into the Republican war chest by doing the research themselves; and,
2) They get to establish a precendent that kills the 4th Amendment, in case they want to sponge info from other companies in the future.
US District Judge James Ware said he was reluctant to give the Justice Department everything it wanted because of the "perception by the public that this is subject to government scrutiny". Weeell, so long as the US government isn't getting everything it wanted, that's fine. If they're only handing over a little bit of private information, it'll be okay. Provided they're not violating the Constitution much, I'm sure the public will feel reassured.
Sarcasm aside for a minute, I wasn't aware you could do some thing that's "partially" unconstitutional. I always thought is was one of those binary states: constitutional or unconstitutional. Alive or dead. Pregnant or not pregnant. That was one of the things that made me feel really uncomfortable when I heard about it - so long as you compromise, you can can ask for the most ridiculous things. People will ignore the outlandish request and focus on how "reasonable" you can be in reaching a compromise:
Crazed Dictator: I want a hundred nuclear bombs! Muhahaha!
United Nations: No way! No nuclear bombs!
Crazed Dictator: Okay, ten bombs then!
US Court: We'd like to thank you for being so reasonable. Request for ten nuclear weapons granted.
In case you're still not convinced that this is simply the big government trying to beat big tech companies into submission, you might like to consider the fact that AOL, Yahoo and MSN have aready handed over their search data, exactly like the Department of Justice wanted in the first place.
In terms of raw data, any statistician would tell you they have more than enough to work out how much smut there is on the net. The only possible thing Google could help them with is determining whether it's a lot, or a hell of a lot.
To take this case as far as they have can only mean the Bush administration is more interested in proving they can get the data than doing anything useful with it...which they could have done to some extent by letting people put .xxx after the name of their raunchy web site anyway.
Alex H, p2pnet - Sydney, Australia
President Bush Must Be Held Accountable for His Illegal Domestic Spying Program
By Sen. RUSSELL FEINGOLD
As Congress heads into a weeklong recess, I hope members of the Senate have a chance to listen to their constituents back home. All Americans want to fight terrorism and protect our country from those who wish to do us harm, but they don't want to sacrifice the rights and principles our country was founded upon. One of those fundamental American principles is that the President doesn't get to pick and choose which laws he follows.
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks, and especially this week, about Congress changing the law to authorize the President's otherwise illegal domestic surveillance program. Of course, anyone who makes that argument concedes that the program is illegal. In addition, the President has yet to explain convincingly why he can't follow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows wiretapping of terrorists while protecting law-abiding Americans.
The President has broken the law, and the censure resolution I introduced on Monday is intended to hold him accountable. While there have been plenty of personal attacks directed at me this week, few have argued the merits. The facts for censure are clear. FISA makes it a crime to wiretap American citizens on American soil without the requisite court orders--which is exactly what the President has admitted doing. Before the program was revealed, he misled the American people by assuring them that he was getting warrants for wiretaps. Since it was revealed, he has misled the American people about the legal basis for his actions.
I look forward to a full hearing, debate and vote in committee on this important matter. If the Committee fails to consider the resolution in a reasonable time period, I will ask that there be a vote in the full Senate. I know Americans will have a lot to say when they see their elected officials during the break. I hope my colleagues listen.
US says launches biggest air assault in Iraq
BAGHDAD, March 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Thursday it had launched its biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. A military statement said the operation involving more than 50 aircraft and 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops as well as 200 tactical vehicles targeted suspected insurgents operating near the town of Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad. The statement said "Operation Swarmer" was launched on Thursday morning and is "expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the objective area is conducted." Samarra was the site of a bombing attack last month on a Shi'ite shrine that set off sectarian reprisals and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
Print Story: Justice Ginsburg Reveals Details of Threat on Yahoo! News
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have been the targets of death threats from the "irrational fringe" of society, people apparently spurred by Republican criticism of the high court.
Ginsburg revealed in a speech in South Africa last month that she and O'Connor were threatened a year ago by someone who called on the Internet for the immediate "patriotic" killing of the justices.
Security concerns among judges have been growing.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter joked earlier this year that Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned. Over the past few months O'Connor has complained that criticism, mainly by Republicans, has threatened judicial independence to deal with difficult issues like gay marriage.
Worry is not limited to the Supreme Court. Three quarters of the nation's 2,200 federal judges have asked for government-paid home security systems, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said this week.
Ginsburg said the Web threat was apparently prompted by proposals in Congress, filed by Republicans, that tell judges to stop relying on foreign laws or court decisions.
"It is disquieting that they have attracted sizable support. And one not-so-small concern — they fuel the irrational fringe," she said in a speech posted online by the court earlier this month and first reported Wednesday by LegalTimes.com.
According to Ginsburg, someone in a Web site chat room wrote: "Okay commandoes, here is your first patriotic assignment ... an easy one. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and O'Connor have publicly stated that they use (foreign) laws and rulings to decide how to rule on American cases. This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom. ... If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week."
Rep. Tom Feeney (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla., a sponsor of one of the congressional proposals, wrote about the legislation on his Web site and in bold letters featured a quote from O'Connor predicting the Supreme Court would probably increasingly rely on foreign courts.
Ginsburg pointed out that the legislation was first proposed in 2004, an election year.
According to the legislation's promoters, the Feeney proposal had 82 Republican and 2 Democratic co-sponsors. One supporter was former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, a lawmaker O'Connor has criticized — although not by name — for harshly denouncing judges.
Justices, in some of their most hotly contested rulings, have looked overseas. Last year, for example, justices barred the executions of juvenile killers on a 5-4 vote. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said then that "it is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty." DeLay called the ruling outrageous. He also suggested that the House consider impeaching some judges.
In an angry dissent to that decision, Justice Antonin Scalia said capital punishment policy should be set by states, not "the subjective views of five members of this court and like-minded foreigners."
Ginsburg said, "Critics in Congress and in the media misperceive how and why U.S. courts refer to foreign and international court decisions." She said those decisions are used for guidance only.
O'Connor said last week during a speech at Georgetown Law School that the justices have received threats. But the Ginsburg remarks at the Constitutional Court of South Africa provide unusual detail.
Ginsburg, who turned 73 Wednesday, told the audience O'Connor "remains alive and well — as for me, you can judge for yourself."
On the Net:
Justice Ginsburg speech:
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Public Rejects Right-Wing Narrative On Media Coverage Of Iraq
The White House narrative about Iraq, parroted by conservatives everywhere, is that the media has failed to report the “good news.” Bush has faulted the media for ignoring “the quiet, steady” progress in Iraq. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently blasted the media for “exaggerating” Iraq’s security problems.
Today, Ralph Peter, an author, wrote an piece for conservative website Real Clear Politics that began “During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media.” It was linked enthusiastically by right-wing bloggers.
The American people, however, aren’t buying it. A new CBS poll shows that about 60% of Americans believe that the media is reporting things in Iraq either accurately or better than they really are:
Of course, CBS did the poll, so it’s probably making things out to be worse than they really are.
Recall Pat Roberts of Kansas
Kansas: conviction for a felony, misconduct in office, incompetence, or failure to perform duties prescribed by law. No recall submitted to the voters shall be held void because of the insufficiency of the grounds, application, or petition by which the submission was procured. (KS Stat. §25-4301)
Who can be recalled? - All but judicial officers
Signature Requirement - 40% of the votes cast in the last election for the official being recalled
Circulation Time - 90 days
The governor appoints a successor who must be a member of the same political party as the officeholder recalled, and must be selected from a list submitted by a committee of the political party of the person recalled.
Kansas - Const. Art. 4, §3; KSA §25-4301 - 25-4331
Animated Version of "Animal Farm" With Altered Ending Among Films Produced by the CIA
The Memory Hole has acquired a list of films that were produced or used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Among the films on the list is a 1955 animated version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” with its “chilling finale in which the farm animals looked back and forth at the tyrannical pigs and the exploitative human farmers but found it ‘impossible to say which was which.’”
[The original] ending was altered in the 1955 animated version, which removed the humans, leaving only the nasty pigs. … The C.I.A., it seems, was worried that the public might be too influenced by Orwell’s pox-on-both-their-houses critique of the capitalist humans and Communist pigs. So after his death in 1950, agents were dispatched (by none other than E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate fame) to buy the film rights to “Animal Farm” from his widow to make its message more overtly anti-Communist.
Some other notable films in the CIA’s library:
Spying for Uncle Sam, Part I
Why Man Creates
How Free Should the Press Be?
CBS Reports: UFO: Friend, Foe or Fancy?
Mickey Mouse Cartoon-Squatter’s Rights
I Am a Soldier
Holograms — The First True 3-D Picture
Man and the Sea
Unidentified Flying Objects
Eye in the Sky
It Works, and That’s the Key
Operation Underground Network
He is a Mad Man
Rise of Labor Unions/Employee/Management
Our Election Day Illusion/The Best Majority
Kidnap Executive Style
Why Get Excited Now?
Sure - George W. Bu$h'$ (mi$)Admini$tration is going in the tank. His polling numbers continue to drop, and the realization begins to build that he and his entire crew could be thrown out of power with a shift in the makeup of the Congress.
But this supposes a fair election, which isn't going to happen.
We've beaten the Diebold horse to death, so I won't go over that carcass again. Instead, I'm going to look at the slate of poor choices we are going to be offered to select from when we're allowed into the booth to trigger the 'correct' tally subroutine with our votes.
I have to say that there isn't anyone in either major party that impresses me enough to support them at this time. For every Frist, you have a Daschle. For every McCain, you have a Gore. For every George Allen, you have an Barack Obama making nice with the opposition
Bin Laden's deputy had lived in US - World - smh.com.au
SACRAMENTO: Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, lived in California in 1998 and 1999, a paid FBI informant says.
Naseem Kahn, 32, who gave evidence on Monday in the trial of a Pakistani-American father and son accused of terrorism-related activity, told the court he frequently saw Zawahiri coming and going from the mosque in Lodi, south of Sacramento, but never talked to him and did not know who he was at the time.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian believed to be hiding in Pakistan, this month called on Muslims to attack the West.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to say whether Zawahiri had lived in the US or had just passed through on a fund-raising mission.
Mr Khan's evidence is key to the prosecution's case in the trial of Hamid Hayat, charged with lying to the FBI and providing material support to terrorists by attending terrorist training camps in Pakistan. His father, Umer, 48, is also charged with lying to the FBI.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Jerry Falwell clears up the confusion
"Earlier today, reports began circulating across the globe that I have recently stated that Jews can go to heaven without being converted to Jesus Christ. This is categorically untrue."
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Christians Have as Many Abortions as Everyone Else, Catholics Have More
A new study by The Center For Reason (www.CenterForReason.com) finds that Christians have just as many abortions as their non-Christian counterparts. The study concludes that in the year 2000, Christians were responsible for 570,000 abortions. Catholics were found to be the worst offenders, with abortion rates higher than the national average.
San Francisco, Calif. (PRWEB) March 12, 2006 -- With over one million abortions being performed in the US each year, this issue has dominated the political landscape. In recent years the rhetoric has escalated, with the pro-life movement becoming a flagship for Christian morality and ethics. The prevailing Christian doctrine--that abortion is murder--has polarized the issue, firmly placing the vast majority of Christians on the pro-life side of the debate.
Incendiary comments by some of the more outspoken Christian figureheads have sought to portray abortion as an “evil” perpetrated by the non-Christian left. In response to this, The Center For Reason, a private research group, undertook a study to test the premise: “Christians have fewer abortions than non-Christians”. The results disproved the premise.
The study, available as a downloadable report, reveals that Christians have just as many abortions as non-Christians. Data analyzed for all fifty states show that the rate of abortion is the same in the most-Christian segments of the population as it is in the least-Christian. The most-Catholic segments, on the other hand, showed significantly higher abortion rates.
All data sources used in the study are publicly available, and are referenced in the report. All raw data and calculated values are tabulated in the report, to allow full verification of the results.
The report, titled “The Landscape of Abortion”, may be downloaded from www.CenterForReason.com/reports.htm.