27 December 2006

How To: Disable Your Passport's RFID Chip

"All passports issued by the US State Department after January 1 will have always-on radio frequency identification chips, making it easy for officials – and hackers – to grab your personal stats. Getting paranoid about strangers slurping up your identity? Here’s what you can do about it. But be careful – tampering with a passport is punishable by 25 years in prison. Not to mention the “special” customs search, with rubber gloves. Bon voyage!
1) RFID-tagged passports have a distinctive logo on the front cover; the chip is embedded in the back.

2) Sorry, “accidentally” leaving your passport in the jeans you just put in the washer won’t work. You’re more likely to ruin the passport itself than the chip.

3) Forget about nuking it in the microwave – the chip could burst into flames, leaving telltale scorch marks. Besides, have you ever smelled burnt passport?

4) The best approach? Hammer time. Hitting the chip with a blunt, hard object should disable it. A nonworking RFID doesn’t invalidate the passport, so you can still use it.

– Jenna Wortham"

hmmmm, interesting...
I'll have to think about that a bit more.

Apple ‘iPhone’ could disrupt mobile service distribution channel

Apple ‘iPhone’ could disrupt mobile service distribution channel

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - 10:32 AM EST

"New hardware isn't the only way Apple can shake things up in the mobile industry. The company has the ability to disrupt the entire distribution channel, which is currently controlled by cellular service providers," Daniel Eran writes for RoughlyDrafted.

"The control maintained by service providers has slowed the advance of hardware features and the emergence of new competition for service," Eran writes.

"Apple's position as a hardware maker with retail stores and software expertise allows it opportunities unrivaled by other phone makers like Motorola, software middleware providers such as Microsoft, and services providers that simply resell subsidized phones in an effort to sell minutes," Eran writes. "In 2007, Apple has the capacity to flip the entire mobile world on its head, with the same quiet speed it has used to reinvent itself as a specialized Intel PC maker. It will be fun to watch."

Eran explains how, once again, Apple could be poised to disrupt the status quo in his full article in the above title. It's a thought provoking and insightful article.

22 December 2006

Der Spiegel Interview with Jimmy Carter

August 15, 2006
"The US and Israel Stand Alone"

Former US president Jimmy Carter speaks with DER SPIEGEL about the danger posed to American values by George W. Bush, the difficult situation in the Middle East and Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro.

Former US president Jimmy Carter: "I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Carter, in your new book you write that only the American people can ensure that the US government returns to the country's old moral principles. Are you suggesting that the current US administration of George W. Bush of acting immorally?
Carter: There's no doubt that this administration has made a radical and unpressured departure from the basic policies of all previous administrations including those of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Carter: Under all of its predecessors there was a commitment to peace instead of preemptive war. Our country always had a policy of not going to war unless our own security was directly threatened and now we have a new policy of going to war on a preemptive basis. Another very serious departure from past policies is the separation of church and state, which I describe in the book. This has been a policy since the time of Thomas Jefferson and my own religious beliefs are compatible with this. The other principle that I described in the book is basic justice. We've never had an administration before that so overtly and clearly and consistently passed tax reform bills that were uniquely targeted to benefit the richest people in our country at the expense or the detriment of the working families of America.

SPIEGEL: You also mentioned the hatred for the United States throughout the Arab world which has ensued as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Given this circumstance, does it come as any surprise that Washington's call for democracy in the Middle East has been discredited?

Carter: No, as a matter of fact, the concerns I exposed have gotten even worse now with the United States supporting and encouraging Israel in its unjustified attack on Lebanon.

SPIEGEL: But wasn't Israel the first to get attacked?

Carter: I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon. What happened is that Israel is holding almost 10,000 prisoners, so when the militants in Lebanon or in Gaza take one or two soldiers, Israel looks upon this as a justification for an attack on the civilian population of Lebanon and Gaza. I do not think that's justified, no.

SPIEGEL: Do you think the United States is still an important factor in securing a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis?

Carter: Yes, as a matter of fact as you know ever since Israel has been a nation the United States has provided the leadership. Every president down to the ages has done this in a fairly balanced way, including George Bush senior, Gerald Ford, and others including myself and Bill Clinton. This administration has not attempted at all in the last six years to negotiate or attempt to negotiate a settlement between Israel and any of its neighbors or the Palestinians.

SPIEGEL: What makes you personally so optimistic about the effectiveness of diplomacy? You are, so to speak, the father of Camp David negotiations.
Carter: When I became president we had had four terrible wars between the Arabs and Israelis (behind us). And I under great difficulty, particularly because Menachim Begin was elected, decided to try negotiation and it worked and we have a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt for 27 years that has never been violated. You never can be certain in advance that negotiations on difficult circumstances will be successful, but you can be certain in advance if you don't negotiate that your problem is going to continue and maybe even get worse.

SPIEGEL: But negotiations failed to prevent the burning of Beirut and bombardment of Haifa.

Carter: I'm distressed. But I think that the proposals that have been made in the last few days by the (Lebanese) Prime Minister (Fuoad) Siniora are quite reasonable. And I think they should declare an immediate cease-fire on both sides, Hezbollah said they would comply, I hope Israel will comply, and then do the long, slow, tedious negotiation that is necessary to stabilize the northern border of Israel completely. There has to be some exchange of prisoners. There have been successful exchanges of prisoners between Israel and the Palestinians in the past and that's something that can be done right now.

SPIEGEL: Should there be an international peacekeeping force along the Lebanese-Israeli border?

Carter: Yes.

SPIEGEL: And can you imagine Germans soldiers taking part?

Carter: Yes, I can imagine Germans taking part.

SPIEGEL: ... even with their history?

Carter: Yes. That would be certainly satisfactory to me personally, and I think most people believe that enough time has passed so that historical facts can be ignored.

SPIEGEL: One main points of your book is the rather strange coalition between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party. How can such a coalition of the pious lead to moral catastrophes like the Iraqi prison scandal in Abu Ghraib and torture in Guantanamo?

Carter: The fundamentalists believe they have a unique relationship with God, and that they and their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue. Therefore, by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong. And the next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant. Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. And so this administration, for instance, has a policy of just refusing to talk to someone who is in strong disagreement with them -- which is also a radical departure from past history. So these are the kinds of things that cause me concern. And, of course, fundamentalists don't believe they can make mistakes, so when we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it's just impossible for a fundamentalist to admit that a mistake was made...

Read the reast of the interview at the link above.

21 December 2006

Dear Supporter of Israel,

Jimmy Carter Attacks Israel -- Help TIP fight back

Jimmy Carter uses the media to attack Israel with distortions and half-truths.

Your generous donation allows The Israel Project to provide facts to the media and the world about Israel. Education works! Please give now.

Dear Supporter of Israel,

As you probably know, former President Jimmy Carter is back on the talk-show circuit demonizing Israel in pursuit of "peace". Here's what he's been saying:

Israel is the primary obstacle to peace in the region
UN Resolution 242 demands that Israel return to Palestinians all land up to the 1967 borders
The West Bank is Palestine
Israel is an apartheid state
The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel
Voices from Israel dominate in the U.S. media
Israel is responsible for the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land
How Carter's Comments Hurt Israel

With Iran's President holding an international conference this week to deny the Holocaust, funding Hezbollah and Hamas' attacks on Israel, and developing nuclear weapons to "wipe Israel off the map", Israel needs positive world public opinion to defend itself. Comments like Carter's help de-legitimize the State of Israel by making it look like a stubborn obstacle to peace without an legal basis for taking defensive action against terrorists.

Former President Carter is weakening Israel in the eyes of Americans and peace-loving people worldwide.

Help TIP fight these inaccuracies and distortions with facts by supporting our work at http://www.theisraelproject.org/donate.

Instead of complaining about comments like Carter’s, The Israel Project (TIP) takes the initiative to:

Research facts and information and email them to 15,000 journalists worldwide every week
Host press conferences with Israeli spokespeople to help journalists learn first-hand of Israeli government positions
Provide access for journalists to Israeli sources for interviews
Fly journalists in helicopters over Israel to view Israel’s tiny size and enormous security threats with their own eyes
Click here to support our work: http://www.theisraelproject.org/donate.

Our staff is efficient, but educating the media before they write their stories costs money:

$250 covers the cost to email fully-vetted background information to 10,000 journalists worldwide
$600 lets us create and email a “breaking news” press release to journalists
$1200 pays to have one journalist take a 2½ hour helicopter tour over Israel
$1500 allows 125 journalists to participate in a worldwide telephone briefing
Please send your contribution of $250, $180, $100, $60, $36 or even $18 TODAY to help us fight anti-Israel propaganda in the media at http://www.theisraelproject.org/donate. Help us educate the press and the world – before Jimmy Carter gets to them.


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Founder and President
The Israel Project

P.S. We can’t stand idly by while people like President Carter spread inaccuracies and half-truths about Israel. Give a generous tax-deductible gift today at http://www.theisraelproject.org/donate. Israel and our global Jewish family need you!

10 November 2006

War Crime Charges Sought Against Rumsfeld Over Prison Abuse

This story "broke" last night on Democracy NOW! but now Time has picked it up:
Exclusive: Charges Sought Against Rumsfeld Over Prison Abuse
A lawsuit in Germany will seek a criminal prosecution of the outgoing Defense Secretary and other U.S. officials for their alleged role in abuses at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo
Posted Friday, Nov. 10, 2006
Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski — who the lawyers say will be in Germany next week to publicly address her accusations in the case — has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ."

A spokesperson for the Pentagon told TIME there would be no comment since the case has not yet been filed.

Along with Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Tenet, the other defendants in the case are Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone; former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee; former deputy assisant attorney general John Yoo; General Counsel for the Department of Defense William James Haynes II; and David S. Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Senior military officers named in the filing are General Ricardo Sanchez, the former top Army official in Iraq; Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of Guantanamo; senior Iraq commander, Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and Col. Thomas Pappas, the one-time head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib.

Germany was chosen for the court filing because German law provides "universal jurisdiction" allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world. Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld's spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case a "a big, big problem." U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.

In bringing the new case, however, the plaintiffs argue that circumstances have changed in two important ways. Rumsfeld's resignation, they say, means that the former Defense Secretary will lose the legal immunity usually accorded high government officials. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the German prosecutor's reasoning for rejecting the previous case — that U.S. authorities were dealing with the issue — has been proven wrong.

"The utter and complete failure of U.S. authorities to take any action to investigate high-level involvement in the torture program could not be clearer," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S.-based non-profit helping to bring the legal action in Germany. He also notes that the Military Commissions Act, a law passed by Congress earlier this year, effectively blocks prosecution in the U.S. of those involved in detention and interrogation abuses of foreigners held abroad in American custody going to back to Sept. 11, 2001. As a result, Ratner contends, the legal arguments underlying the German prosecutor's previous inaction no longer hold up.

Whatever the legal merits of the case, it is the latest example of efforts in Western Europe by critics of U.S. tactics in the war on terror to call those involved to account in court. In Germany, investigations are under way in parliament concerning cooperation between the CIA and German intelligence on rendition — the kidnapping of suspected terrorists and their removal to third countries for interrogation. Other legal inquiries involving rendition are under way in both Italy and Spain.

U.S. officials have long feared that legal proceedings against "war criminals" could be used to settle political scores. In 1998, for example, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet — whose military coup was supported by the Nixon administration — was arrested in the U.K. and held for 16 months in an extradition battle led by a Spanish magistrate seeking to charge him with war crimes. He was ultimately released and returned to Chile. More recently, a Belgian court tried to bring charges against then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

For its part, the Bush Administration has rejected adherence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on grounds that it could be used to unjustly prosecute U.S. officials. The ICC is the first permanent tribunal established to prosecute war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

here's the Democracy Now! Link:

You can listen to the audio there.


ok, what's with the media self censorship.
Click the link above and listen to both versions of the interview.

Here's the blog from the guy that posted it:
CNN tells YouTube to pull down video outing GOP party head Ken Mehlman
by John in DC - 11/09/2006 02:24:00 PM

I just got a cease-and-desist letter from YouTube, see below, regarding my CNN footage I posted. The footage, you'll recall, was from Larry King Live last night in which Bill Maher outed Republican Party chair Ken Mehlman as gay. It seems that CNN has suddenly decided that it no longer wants bloggers, or YouTube, posting any of its video, which is kind of surprising since I always thought we were doing a CNN a favor by constantly touting their network. Apparently I was wrong.

NOTE: You can still see the entire video on Huff Post.

CNN has also now edited the official transcript of Larry King Live, so that no one will ever know what really happened. Here is CNN's transcript:
MAHER: A lot of the chiefs of staff, the people who really run the underpinnings of the Republican Party are gay. I don't want to mention names, but I will on Friday night.

KING: You will Friday night?

MAHER: Well, there's a couple of big people who I think everyone in Washington knows who run the Republican...

KING: You will name them?

MAHER: Well, I wouldn't be the first. I'd get sued if I was the first. (A PORTION OF THIS TRANSCRIPT HAS BEEN REMOVED)

KING: Great way to close out this segment. It's poignant.
CNN didn't just edit out the naming of Mehlman as gay, they even edited out Larry's question, and Maher's answer, about why gay people sometimes work against their own people. Now why is that question being censored by CNN?

I plan to cut the video back to ten seconds, the crucial part where Bill Maher outs Mehlman, then put it back up (I also still have the 3 meg file, 1 minute 20 seconds long - as do lots of other people, including the Huff Post). I have a law degree from Georgetown and I know intellectual property law as it concerns journalism. You can post an 8 to 10 second video clip as fair use for news purposes, and that is what I plan to do. And if CNN and Google try to close down my YouTube account for using an 8-10 second snippet for news purposes, they're going to have serious problems.

Here's his link:

Washington Post rewriting history?

I got this from slashdot and clicked through to the bogsite:
"Friday, November 10, 2006
Extremely odd behavior from the Washington Post re: the President's Rumsfeld lie
(updated below - Update II)

It is now conclusively clear that President Bush lied last week, several days before the election, when he vowed definitively to reporters that Donald Rumsfeld would remain as Defense Secretary for the next two years. At the time he made that statement, he was deep into the process of replacing Rumsfeld, if not already finished, and the President knew that the statement he made about Rumsfeld was false at the time he made it. That is the definition of "lying."

There can be no reasonable dispute about this, since the President at his Press Conference not only admitted lying when he told the reporters that Rumsfeld would stay, but he even went on to explain his reasons for lying ("the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer"). The decision was clearly a fait accompli before the election, as the President himself said: "win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee."

The President's admission of lying was so glaring that even Byron York immediately described it as such (as did other conservatives such as James Joyner). So what are the consequences, the implications, the fallout? So far, virtually nothing, and the behavior of The Washington Post shows why that is the case:

As I noted in the post I wrote two days ago about the President's Rumsfeld lie, The Washington Post article which reported on the Press Conference, written by Michael Fletcher and Peter Baker, detailed the Rumsfeld lie and even described what the President did with unusual candor, i.e., that the President "appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters." It's so unusual to see a major newspaper accurately report on the President's dishonesty that I noticed and praised the Post's candor ("It's encouraging (although it should be commonplace) that the Washington Post is calling this what it is"). At the time, as I quoted in my post, this is what the Post article reported about the President's Rumsfeld explanation:

At his news conference, Bush called the election results a "thumping" but vowed to maintain his policy of refusing to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq "before the job is done." Bush indicated that he had made the decision to replace Rumsfeld before the elections, but he said he had not held a "final conversation" with the defense chief or talked to Gates at the time he told reporters in response to a question last week that Rumsfeld would be staying on.

Asked about that comment, Bush said he made it because "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign," Bush said. He appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters, saying, "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you onto another question was to give you that answer."

He added later, "Win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.

But at some point, the Post fundamentally changed this article (without leaving any indication that it did so). Now, in that same Post article, the passage I quoted about the President's having acknowledged that he "misled reporters" is gone entirely -- just disappeared, deleted with no trace -- and instead one finds only this:

He said that he had begun to contemplate Rumsfeld's exit before the election -- even while he was publicly vowing that he would keep the defense secretary through the end of his term and insisting that polls forecasting Republican defeat were wrong. "I thought we were going to do fine yesterday," Bush insisted. "Shows what I know." But "win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee."

At some point, the Post changed what was the accurate reporting -- that Bush expressly acknowledged that he "misled" reporters because he had "indicated that he had made the decision to replace Rumsfeld before the elections" -- by claiming in the new version that he merely "contemplated" Rumsfeld's exit before the election. Worse, the Post deleted entirely the accurate statement that the President "appeared to acknowledge having misled reporters." (If one does a search of the Post for the deleted paragraphs, the article will still come up in the Post's search engine, but the entire passage is nowhere to be found in the article).

Ironically, the explanation for why this happened may be found in today's Howard Kurtz column, the whole point of which is to explore the unbelievably stupid question of whether Bush's lie about Rumsfeld was "on par with [meaning: as bad as] President Bill Clinton's hair-splitting defense in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation that 'it all depends on what the definition of is is'"? In other words, was Bush's pre-election "untruth" about management of the Iraq war as bad as Clinton's lie about sex with Monica? In the course of pondering that idiocy (even quoting "experts" comparing the two lies), Kurtz says this:

Did the president of the United States make a rare admission on national television that he had told an untruth?

Or had he merely engaged in a dodge of the sort that is common in politics?

Journalists by nature shy from pinning the "liar" label on any political leader, but President Bush's acknowledgments that he had not been forthcoming about his plans to dump Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have kicked up a fuss at the White House and sparked a debate about the limits of presidential evasion.

As Kurtz's own column illustrates, journalists most certainly do not "shy away from pinning the 'liar' label on any political leader." All of the wise and brave pundits and other Beltway luminaries -- one after the next -- fell all over themselves calling Bill Clinton a "liar" continuously because he claimed not to have had sex with Monica Lewinksy. In that instance, they were more than happy to use the word "liar" as clearly and freely as can be imagined.

Journalists "shy away" from pinning the "liar label" not -- as Kurtz claims -- "on any political leader," but on the specific political leaders who currently occupy the White House. And for proof of that, Kurtz need look no further than his own newspaper, which appears to have engaged in some sort of Stalinist-like purging of history by zapping out of existence the Post's accurate detailing of the President's Press Conference admission of lying.

So the President got caught lying to the American people, several days before an election, about a matter of unquestionable importance -- namely, who will manage our war in Iraq and, more broadly, will the President change how the war is being managed? And not even the President claims there was some national security "justification" for lying. It was a pure political calculus: "I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign."

(And incidentally, this is not the first time Bush lied this way; last May, he assured reporters that Treasury Secretary John Snow was not leaving and specifically stated that Snow "has not talked to me about resignation," even though Snow had already told the President he was leaving and the decision to replace Snow had already been made and finalized). All Howie Kurtz can do is wonder whether this was as "on par with" the Greatest Evil Ever -- Bill Clinton's lie about Monica Lewinsky.

Why did The Washington Post delete the passage in its own article detailing how the President misled reporters when he answered their questions about Rumsfeld? Presidents simply do not have the right to lie to Americans about important matters of public concern, particularly before a major election. If we don't embrace and enforce that standard, what standard exists? And if newspapers like the Post are too afraid to detail dishonest statements that come from our highest political officials -- to the point where they publish such revelations only to then surreptitiously delete them -- what possible purpose do journalists serve?

UPDATE: It seems that some people (including certain bloggers) are missing the point of this post completely. The crux of the post is not about Bush's lie regarding Rumsfeld, but instead, is about how The Washington Post reported this lie, and then un-reported it. Some of the confusion may be my fault (although the post title, by itself, seems to make that sufficiently clear), but this comment from sysprog is highly clarifying and, in its own right, worth reading.

UPDATE II: Even Newt Gingrich recognizes that the President essentially acknowledged at his Press Conference that he lied about Rumsfeld, and Gingrich objects:

"We need candor, we need directness," said Gingrich, a potential 2008 presidential candidate."We need to understand the threats we faced with are so frightening and so real, the danger that we'll lose two to three American cities so great, that we cannot play games with each other, cannot manipulate each other, we have to have an open and honest dialogue, and I found yesterday's staments at the press conference frankly very disturbing."

He condemned Bush's admission that in making last week's statement about Rumsfeld, he had known he was being misleading.

"It's inappropriate to cleverly come out the day after an election to do something we were told before the election would not be done," Gingrich said. "I think the timing was exactly backwards and I hope the President will rethink how he engages the American people and how he communicates with candor."

Gingrich has all kinds of politically self-interested motives for trying to distance himself this way from this increasingly and unprecedentedly despised President, but he is right about what the President did. If Byron York, James Joyner and Newt Gingrich can all recognize and say that the President admitted to lying at his Press Conference, why did The Washington Post delete that passage and deprive its readers of that knowledge?

01 November 2006

Fastest Waves Ever Photographed

Cool stuff from another blogger:

You can check out the links and pics at the link in the title.

"Pictures of the fastest moving waves ever photographed were presented this morning at APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Philadelphia. These shots are more than your typical pretty pictures – they represent a major advance in wakefield accelerator technology, a technology that could make tabletop high-energy particle accelerators a reality.

The matter waves, which are oscillations moving through a plasma, are known as wakefields because they are created in the wake of an ultra-intense laser pulse. The waves travel at 99.997% of the speed of light and generate electric fields exceeding 100 billion electron volts/meter.

The ability to create huge electric fields makes wakefields a promising method for shrinking the size of accelerators from miles long (like those at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, FermiLab and CERN) to tabletop. Small accelerators would allow universities and hospitals to take advantage of the research and medical applications afforded by an accelerator without competing for time at a major particle accelerator facility.

Much work remains before tabletop accelerators can be a reality – particularly in understanding the interactions between a wakefield, the accelerated electrons, and the laser pulse. The ability to photograph wakefields is exciting news for scientists because it allows them to explore these interactions and compare theoretical predictions to real data.

Former Agent Says Google and CIA in Partnership

Former Agent Says Google and CIA in Partnership

Is Google's quest to manage the world's information leading straight to the CIA?

Former CIA clandestine case officer Robert David Steele made some very hot comments on his appearance on the Alex Jones radio show. Steele cites his contacts within the agency with the information that Google and the CIA are involved with one another.

Steele said, "I think that Google has made a very important strategic mistake in dealing with the secret elements of the U.S. government - that is a huge mistake and I’m hoping they’ll work their way out of it and basically cut that relationship off."

In reference to Google's fight against the U.S. Department of Justice for the privacy of its users, Steele claims that it was an elaborate charade intended for the public eye.

"Google was a little hypocritical when they were refusing to honor a Department of Justice request for information because they were heavily in bed with the Central Intelligence Agency, the office of research and development," concluded Steele.

From reports, Steele did not bring evidence to light in order to back up his claims, and neither Google nor the CIA are yet commenting on the matter.


U.S. intelligence unveils spy version of Wikipedia
Tue Oct 31, 2006 6:39pm ET
...see below for the link to the above titled article.

This from Wikipedia:
"Intellipedia is a classified wiki that runs on JWICS, the top-secret network Intelink that links the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community. It is not accessible to the public.
Intellipedia is a project of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence - Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES) office headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland. As of October 2006, it contains 28,000 pages and 3600 users.[1] It includes information on the areas, people and issues of interest to those communities. Intellipedia uses MediaWiki, the same software used by the Wikipedia free-content encyclopedia project.[2] Unlike Wikipedia, Intellipedia also contains a great deal of non-encyclopedic content including meeting notes and items of internal, administrative interest. The wiki provides so much flexibility that several offices throughout the community are using it to maintain and transfer knowledge on daily operations and events. Anyone with access to read it has permission to create and edit articles.
Since Intellipedia is intended to be a platform for harmonizing the various points of view of the agencies and analysts of the Intelligence Community, Intellipedia does not enforce a neutral point of view policy.[citation needed] Instead, viewpoints are attributed to the agencies, offices, and individuals participating, with the hope that a consensus view will emerge. A number of projects are underway to explore the use of the Intellipedia for the creation of traditional Intelligence Community products. In the summer of 2006 a National Intelligence Estimate on Nigeria was started using Intellipedia as the main collaboration tool.[1]
A sister project is being run on the U.S. Government Secret-level network known as SIPRNet. It is intended to serve a similar purpose for U.S. diplomats and DoD personnel who are the predominant users of this network. As of September 2006, this wiki had over 13,000 articles.

For the Reuters article click the following link:

For the Wikipedia article, click the title to this...

31 October 2006

Climate change fight 'can't wait'

Climate change fight 'can't wait'

The world cannot afford to wait before tackling climate change, the UK prime minister has warned. A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says. Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".

International response
The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

And Chancellor Gordon Brown promised the UK would lead the international response to tackle climate change.

The BBC's Nick Robinson said that, while the Stern Review did not recommend specific tax rises, upping the cost of flying - both people and goods - and driving was on the agenda of all three main political parties.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said the Queen's Speech would now feature a climate bill to establish an independent Carbon Committee to "work with government to reduce emissions over time and across the economy".

The report says that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood. "Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said.

"That's why I'm optimistic - having done this review - that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently."

Mr Blair said the consequences for the planet of inaction were "literally disastrous". "This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime," he said. "Investment now will pay us back many times in the future, not just environmentally but economically as well." "For every £1 invested now we can save £5, or possibly more, by acting now.

"We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto - we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto)."

....CLICK the link int he title above for the full article and for PDF download of the report...

A New Way to get back on the Moon?

NASA has just introduced an proposal to create a new lauch vehicle:

"DIRECT is an alternative approach to launching missions planned under NASA's new mandate: The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). DIRECT would replace the separate Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) with one single "Universal Launcher", capable of performing both roles.

This architecture completely removes the costs & risks associated with developing and operating a second launcher system, saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.

DIRECT's single launcher would use existing Space Shuttle's facilities / hardware to lift over 70mT (basic configuration) up to over 98mT (with an Upper Stage).

This approach would introduce many key benefits (optimum use of existing NASA and contractor workers know-how, equipment, development costs, upgrade paths, early return to the Moon) over the current Ares Launch Vehicles. To know more about this concept please browse the menu for DIRECT's Proposal (pdf), images, video and related link"

...click the link above...

Robots Test "Embodied Intelligence"

Vision-body link tested in robot experiments
13:34 27 October 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Tom Simonite
Experiments involving real and simulated robots suggest that the relationship between physical movement and sensory input could be crucial to developing more intelligent machines.

Tests involving two real and one simulated robot show that feedback between sensory input and body movement is crucial to navigating the surrounding world. Understanding this relationship better could help scientists build more life-like machines, say the researchers involved.

Scientists studying artificial intelligence have traditionally separated physical behaviour and sensory input. "But the brain's inputs are not independent," says Olaf Sporns, a neuroscientist at Indiana University, US. "For example, motor behaviour has a role to play in what the body senses from the environment."

An increasing number of researchers are taking this approach, known as "embodied cognition", says Sporns. He worked with roboticist Max Lungarella from Tokyo University in Japan, to create experiments that would test the idea.

Red objects
They used a four-legged walking robot, a humanoid torso and a simulated wheeled robot. All three robots had a computer vision system trained to focus on red objects. The walking and wheeled robots automatically move towards red blocks in their proximity, while the humanoid bot grasps red objects, moving them closer to its eyes and tilting its head for a better view.

To measure the relationship between movement and vision the researchers recorded information from the robots' joints and field of vision. They then used a mathematical technique to see how much of a causal relationship existed between sensory input and motor activity.

"We saw causation of both kinds," Sporns says. "Information flows from sensory events to motor events and also from motor events to sensory events." It is an important experimental demonstration of this aspect of embodied cognition, he claims: "This work and that of others is now making it more practical and less of a metaphor."

Similar experiments ought to show the same relationship in animals, he adds, as evolution has produced bodies and brains that work together to understand the world. Such tests would be much harder to carry out, but Sporns says researchers are starting to investigate how it might be done.

Better bots
The experiments could suggest a better way to design and build robots, Sporns adds. Maximising information flow between sensory and motor systems could produce more flexible, capable systems, he says. Experiments involving more simulated robots, "evolved" using genetic algorithms, suggest this to be a promising approach, he says.

Daniel Polani, who researches artificial intelligence at Hertfordshire University in the UK, also sees promise. "Using similar approaches, it should be possible to produce more efficient cognitive systems, like those in nature, without specialising on a particular task" such as movement or vision, he told New Scientist.

Aaron Sloman, another artificial intelligence researcher, at Birmingham University in the UK, says interaction with the environment is vital to intelligence. But he also points out that the human brain is capable of working with concepts not grounded in the physical world.

"That is why you can think about a person in Birmingham whom you have never met," he says, "How does an architect design a new skyscraper, long before there is anything to see, feel, touch, or manipulate?"

Journal reference PLoS Computational Biology (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020144)

US Military Propaganda Unit created for US media

Pentagon boosts 'media war' unit
US officials believe bad news from Iraq gets undue coverage
"The US defence department has set up a new unit to better promote its message across 24-hour rolling news outlets, and particularly on the internet.
The Pentagon said the move would boost its ability to counter "inaccurate" news stories and exploit new media.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this year the US was losing the propaganda war to its enemies.

On Monday, Vice-President Dick Cheney said insurgents had increased attacks in Iraq to sway the US mid-term polls.

The Bush administration does not believe the true picture of events in Iraq has been made public, the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says.

The administration is particularly concerned that insurgents in areas such as Iraq have been able to use the web to disseminate their message and give the impression they are more powerful than the US, our correspondent says...."

...more at the link above...

Bush Moves Toward Martial Law

Bush Moves Toward Martial Law
by repost Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006 at 2:39 AM

In a stealth maneuver, President Bush has signed into law a provision which, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law (1). It does so by revising the Insurrection Act, a set of laws that limits the President's ability to deploy troops within the United States. The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331 -335) has historically, along with the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C.1385), helped to enforce strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. With one cloaked swipe of his pen, Bush is seeking to undo those prohibitions.
Public Law 109-364, or the "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007" (H.R.5122) (2), which was signed by the commander in chief on October 17th, 2006, in a private Oval Office ceremony, allows the President to declare a "public emergency" and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to "suppress public disorder."

President Bush seized this unprecedented power on the very same day that he signed the equally odious Military Commissions Act of 2006. In a sense, the two laws complement one another. One allows for torture and detention abroad, while the other seeks to enforce acquiescence at home, preparing to order the military onto the streets of America. Remember, the term for putting an area under military law enforcement control is precise; the term is "martial law."

Section 1076 of the massive Authorization Act, which grants the Pentagon another $500-plus-billion for its ill-advised adventures, is entitled, "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies." Section 333, "Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law" states that "the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of ("refuse" or "fail" in) maintaining public order, "in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."

For the current President, "enforcement of the laws to restore public order" means to commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against "disorderly" citizenry - protesters, possibly, or those who object to forced vaccinations and quarantines in the event of a bio-terror event.

The law also facilitates militarized police round-ups and detention of protesters, so called "illegal aliens," "potential terrorists" and other "undesirables" for detention in facilities already contracted for and under construction by Halliburton. That's right. Under the cover of a trumped-up "immigration emergency" and the frenzied militarization of the southern border, detention camps are being constructed right under our noses, camps designed for anyone who resists the foreign and domestic agenda of the Bush administration.

An article on "recent contract awards" in a recent issue of the slick, insider "Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International" reported that "global engineering and technical services powerhouse KBR [Kellog, Brown & Root] announced in January 2006 that its Government and Infrastructure division was awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract to support U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the event of an emergency." "With a maximum total value of $385 million over a five year term," the report notes, "the contract is to be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," "for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) - in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs." The report points out that "KBR is the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton." (3) So, in addition to authorizing another $532.8 billion for the Pentagon, including a $70-billion "supplemental provision" which covers the cost of the ongoing, mad military maneuvers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, the new law, signed by the president in a private White House ceremony, further collapses the historic divide between the police and the military: a tell-tale sign of a rapidly consolidating police state in America, all accomplished amidst ongoing U.S. imperial pretensions of global domination, sold to an "emergency managed" and seemingly willfully gullible public as a "global war on terrorism."

Make no mistake about it: the de-facto repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) is an ominous assault on American democratic tradition and jurisprudence. The 1878 Act, which reads, "Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both," is the only U.S. criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people under the cover of 'law enforcement.' As such, it has been the best protection we've had against the power-hungry intentions of an unscrupulous and reckless executive, an executive intent on using force to enforce its will.

Unfortunately, this past week, the president dealt posse comitatus, along with American democracy, a near fatal blow. Consequently, it will take an aroused citizenry to undo the damage wrought by this horrendous act, part and parcel, as we have seen, of a long train of abuses and outrages perpetrated by this authoritarian administration.

Despite the unprecedented and shocking nature of this act, there has been no outcry in the American media, and little reaction from our elected officials in Congress. On September 19th, a lone Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) noted that 2007's Defense Authorization Act contained a "widely opposed provision to allow the President more control over the National Guard [adopting] changes to the Insurrection Act, which will make it easier for this or any future President to use the military to restore domestic order WITHOUT the consent of the nation's governors."

Senator Leahy went on to stress that, "we certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders."

A few weeks later, on the 29th of September, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." This had been "slipped in," Leahy said, "as a rider with little study," while "other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals."

In a telling bit of understatement, the Senator from Vermont noted that "the implications of changing the (Posse Comitatus) Act are enormous". "There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."

Senator Leahy's final ruminations: "Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point. It seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived the Conference because the Pentagon and the White House want it."

The historic and ominous re-writing of the Insurrection Act, accomplished in the dead of night, which gives Bush the legal authority to declare martial law, is now an accomplished fact.

The Pentagon, as one might expect, plays an even more direct role in martial law operations. Title XIV of the new law, entitled, "Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Legislative Provisions," authorizes "the Secretary of Defense to create a Homeland Defense Technology Transfer Consortium to improve the effectiveness of the Department of Defense (DOD) processes for identifying and deploying relevant DOD technology to federal, State, and local first responders."

In other words, the law facilitates the "transfer" of the newest in so-called "crowd control" technology and other weaponry designed to suppress dissent from the Pentagon to local militarized police units. The new law builds on and further codifies earlier "technology transfer" agreements, specifically the 1995 DOD-Justice Department memorandum of agreement achieved back during the Clinton-Reno regime.(4)

It has become clear in recent months that a critical mass of the American people have seen through the lies of the Bush administration; with the president's polls at an historic low, growing resistance to the war Iraq, and the Democrats likely to take back the Congress in mid-term elections, the Bush administration is on the ropes. And so it is particularly worrying that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator.

(1) http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200609/091906a.html and http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200609/092906b.html See also, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, "The Use of Federal Troops for Disaster Assistance: Legal Issues," by Jennifer K. Elsea, Legislative Attorney, August 14, 2006

(2) http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill+h109-5122

(3) Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, "Recent Contract Awards", Summer 2006, Vol.12, No.2, pg.8; See also, Peter Dale Scott, "Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps," New American Media, January 31, 2006.

(4) "Technology Transfer from defense: Concealed Weapons Detection", National Institute of Justice Journal, No 229, August, 1995, pp.42-43.


29 October 2006

Why Bush Thinks We're Winning

Why Bush Thinks We're Winning
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 26, 2006; 12:50 PM

One of the more reality-defying aspects of President Bush's position on the war in Iraq is his insistence that we're winning.

That was a central theme at yesterday's press conference. Here's the transcript .

"Absolutely, we're winning," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done."

With the body counts soaring, the country descending deeper into civil war and the central government consistently unable to assert itself, how can he call this winning? The answer: It's becoming increasingly clear that Bush sees the war in Iraq in very simple terms. As he himself said, he believes that the only way to lose is to leave. Therefore anything else is winning -- anything else at all.

Even if no progress is being made -- even if things are getting worse, rather than better -- simply staying is winning.

So we're winning.

Bush expanded on this principle in a fascinating, one-hour Oval Office interview yesterday afternoon with a half-dozen conservative journalists.

One of the attendees was Michael Barone of U.S. News, and usnews.com last night Web-published the transcript as well as the audio . The National Review, whose Byron York attended, published the transcript this morning.

Even though the session was mostly on the record, Bush seemed looser than he usually does in interviews. The result was a slew of disjointed, sometimes not particularly intelligible, but sometimes deeply telling insights into his thinking about the war. It's a heckuva read."

...Read the rest and listen to the audio at the above link...

Mandatory Anthrax Shots to Return

Mandatory Anthrax Shots to Return
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; Page A03

The Defense Department will resume mandatory anthrax vaccinations for more than 200,000 troops and defense contractors within 60 days, a Pentagon official said yesterday, rejecting the concerns of some veterans and service members who say that the vaccine has not been proved safe or effective.

The vaccinations will be required for most military units and civilian contractors assigned to homeland bioterrorism defense or deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea, said William Winkenwerder Jr., a physician and the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. As troops rotate in and out of those regions, the number receiving vaccinations will grow considerably, he said.

..read the rest of the article at the link above...

To veil or not to veil is no longer the question in Egypt

Behind which veil?
Alain Navarro | Cairo, Egypt
26 October 2006 09:08
"To veil or not to veil is no longer the question in Egypt. From abject neighbourhoods to chic suburban enclaves Muslim women are instead mulling whether to opt for a strict coverall, or a hipper headscarf. After three decades of Islamic revival, bare-headed women have become a slender minority -- and many of them are Coptic Christians, who account for only a small slice of the country's 77-million-strong population.

Whether out of ideological or religious reasons, social or family pressure, about 80% of Egyptians now wear the veil -- the "most successful and the most troubling sign of Islamisation", according to sociologist Mona Abaza. Officially, the veil is neither outlawed as in Turkey, nor a required accessory as in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, does not wear one. And out of the country's two female ministers, one wears a less conspicuous bonnet. The president of the country's leading television station, Nadia Halim, recently began veiling. But so far no female television news anchor has followed suit.

But on the streets, veiling is no longer a subject of debate.

Rather it is the palette of headscarf options mirroring traditionalist or modernist Islamic currents. Only young girls escape the veil -- and not always. Gone are the days when women brazenly removed their head coverings -- as prominent feminist Hoda Charaoui did, stirring a furore on her return from a visit to Europe in 1923.

Today, battle lines are instead forming around whether to adopt the sombre-hued, face-covering niqab, ostensibly in the name of Islam and personal choice. "I can't accept that people claim the niqab is an obligation, and I don't like it," said Islamic law professor Soad Saleh, the former head of female religious studies at Cairo's al-Azhar university. Her face framed by a blue headband under a white veil, the Muslim reformist claims that "hiding women's faces is not in the Qu'ran, it's an old Bedouin tradition."

Among the conservative vanguards are former immigrants from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, many of them village women, who have brought back a puritanical, segregationist lifestyle. But female Islamist militants are also championing the veil as a religious obligation in universities -- even as they advocate the role of women in a larger political battle against the Egyptian regime and the West.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the face-framing hijab, or more relaxed hair-covering headscarf, as a colourful fashion statement. Twinned with jeans and short-sleeved shirts its message mixes Islamisation and globalisation. It's a message embodied by a new generation of stars like Hanan Turk, who dazzles movie and television viewers in her silk designer veils -- and replaces an older generation of "repented" celebrities who have found religion.

It's a message also sent by popular televangelists, like Amr Khaled, who preach a new image of women. These new religious leaders have also spawned mushrooming "halaqat" religious study circles, gathering bourgeois Cairo residents.

Also popular is the veiled doll, Fulla -- the Islamic world's answer to Barbie, banned by Saudi police as a "Jewish doll" ostensibly sporting the scandalous clothing of a perverted West. - Sapa-AFP"

Although there is some debate of what the Koran states and what is "tradition" It seems that the following quote is noteworthy:

"Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Allah is high and supreme."
-Koran Surah 4:34

Holy See concerned about lack of religious freedom worldwide

28 October, 2006
Holy See concerned about lack of religious freedom worldwide
Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See underlined the importance of interreligious dialogue at every level and denounced the widespread abuse of religious freedom as a pretext to trample on human rights.

New York (AsiaNews) – The Holy See is “concerned about those situations where freedom of religion is used as a pretext for violating other human rights” and about places in many parts of the world where “freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities”. Thus, “the time has come for us to confront religious freedom, ever more vital for today’s global society”.

This was the thrust of an address made yesterday by Mgr Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, before the third Commission of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly.

At the beginning of his address, the prelate highlighted three themes “that merit particular attention: the coexistence of different religions and religious communities, the propagation of religion, including the sensitive issue of proselytism and the relationship between freedom of expression and religion.” To resolve these issues, “interreligious dialogue at all levels is of crucial importance not only for resolving disputes, but also for fostering peaceful coexistence that enables all religions to live side by side and in mutual respect.”

However, the Vatican delegation “is seriously concerned that freedom of religion or belief does not exist for individuals and communities, especially among religious minorities, in many parts of the world.” The delegation is also “concerned that the high level of religious intolerance in some countries is leading to an alarming degree of polarization and discrimination.”

Mgr Migliore continued: “While religious tolerance is sometimes characterized as accepting or permitting those religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own, the time has come to move beyond this type of religious tolerance, and to apply instead the principles of authentic religious freedom.”

The Vatican observer said: “Religious freedom is the right to believe, worship, propose and witness to one’s faith. It grants the opportunity and creates the occasions for people to profess freely the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, it includes the right to change one’s religion and to associate freely with others in order to express one’s religious convictions. Religious tolerance is simply a starting point, a basis for universal religious freedom and there cannot be full religious tolerance without an effective recognition of religious freedom.”

Historically, he added, “tolerance has been a contentious issue among believers of different faiths. However, we have come to a turning point in history which demands more of us, including a commitment to interreligious dialogue. At the same time, my delegation is increasingly convinced of the indispensable importance of reciprocity, which, by its very nature, is apt to ensure the free exercise of religion in all societies.”

The Holy See “continues to be concerned by a number of situations where the existence of enacted or proposed legislative and administrative measures for placing limits on the practice, observance or propagation of religion is a reality. Likewise, the Holy See is concerned with those situations where religion or freedom of religion is used as a pretext or a justification for violating other human rights.”

Moreover, there are cases “of intolerance when group interests or power struggles seek to prevent religious communities from enlightening consciences and thus enabling them to act freely and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice. Likewise, it would be intolerant to denigrate religious communities and exclude them from public debate and cooperation just because they do not agree with options nor conform to practices that are contrary to human dignity.”

In conclusion, the prelate recalled that “in our diverse and ever-changing world, religion is more than an internal matter of thought and conscience. It has the potential to bind us together as equal and valuable members of the human family. We cannot overlook the role that religion plays in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting the imprisoned. Nor should we underestimate its power, especially in the midst of conflict and division, to turn our minds to thoughts of peace, to enable enemies to speak to one another.”

He added: “Religion is a vital force for good, for harmony and for peace among all peoples, especially in troubled times.”

25 October 2006

OBESSION: the movie

I recently watched the documentary movie OBSESSION.

The Movie brings together alot of the information that is out there about radical islam in a nice little box with a bow on top. The movie has been circulating among the corridors of the Pentagon and several other office buildings inside the beltway of late.

The movie traces the radical islam movement back to an alignment between Hitler and Muslim radial leadership at that time. It''s interesting to see the parallels of propaganda, including almost the exact same artwork, used by Hitler then and radical muslim now.

It is worth picking up and seeing.

You might also find the following video informative:

24 October 2006

Global ecosystems 'face collapse'

This just in from the BBC:

Global ecosystems 'face collapse'

Greater demand for land is threatening species' long-term survival (WWF-Canon/Michel Gunther)
Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned.
The group's biannual Living Planet Report said the natural world was being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history".

Terrestrial species had declined by 31% between 1970-2003, the findings showed.

It warned that if demand continued at the current rate, two planets would be needed to meet the demand by 2050.

The biodiversity loss was a result of resources being consumed faster than the planet could replace them, the authors said.

They added that if the world's population shared the UK's lifestyle, three planets would be needed to support their needs.

The nations that were shown to have the largest "ecological footprints" were the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Finland.

Paul King, WWF director of campaigns, said the world was running up a "serious ecological debt".

"It is time to make some vital choices to enable people to enjoy a one planet lifestyle," he said.

"The cities, power plants and homes we build today will either lock society into damaging over-consumption beyond our lifetimes, or begin to propel this and future generations towards sustainable one planet living."

The report, compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network, is based on data from two indicators:

Living Planet Index - assesses the health of the planet's ecosystems
Ecological Footprint - measures human demand on the natural world
The Living Planet Index tracked the population of 1,313 vertebrate species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from around the world.

Earth enters 'ecological debt'

It found that these species had declined by about 30% since 1970, suggesting that natural ecosystems were being degraded at an unprecedented rate.

The Ecological Footprint measured the amount of biologically productive land and water to meet the demand for food, timber, shelter, and absorb the pollution from human activity.

The report concluded that the global footprint exceeded the earth's biocapacity by 25% in 2003, which meant that the Earth could no longer keep up with the demands being placed upon it.

'Large-scale collapse'

One of the report's editors, Jonathan Loh from the Zoological Society of London, said: "[It] is a stark indication of the rapid and ongoing loss of biodiversity worldwide.

"Populations of species in terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems have declined by more than 30% since 1970," he added.

"In the tropics the declines are even more dramatic, as natural resources are being intensively exploited for human use."

The report outlined five scenarios based on the data from the two indicators, ranging from "business as usual" to "transition to a sustainable society".

Under the "business as usual" scenario, the authors projected that to meet the demand for resources in 2050 would be twice as much as what the Earth could provide.

They warned: "At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological assets and large-scale ecosystem collapse become increasingly likely."

To deliver a shift towards a "sustainable society" scenario would require "significant action now" on issues such as energy generation, transport and housing.

The latest Living Planet Report is the sixth in a series of publications which began in 1998.

22 October 2006

U.S. delays buying emergency oil

"U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve
The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest stockpile of government-owned emergency crude oil in the world. Established in the aftermath of the 1973-74 oil embargo, the SPR provides the President with a powerful response option should a disruption in commercial oil supplies threaten the U.S. economy. It also allows the United States to meet part of its International Energy Agency obligation to maintain emergency oil stocks, and it provides a national defense fuel reserve.

The recently enacted Energy Policy Act of 2005 directs the Secretary of Energy to fill the SPR to its authorized one billion barrel capacity. This will require the Department of Energy to complete proceedings to select sites necessary to expand the SPR to one billion barrels."
U.S. delays buying emergency oil
Move keeps more oil on the market through winter heating season.
October 2 2006: 5:50 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Energy Department said Monday it will hold off buying replacement oil for the nation's emergency petroleum stockpile through the winter heating season in order to keep more supplies on the market.

To help make more oil available for producing gasoline over the summer and help lower then-soaring pump prices, President Bush in April ordered the Energy Department to delay deliveries and purchases of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until this autumn, which began Sept. 22. The department needs to replace some 11 million barrels of crude oil that it sold last year from the stockpile for $600 million to oil companies that needed help after Hurricane Katrina disrupted petroleum supplies.

However, the department expects to delay buying that replacement oil during the winter, when demand for heating oil is strong, according to department spokesman Craig Stevens. "Right now, I think we're comfortable with that amount that's in the reserve. We certainly don't want to effect the market too greatly by doing anything [to reduce available winter supplies]," Stevens told Reuters.

"Even if we started purchasing [the 11 million barrels] today, it would take us several months to take that kind of deposit. But there is no plan as of right now to begin that purchase," he said. The department has said it wants to wait until oil prices are much lower before it buys the replacement crude.

The department also loaned oil refineries about 10 million barrels of reserve crude after Katrina. Most of that has been returned to the stockpile, except for about 1.7 million barrels that the department deferred for delivery until the April-June period next year. Supplies already appear plentiful heading into the winter.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories, not including what is held in the reserve, total about 325 million barrels, well above the upper end of the average range for this time of year, according to the latest data from the Energy Department.

The reserve now holds about 688 million barrels of oil at four underground storage sites in Texas and Louisiana. That is equal to about 56 days of U.S. petroleum imports.

The emergency stockpile was created by the Congress in the mid 1970s after the Arab oil embargo.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve -
Quick Facts and Frequently Asked Questions

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a U.S. Government complex of four sites created in deep underground salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast that hold emergency supplies of crude oil.

Current inventory: Click to open inventory update window
Highest inventory - The SPR reached its highest level of 700.7 million barrels in late August 2005. The Hurricane Katrina loans and sales reduced it during Fall 2005.
Current storage capacity - 727 million barrels
Current days of import protection in SPR - 59 days
(Maximum days of import protection in SPR - 118 days in 1985)
International Energy Agency requirement - 90 days of import protection (both public and private stocks)
(SPR and private company import protection - approx. 118 days)
Average price paid for oil in the Reserve - $27.73 per barrel

Drawdown Capability
Maximum drawdown capability - 4.4 million barrels per day
Time for oil to enter U.S. market - 13 days from Presidential decision

Past Sales
2005 Hurricane Katrina Sale - 11 million barrels
1996-97 total non-emergency sales - 28 million barrels
1990/91 Desert Shield/Storm Sale - 21 million barrels
(4 million in August 1990 test sale; 17 million in January 1991 Presidentially-ordered drawdown)
1985 - Test Sale - 1.1 million barrels

Past Exchanges
**June 2006 - exchanged 750 thousand barrels of sour crude with ConocoPhillips and Citgo due to the closure for several days of the Calcasieu Ship Channel to maritime traffic. The closure resulted from the release of a mixture of storm water and oil. Action was taken to avert temporary shutdown of both refineries.
**January 2006 - exchanged 767 thousand barrels of sour crude with Total Petrochemicals USA due to closure of the Sabine Neches ship channel to deep-draft vessels after a barge accident in the channel. Action was taken to avert temporary shutdown of the refinery.
**Sep/Oct 2005- exchanged 9.8 million barrels of sweet and sour crude due to disruptions in Gulf of Mexico production and damage to terminals, pipelines and refineries caused by Hurricane Katrina.

21 October 2006

Bad History: What the Right Says About the Constitution

Bad History: What the Right Says About the Constitution
Facts to Help You Set the Record Straight
Rob Boston
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Silver Spring, Maryland

Far Right groups often make false claims about constitutional history in an effort to "prove" that separation of church and state was not intended by the nation's founders or that the United States was founded to be a "Christian nation." This article refutes these claims and others made by the Far Right.

Far Right groups frequently argue that separation of church and state is a myth or that the concept was not intended by the nation's founders. Several different Far Right groups spread this view, including Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, James Dobson's Focus on the Family, The Rutherford Institute and TV preacher D. James Kennedy.

Much misinformation about the history behind separation of church and state may be traced to David Barton, a Texas-based propagandist who attacks separation of church and state in books and videos. Barton's materials contain numerous errors, distortions and half truths. His book The Myth of Separation, although heavily footnoted, is riddled with factual errors. Nevertheless, Barton's revisionist history is appearing with increasing frequency in Far Right circles and is leaching into the
secular media by right-wing activists who write letters to the editor and op-ed columns regurgitating Barton's bad history.

It is important, therefore, that pro-separation activists learn to respond to some of the Far Right's common distortions about separation of church and state. The following list of myths and facts was prepared by Americans United for Separation of Church and State with help from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. It is by no means exhaustive but touches on some of the Far Right's most common claims. For help in responding to specific Far Right assertions not covered here, please feel free to contact the author.

MYTH: Separation of church and state is not in the U.S. Constitution. It is true that the literal phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, but that does not mean the concept isn't there. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

What does that mean? A little history is helpful: In an 1802 letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association, the-president Thomas Jefferson declared that the American people through the First Amendment had erected a "wall of separation between church and state," echoing religious freedom advocate Roger Williams who a century earlier alluded to the "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."

James Madison, considered to be the Father of the Constitution and author of the First Amendment, said in an 1819 letter, "[T]he number, the industry and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church and state." In an earlier, undated essay (probably early 1800s), Madison wrote, "Strongly guarded...is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States."

As eminent church-state scholar Leo Pfeffer notes in his book, Church, State and Freedom, "It is true, of course, that the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear in the Constitution. But it was inevitable that some convenient term should come into existence to verbalize a principle so clearly and widely held by the American people....[T]he right to a fair trial is generally accepted to be a constitutional principle; yet the term 'fair trial' is not found in the Constitution. To bring the point even closer home, who would deny that 'religious liberty' is a constitutional principle? Yet that phrase too is
not in the Constitution. The universal acceptance which all these terms, including 'separation of church and state,' have received in America would seem to confirm rather than disparage their reality as basic American democratic principles."

MYTH: Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists was a mere courtesy and should not be regarded as important. Far Right activists have tried for decades to make light of Jefferson's "wall of separation" response to the Danbury Baptists, attempting to dismiss it as a hastily written note designed to win the favor of a political constituency. But a glance at the history surrounding the letter shows they are simply wrong.

Jefferson clearly saw the letter as an opportunity to make a major pronouncement on church and state. Before sending the missive, Jefferson had it reviewed by Levi Lincoln, his attorney general. Jefferson told Lincoln he viewed the response as a way of "sowing useful truths and principles among the people, which might germinate and become rooted among their political tenets."

MYTH: The Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they were worried that a national religion was about to be established. Not true. The Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they were tired of being treated like second-class citizens in Connecticut and being forced to pay church taxes. The Baptists knew of Jefferson's views in favor of religious freedom for all and wrote to tell him that they hoped his views would be adopted throughout the country.

MYTH: Thomas Jefferson later said his "wall of separation" was meant to be one-directional and designed to keep "Christian principles" in government. This statement is a complete fabrication and appears nowhere in Jefferson's writings; he never said it. Jefferson's writings indicate beyond a doubt that he believed separation would protect both church and state. If anything, most scholars believe Jefferson was more concerned about the church harming the state than the other way around.

MYTH: The United States was founded as a Christian nation. Most of the first Europeans to arrive on our shores were religious dissenters who sought religous freedom, and many believed they were establishing some type of Christian utopia. But many supported religious liberty only for themselves, and some of the early colonies were theocracies where only those who worshipped according to state orthodoxy were welcome. All but four colonies had some form of an established church.

Following the American Revolution, political leaders began to construct the new U.S. government. Although a minority clung to European notions of church- state union, a general consensus emerged that the new country should steer clear of officially established religion. States with government-supported religions also began moving toward separation. Massachusetts, the last state to maintain an official religion, disestablished its state church in 1833.

During the Constitutional Convention, a minority faction favored some recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, but their views were overruled. Many framers had seen the dangers of church-state union in Europe and in the colonies; they wanted no part of such a system for the federal government. Thus, the Constitution does not mention God, Jesus Christ or Christianity. In fact, the only reference to religion is in Article VI, where the founders provided that there could be no religious test for public office.

MYTH: The Supreme Court has declared that the United States is a Christian nation. In the Supreme Court's 1892 Holy Trinity Church v. United States decision Justice David Brewer wrote that "this is a Christian nation." Brewer's statement occurred in dicta, a legal term meaning writing that reflects a judge's personal opinion, not an official court pronouncement that sets legally binding precedent. From the context of the quote, it is clear that Brewer only intended to acknowledge that Christianity has always been a dominant force in American life.

Brewer clarified his views in a book he published on the "Christian nation" concept in 1905. In the volume, Brewer argues that the United States is "Christian" only in the sense that many of its traditions are rooted in Christianity and rejects the notion that the nation's laws should be based on Christianity.

MYTH: The First Amendment's religion clauses were intended only to prevent the establishment of a national church. If all the framers wanted to do was ban a national church, they had plenty of opportunities to state exactly that in the First Amendment. In fact, an early draft of the First Amendment read in part, "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief, nor shall any national religion be established...." This draft was rejected as too weak. The historical record shows clearly that the framers wanted to ban "multiple establishments," that is, a system by which the government funds or supports many religions on an equal basis.

Far Right groups are aggressively spreading myths like this and deceiving many well-meaning people with their anti-church and state separation propaganda. Activists who support the separation principle must respond promptly to these myths every time they appear.

NOTE: This article is a condensed version of a piece that originally appeared in Church & State, March 1992, Vol. 45, No. 3.
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Copyright 1994 by Radical Right Task Force
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America's Africa Corps

America's Africa Corps
By Jason Motlagh

The United States is moving closer to setting up an Africa Command to secure the rear flank of its global "war on terrorism", with eyes trained on vital oil reserves and lawless areas where terrorists have sought safe haven to regroup and strike against its interests.

At a Monday briefing on plans to restructure US defense policy, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelmen disclosed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military brass were close to a decision over a proposal to anchor US forces on the African continent, creating a new command to encompass all security operations.

Analysts said the move would herald a fundamental shift in US policy that champions an active approach toward fledgling states prone to breed extremism, though more tangible needs are also at stake.

A Pentagon spokesman tempered the announcement with the caveat that such a move required an official process that would take time and had yet to begin. But one official noted that talks were "intense" and another stressed that internal debate was stronger than it was six months ago and appeared to be on the verge of a positive verdict.

The United States at present oversees five separate military commands worldwide, and Africa remains divided among three of them: European Command covers operations spanning 43 countries across North and sub-Saharan Africa; Central Command oversees the restive Horn of Africa; and Pacific Command looks after Madagascar. All three maintain a low-key presence, largely employing elite special operations forces to train, equip and work alongside national militaries. A perceived vulnerability to al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations, however, has fueled calls for a more aggressive security posture in Africa.

"We do have a strategic interest in Africa, and we have been attacked," a leading US government Africa specialist told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "Whether you have 1,000 people or 10,000, what we're doing requires our active presence both from training special forces, coordination and tracking down some of the extremist elements ... That requires really having a physical presence and the ability to deploy."

CentCom commander General John Abizaid last March spelled out to the Senate Armed Services Committee the burgeoning security threats facing Horn of Africa and the dire need for robust action. Emblematic of most of the continent at large, they include extreme poverty, corruption, internal conflicts, uncontrolled borders and territorial waters, weak internal security, broken infrastructure and natural disasters, among others. "The combination of these serious challenges," he said, "creates an environment that is ripe for exploitation by extremists and criminal organizations."

Just months later, the decision was made to raise the military profile in Africa in what may prove a precursor to an all-encompassing command. Washington has committed to spend US$500 million on the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI ), an expanded program headed by EuCom that provides military and development aid to nine Saharan countries deemed to be fertile ground for groups - such as the deadly Algeria-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) - looking to establish Afghanistan-style training grounds and carry out other illicit activities. The TSCTI represents a colossal upgrade from the Pan-Sahel Initiative, its $7 million forerunner.

But critics counter that military-centric policies could backfire and breed radicalism where it hardly exists by sustaining despotic regimes that usurp funding and military hardware to tighten their grip on power. A report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, said the Saharan region is "not a terrorist hotbed" and warned that certain Saharan governments try to elicit US aid while using the "war on terror" to justify human-rights abuses.

CentCom, for its part, operates the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a discreet hub formed in the aftermath of the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed at least 301 people and put Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network on the map.

A number of al-Qaeda operatives are said to be hiding in the Horn, Somalia specifically, and they continue to pose a grave threat to US interests in the region, which demands the presence of some 1,800 troops tasked with detecting and disrupting terrorist schemes. US intelligence has also used the base to coordinate activities around the Horn; the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly bankrolled an alliance of warlords that were driven out of the capital, Mogadishu, by Islamist militia this summer.

Somalia, a special case, has been without a functioning government for the past 14 years and is known beyond a doubt to have harbored members of al-Qaeda. Still, the unnamed government analyst, who just returned from an extensive fact-finding mission to the failed state, insists that the vast majority of Somalis are not hostile toward the United States despite the infamous Black Hawk Down disaster of 1993 and the recent Islamist takeover. "Somalis are not anti-American by nature, they are pro-West," he said. "Engagement is vital as it helps gather better intelligence, understand people, and it's cheaper."

Other observers say that thirst for another kind of security is the driving force behind a probable Africa Command: energy.

Nigeria already stands as the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, and energy officials say the Gulf of Guinea will provide a quarter of US crude by 2010, placing the region ahead of Saudi Arabia (other major producers include Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Gabon and the Congo Republic). A surging demand for fossil fuels in Asia and an unpredictable political climate in the Middle East prompted the administration of US President George W Bush four years ago to call West African oil a "strategic national interest" - a designation that reserves the use of force to secure and defend such interests if necessary.

The question then arises as to where exactly the new command would be best headquartered. The answer may be Sao Tome and Principe, one of Africa's smallest countries, consisting mainly of two islands at the western bend of the continent. Concerns over fanning anti-Americanism, proximity to oil reserves - some of which are said to be untapped beneath its own waters - and overall security make this the obvious choice, John Pike, director of military studies group GlobalSecurity.org, told Asia Times Online. "This island seems destined to be America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Guinea, much like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in the Pacific."

Military planners like the idea of an offshore presence since its reduces the impression of a neo-colonial maneuver, Pike said, adding that so far there has been a clear preference within EuCom and CentCom to lie low and work through African institutions to train troops and strengthen security. According to Pike, the coup-wary Sao Tome government likes the idea of a US presence, and the two sides have been "playing footsie for a number of years now". The Defense Department declined comment.

While odds are against the price of oil ever going back down significantly, today it remains a freely traded commodity on the international market with no strings attached as to who owns concessions. But some experts are convinced this arrangement will come to an end in the not so distant future, making military power and leverage paramount.

"We can see how the US would want to move and make preparations for that day when it matters whom states will turn to for protection," Pike said. "When that day comes, the US wants to ensure key states are looking its way."

Jason Motlagh is deputy foreign editor at United Press International in Washington, DC. He has reported freelance from Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean for various US and European news media.

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