April 2010 Archives

3.7 million gallons of oil to pour into Gulf of Mexico?

The BBC reports:

Rear Adm Mary Landry, who is in charge of the government clean-up effort, said work on sealing the leaks using several robotic submersibles could take months.

About 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil a day are gushing into the sea.

That’s 1.26 million gallons of oil per month.

If stopping the leak takes three months, the Gulf of Mexico would be flooded with nearly FOUR MILLION GALLONS of oil!

Again, I ask why wasn’t the oil extraction industry required to keep a rapidly deployable giant dome available to cap and siphon up such a leak?

Posted by James on Apr 28, 2010

Anatomy of Pentagon lies

I’d like to believe that what we read in The New York Times or The Washington Post is credible, accurate, honest, factual and well-sourced. But newly released video evidence of the July 12, 2007 massacre is totally at odds with the reported “facts.”

How did The Washington Post cover these cold-blooded murders? By repeating U.S. military lies, lies the military shamelessly told even though it knew Reuters — which lost two employees in the attack — would press for the truth:

“U.S. soldiers in eastern Baghdad clashed with Shiite militiamen on Thursday, leaving at least 11 Iraqis dead and an unknown number injured, including two children hit by shrapnel from a U.S. helicopter attack, according to American soldiers who took part in the mission.”

…During the fighting, an Apache helicopter fired bursts of 30mm rounds toward several people who had been directing machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. soldiers. The helicopter also fired on a silver Toyota minivan in the area as several people approached the vehicle, soldiers said….

An officer who saw a medical report about the children said they were injured by shrapnel from the Apache strafing….

It was unclear whether the journalists had been killed by U.S. fire or by shooting from the Iraqis targeted by the Apache….

The Apache crew fired because militants “were endangering the stability of Iraq” and because they had positive identification that the militants “had weapons and were using them against coalition and Iraqi security forces,” said Maj. Brent Cummings, the battalion’s executive officer. “No innocent civilians were killed on our part deliberately. We took great pains to prevent that. I know that two children were hurt, and we did everything we could to help them. I don’t know how the children were hurt.”

Virtually the entire report unquestioningly repeats the military’s fabricated story. About the only truth is a mention that “[Reuters] Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in what a preliminary Iraqi police report described as a ‘random American bombardment,’ Reuters reported.”

This isn’t journalism. It’s a U.S. military transcription service.

Posted by James on Apr 06, 2010

AP calls cold-blooded murder "firefight"

WikiLeak’s release of U.S. military video showing U.S. soldiers murdering a group of unthreatening men — including two Reuters employees — as they stood in an Iraqi street offers a rare opportunity to compare objective reality against what journalists reported.

Immediately after the murders, the military spread lies, and The Washington Post dutifully repeated those lies, almost verbatim.

But the media’s response to the release of this video is even more scandalous. First, this news has been — predictably — buried under a pile of junk news. When hard evidence emerges showing U.S. soldiers eagerly murdering civilians and journalists, that should be the headline in every paper across America. But I can’t find any mention of it at Google News' main page. And it’s not among MSNBC’s 50+ front-page stories that include these hot stories:

  • Will jotting down license plates pay the rent?
  • Do you have management potential?
  • Sheridan sues ‘Housewives’ creator for assault
  • Scoop: NYT doesn’t seem to understand ‘Idol’
  • Obama ‘disappointed’ with historic first pitch
  • First family kicks off annual Easter Egg Roll
  • Sponsors hope Tiger returns with marketing roar
  • Rate ’em! How did the stars do on ‘Dancing’?
  • Tidbits: Jon’s ex calls ‘Bombshell’ trash
  • Battle of the behemoths: ‘Dancing’ vs. ‘Idol’
  • Air-travel etiquette in the 21st century
  • Aspen Mountain extends ski season by 2 weekends

MSNBC judges these stories more important than video showing U.S. soldiers enthusiastically murdering unarmed journalists.

And look at how the story has been covered.

AP frequently misleads readers by slanting articles in pro-military, pro-Republican ways. True to form, AP titled its article “AP source confirms video on Internet of firefight where Reuters photographer believed killed” and then re-uses the word “firefight” in the second paragraph. No! It was not a “firefight”!

“Firefight” is defined as: “An exchange of gunfire, as between infantry units,” “(Military) a brief small-scale engagement between opposing military ground forces using short-range light weapons”

  • There was no exchange of gunfire.
  • There was no engagement.
  • There was no opposing military force. Most or all of the men killed appeared unarmed.
  • The U.S. military didn’t engage with short-range light weapons. It attacked without warning from attack helicopters perhaps miles away.
  • Even if some of the men were armed (which I doubt), the second-round attack — on a Good Samaritan with two kids in his van who tried to get the wounded journalist to a hospital — had absolutely nothing in common with a “firefight”!

By repeatedly calling the massacre of civilians a “firefight,” AP lies to readers, tricking them into thinking, “OK, we killed some bad guys who were attacking us.”

The article does say “some of [those killed] were unarmed,” but its phrasing implies some killed had weapons when it’s doubtful any of those attacked had weapons. If weapons had been found, the military would have eagerly told reporters. The U.S. military may have succeeded in murdering the only group of completely unarmed men in Iraq, and much of the U.S. media is ignoring or misrepresenting the story.

Posted by James on Apr 06, 2010

A wonderful, horrible story of a father, a husband, a man

I actually cried as I read this wife’s beautiful, haunting story of her 59-year-old husband’s passing.

I won’t ruin it by trying to choose “the best parts.” But I’ll offer up this wonderful line:

How could a son who’d been red-eyed for days write something that wouldn’t break everyone’s heart, I worried. Yet he immediately put everyone at ease, drawing an opening laugh of recognition with: “If this were a real and proper tribute to Dad, then this eulogy would have started about 10 minutes ahead of schedule.”

Posted by James on Apr 09, 2010

Buying justice(s)

When ABC News approaches Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, he warns “you’re liable to get shot” before manhandling their video camera.

And that’s the NICEST thing we learn about Blankenship in this ABC News story illustrating how thoroughly Blankenship has corrupted justice in West Virginia. Blankenship has repeatedly wined and dined West Virginia Supreme Court Justices in West Virginia and exotic locales, including the French Riviera.

He even bought — for $3.5 million — his own WV Supreme Court Justice, who went on to serve as acting Chief Justice in a ruling that threw out a $76 million verdict against Massey.

Posted by James on Apr 13, 2010

Chinese Communist Party should embrace Internet as tool to reform itself

Nicholas Kristof tells the (in)famous story of Lao Tzu attempting to train women to fight. After the women repeatedly break out in giggles, Lao Tzu beheads their two leaders. The remaining women immediately began taking the training extremely seriously.

Kristof writes:

That’s the kind of historical tale that members of China’s Politburo absorbed while growing up — and reflect today. In battles over Google and the currency exchange rate, they model the hardheaded Sun Tzu, accepting that making omelets will require breaking eggs. So look out.

…[T]he leaders appear to worry about a fragile society and the risk that a rise in unemployment could lead to vast social upheaval.

That’s one of the reasons China is adamantly refusing to let the renminbi rise further. There’s no question that China’s undervalued currency irresponsibly creates global imbalances — but if you’re in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, your concern is just staying in power.

While the Chinese leadership has legitimate fears, I think they’re foolish to clamp down so repressively on information. The best response to people’s hunger for knowledge isn’t censorship but openness.

Internet-fueled public pressure would greatly reduce two of China’s most serious problems: rampant corruption and pollution. A more open Internet would also help attract foreign-trained Chinese back to China and give citizens a greater sense of ownership in (or, at least, connection to) their government (esp. if citizens see public pressure gradually improving their government). And the Chinese people are already inclined — partly through decades of indoctrination — to take the Chinese government’s position on sensitive issues, like Taiwan and Tibet.

If the Chinese government could set aside its bunker mentality and its false belief that repression is the best response to almost any political or social issue, it would realize it’s overestimating the downsides of an open Internet and underestimating the many long-term benefits… not only for Chinese society as a whole but also for the Chinese Communist Party itself. By embracing the Internet as a tool to reform itself, the CCP’s standing, stature and legitimacy in citizens' eyes would rise dramatically as it transformed China into a better nation and itself into a better government.

Posted by James on Apr 01, 2010

Daddy, why don't people like dandilions?

Since Spring began, my 3-½-year-old boy has repeatedly asked me why people don’t like dandilions. Daryl’s a fan. He thinks they’re pretty flowers, and he enjoys blowing their seeds.

I’ve tried — with little success — to convince him that many people don’t like dandilions because their ideal lawn is uniformly green. I’ve also explained that, while I too think dandilions are pretty, our neighbors wouldn’t appreciate it if we let them grow in our lawn. Daryl just can’t believe people want their lawns to have only grass — and a single type of grass at that.

For the past five years, I’ve refused to apply chemicals (other than organics, like corn gluten meal) or water our lawn. I’ve read a fair amount about organic lawns and greatly prefer them because they’re sustainable (consuming far fewer resources), robust (because they aren’t addicted to chemical fertilizers), more alive (because earthworms and other insects like natural dirt), healthier for insects and birds (because it’s not contaminated with pesticides), healthier for people (esp. our kids), healthier for the environment (because so many lawn chemicals get washed away by the rain), and less demanding of our time (because not babying a lawn with lots of water and fertilizer encourages the growth of self-sustaining grass with deeper roots).

Organic lawns are also, arguably, prettier. But beauty is subjective. My lawn is most definitely not the neighborhood’s prettiest, but it’s far from the ugliest. And every year it seems to look a bit better than the previous year. I pulled most dandilions by hand a few years ago (my back still remembers), so my lawn is mostly dandilion free… though two neighbors across the street have quite a few and keep “giving” us more. But I’ve given up worrying about this patch of clover or that patch of grass which stays brown longer than my other grass. If splotches of grass grow much faster than the rest, I yank them because I don’t want to have to mow more often because 5% of my grass grows much faster. For the most part, I’m at peace with my mostly green lawn with many different kinds of grasses (and a few non-grasses).

But one next door neighbor’s lawn looks like Fenway Park, and I feel guilty that my lawn falls so short of his ideal (even though his chemical-and-water-intensive approach falls so far from my ideal). Because his is the “accepted” approach, I feel guilty. I’m not alone. Robert Wright today states his case for embracing dandilions while sharing his guilt:

As I’ve told my neighbors, I feel bad about lowering the value of their property. I mean, it isn’t my goal to have a front yard that, by standard reckoning, is unattractive. The unkept look of my lawn is just a byproduct of a conclusion I reached a few years ago: the war on weeds, though not unwinnable, isn’t winnable at a morally acceptable cost.

Most of the comments endorse Wright’s approach. Here are some from the first of seven pages of comments:

  • Dandelions are healthier than than any green vegetable, e.g. spinach, broccoli. Thousands of Europeans survived on them in World War II, as my family did during the great depression…. I shall harvest some tomorrow in locations I have kept secret for years, rince them thoroughly and scramble them in olive oil with fresh eggs. A breakfast to die for.

  • [The dandilion] is an alien, brought here by the early Colonists for its medicinal benefits—the root is a diuretic, and the young leaves were a welcome Spring potherb. The flowers make a delicious wine and cordial.

  • in Portland, Oregon… people have decided to NOT HAVE LAWNS !!! We have removed all the grass from our yard and planted shrubs, flowers, and laid some stone—— really great and beautiful!

  • A weed is any plant that grows where one does not want it to grow. Mr. Wright’s dandelions are naturalized wildflowers in his lawn and menacing weeds in the neighboring lawns. Lush, weed free suburban lawns might be beautiful to look at but are the least environmentally sound alternative for any home. A meadow of native wildflowers and grasses is the smartest, most environmentally sound alternative. It attracts butterflies and good insects, doesn’t require watering, mowing or chemicals and the end result can also be quite beautiful to look at as it changes with the seasons.

  • get rid of the grass altogether, and plant a vegetable garden or fruit trees

  • Maybe if I email this article to my wife she will stop complaining about all the dandelions in the yard.

  • All our natural bodies of water are experiencing eutrophic changes due to the nutrient-rich fertilizer run-off entering them from our yards. People like to blame agriculture, and there is plenty of blame to go around, but most fertilizer run-off is from lawns.

  • There is a wonderful trend occuring in our town that produces lawns that are are individual as the owner of the property: the replacement of grass all together. Some reove the grass bit by bit and place flowers or vegetables where the sterile swath of grass used to be. Others have planted fruit trees and ground cover. Our front and back laws now consist of indiginous plants (all less than 30" tall, as required by local ordinance) with vegetables tucked in here and there. Our treelawn is being slowly converted from all grass to low-growing, nitrogen-fixing white clover. The result is lots of green but no mowing, no watering, no fertilizing. The benefits are endless: there are a lot of butterflies, humming birds, song birds, praying mantis families, 3 different types of bees and a very lovely aroma coming from plants that cool the yards in the heat of summer. It is a pleasure to come home from work to find local children gazing in wonder at all of the birds and insects in the middle of a 100 + year old inner-ring suburb. Thanks again for your commentary. And let’s hope more people embrace lawns that are not toxic waste dumps.

  • I got a break some years ago when a new neighbor moved next door and his lawn began to look worse than mine which is somewhat weedy with violets and dandelions and watered only by rain. The rest of the neighborhood is chemically enhanced. Then he lost his job and, with time on his hands, started paying much more attention to his grass with frequent and noisy mowing, edging, blowing, bagging, sprinkling, and fertilizing. I saw him this week frowning at my dandelions. I hope he finds work soon.

  • What’s with the love of chemicals anyway? All I can surmise is clever marketing playing on a consumers laziness.

One interesting dissenter:

  • What Robert Wright fails to recognize that if, as is generally the case, most people in his area desire dandelion-free lawns – and dandelions are a non-native, aggressively invasive species – then his annual dandelion seed generating exercise is a problem, not a solution. His downwind neighbors will use more aggressive herbicide treatments to kill the new dandelions that he is sending them every year.

Posted by James on Apr 21, 2010

Dawn of potentially revolutionary era in computing

Hewlett-Packard announced today that they’ve succeeded in building “memristors”:

simpler than today’s semiconducting transistors, [memristors] can store information even in the absence of an electrical current and, according to a report in Nature, can be used for both data processing and storage applications.

The researchers previously reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they had devised a new method for storing and retrieving information from a vast three-dimensional array of memristors. The scheme could potentially free designers to stack thousands of switches in a high-rise fashion, permitting a new class of ultradense computing devices even after two-dimensional scaling reaches fundamental limits…

“Our brains are made of memristors,” [Dr. Chua] said, referring to the function of biological synapses. “We have the right stuff now to build real brains.”

…The most advanced transistor technology today is based on minimum feature sizes of 30 to 40 nanometers — by contrast a biological virus is typically about 100 nanometers — and Dr. Williams said that H.P. now has working 3-nanometer memristors that can switch on and off in about a nanosecond, or a billionth of a second.

He said the company could have a competitor to flash memory in three years that would have a capacity of 20 gigabytes a square centimeter….

The H.P. technology is based on the ability to use an electrical current to move atoms within an ultrathin film of titanium dioxide. After the location of an atom has been shifted, even by as little as a nanometer, the result can be read as a change in the resistance of the material. That change persists even after the current is switched off, making it possible to build an extremely low-power device.

Posted by James on Apr 08, 2010

Department of Murdering Scary Looking Guys

Calling the U.S. military the “Department of Defense” is rather absurd because:

  1. The U.S. military’s global presence makes the Roman Empire seem parochial: “The forces of the United States military are located in nearly 130 countries around the world”.

  2. The continental United States hasn’t been invaded since The War of 1812.

Let me suggest a new name — “Department of Murdering Possibly Bad Guys,” given the following soldier’s claim that the horrific video (of U.S. soldiers murdering a wounded, crippled, weaponless, defenseless man and his would-be Good Samaritan rescuer) is fully representative of the past seven years' U.S. occupation of Iraq:

[M]y personal bias as an Active Duty US Soldier will ultimately show through in the end. I’m currently deployed to a region in southeast Baghdad, near where this incident took place, and the Rules of Engagement that dictate the use of lethal force [require] 51% certainty that the individual represent a threat to you or another US Soldier…

90% of what occurs in that video has been commonplace in Iraq for the last 7 years, and the 10% that differs is entirely based on the fact that two of the gentlemen killed were journalists.

War is a disgusting, horrible thing. As cliche as that excuse has become, for people to look at the natural heartbreaking nature of it and say that they’re somehow anomalous just shows how far people who have not experienced war have to go to understanding it.

Posted by James on Apr 08, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell (mega-corporation edition)

All you unemployed Americans, there are jobs for you in China!

Plenty of opportunity to earn overtime, too, thanks to the standard 80-hour workweek.

In 2007 and 2008, before the worldwide recession, workers were at the factory 97 hours a week while working 80 ½ hours. In 2009, workers report being at the factory 83 hours a week, while working 68 hours.

Wages are rising!

Effective take home wages — after factory deductions for food — were 43 cents an hour in 2006-2007 and 52 cents an hour to date.

Time off is available:

Three days off a month.

Plus, you often don’t have to work through your lunchtime:

It was also common, on average at least twice a week, for the workers to have to remain working through one hour of their lunch break.

And, if you finish your quota of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift early, you might even get a bathroom break:

  • Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours. As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.

  • Security guards sexually harass the young women.

  • Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To “shower,” workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. Workers describe factory food as awful.

  • Not only are the hours long, but the work pace is grueling as workers race frantically to complete their mandatory goal of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer months when factory temperatures routinely reach 86 degrees, workers are drenched in sweat.

  • There is no freedom of movement and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.

Did Microsoft care that it has been exploiting these workers since at least 2006?

The workers did tell us that Microsoft representatives have visited and walked through the KYE factory, always being accompanied by mid and high-level managers. On these walk-throughs, U.S. company representatives hardly ever speak to the workers.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” isn’t just for gay soldiers. It’s true in sweatshops around the world.

I’ve never liked Microsoft. This investigative report would make me dislike Microsoft even more, if Microsoft were in any way exceptional. Sadly, Microsoft is but one of countless global corporations eager to exploit dirt cheap manual laborers to save a few pennies per product sold.

If Microsoft’s a junkie, China’s a pusher. It’s almost equally hard to blame China because many other governments similarly allow their citizens to be exploited by global corporations. As the report notes,

If there is even one corner of the world where the right to freely organize and collectively bargain is not guaranteed, then capital, like a serial criminal, will search out that place. Justice can only be won when corporations are held legally accountable to respect the checks and balances of workers rights.

The best solution is making “free trade” contingent on fair treatment of workers and environments. Countries that systematically allow companies to exploit their employees or despoil their air and water should be cut off from world trade until they adhere to common standards of decency.

Posted by James on Apr 15, 2010

Drill, baby, drill

This NASA satellite photo of the horrific Gulf of Mexico oil spill was taken two days ago, on April 25th:

Image of Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Oil is already killing marine life in the Gulf, and it will most certainly reach land and cause horrific damage.

Just two days earlier, on April 23rd, the Coast Guard said no oil was leaking from the sunken rig:

No oil appeared to be leaking from a drilling rig that exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard said Friday… Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said Friday morning that no oil appeared to be leaking from a well head at the ocean floor, nor was any leaking at the water’s surface.

The Gulf of Mexico is about to suffer an unthinkable environmental catastrophe, especially if this much oil floated to the surface in just two days (though perhaps the Coast Guard misdiagnosed the problem or reported inaccurately to avoid admitting this catastrophe so close to Earth Day).

The best hope to stop this is a dome that is estimated to take 2 to 4 weeks to build. Drilling another hole to slow the flow of oil from the leaking hole could take three months! So, short of a miracle, this slick will grow larger and thicker for weeks.

I want to know why — if a dome is the best response to such a leak — no such dome is available for immediate deployment?!?! Did we think offshore oil rigs were invulnerable? Or did we not want to burden the oil extraction industry with the cost of preparing for an inevitable disaster?

Posted by James on Apr 27, 2010

Expert calls failure to limit damage following oil leak "unconscionable"

An oil leak response expert is outraged by the (non-)response to the horrible Gulf of Mexico leak:

Federal officials should have started burning oil off the surface of the Gulf last week, almost as soon as the spill happened, said the former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ron Gouget, who also managed Louisiana’s oil response team for a time, said federal officials missed a narrow window of opportunity to gain control of the spill by burning last week, before the spill spread hundreds of miles across the Gulf, and before winds began blowing toward shore.

He also said the heavy use of dispersants, which cause oil to sink, has likely knocked so much oil into the water column that portions of the Gulf may be on the threshold of becoming toxic to marine life. Add in the oil spreading into the water as it rises from the seafloor, and Gouget said he expected officials would have to think about limiting the use of the dispersants.

“There was a threshold of about 35 part per million for oil in the water. Above that, white shrimp larvae died in the laboratory. I don’t know where the levels are now in the Gulf, but that is something they will have to keep an eye on,” Gouget said.

Gouget, now an environmental consultant with Windward Associates in Seattle, was part of the group that created the 1994 plan designed to allow federal responders to begin burning oil as soon as a major spill occurred, without an approval process.

“They had pre-approval. The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away instead of waiting ten days to get permission,” Gouget said…

Asked why officials waited for a week before conducting even a test burn, Gouget said, “Good question. Maybe complacency was the biggest issue. They probably didn’t have the materials on hand to conduct the burn, which is unconscionable.” …“It may have been a political issue. The burn would make a big big plume and lots of soot. Like Valdez, the decisions to get the resources mobilized may not have occurred until it was too late,” Gouget said. “This whole thing has been a daily strip tease. At first they thought it was just the diesel, then they said the well wasn’t leaking. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get the burning going right away. They could have gotten 90 percent of the oil before it spread.”

The long non-response and repeated false “everything’s just fine” claims sure make me wonder whether they were more concerned about the negative impact on public support for offshore drilling than saving the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted by James on Apr 30, 2010

Extracting false confessions

A Washington Post editorial says, “The Bush administration made waterboarding almost routine.”

Yet veteran interrogators all know that if you want the truth, the worst interrogation technique is torture because torture leads victims to say absolutely anything, not reveal the truth.

So, why did the CIA torture and torture and torture a few Al Qaeda leaders and then destroy the tapes, as former CIA agent Robert Baer writes in Time:

in 2005, the then-head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes of the interrogation in Thailand of two al-Qaeda suspects. The tapes were then destroyed, but that’s where the trail ends. We can only guess whether Rodriguez acted on his own authority or on the orders of a higher-up. And then there’s the question of why the tapes were destroyed. Did the CIA want to destroy graphic evidence of sleep-deprivation or waterboarding? They were interrogation methods approved by the Department of Justice in memos sent to the CIA, and therefore shouldn’t have been deemed a legal problem. The closest thing we come to answer is an internal CIA e-mail released last Thursday, in which an unidentified CIA officer writes that Rodriguez decided to destroy the tapes because they made the CIA “look horrible; it would be devastating to us.”

…a former CIA officer aware of the details of the 2002 interrogation of the two al-Qaeda suspects told me that the tapes' images were “horrific.” He believes that although the interrogations fell within the guidelines provided by the Department of Justice, if the public ever saw them, it would conclude that “enhanced interrogation” is just another name for torture.

Why would the CIA use such brutal methods — with the apparent legal approval of the president — and then destroy the tapes?

Perhaps they repeatedly tortured because they wanted to get prisoners to confess to certain things:

Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen.

The CIA was torturing Al-Qaeda leaders:

According to a recently released Justice Department memo, CIA operatives subjected two al-Qaeda leaders — alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and high-level lieutenant Abu Zubaida — to 266 episodes of waterboarding. Mr. Mohammed is said to have been waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 — for an average of six episodes a day of what has been described as among the most terrifying and brutal forms of coercive interrogation. Mr. Zubaida was subjected to water torture 83 times during August 2002. There is no mention of how many times a third detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded.

What kind of false confession might they have wanted? How about this:

“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” Mohammed said in a statement read Saturday during a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Robert Baer immediately called KSM’s “confession” completely unreliable:

It certainly suggests the Administration is trying to blame KSM for al-Qaeda terrorism, leading us to believe we’ve caught the master terrorist and that al-Qaeda, and especially the ever-elusive bin Laden, is no longer a threat to the U.S.

But there is a major flaw in that marketing strategy. On the face of it, KSM, as he is known inside the government, comes across as boasting, at times mentally unstable. It’s also clear he is making things up.

KSM proudly confessed to 31 attacks and planned attacks that he lacked the intelligence, connections and resources to carry out:

Mohammed described himself as Osama bin Laden’s operational director for the Sept. 11 attacks and as al-Qaeda’s military operational commander for “all foreign operations around the world.”

He claimed to have been “responsible” for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Richard Reid’s attempt to ignite a shoe bomb on an airliner over the Atlantic Ocean in December 2001, and the October 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.

Mohammed also said he plotted to assassinate several former presidents, including Jimmy Carter, a scheme not previously revealed.

Mohammed described several other plots that never came about, such as attacks on buildings in California, Chicago and Washington state, and on the New York Stock Exchange.

Despite his statements, it is unclear how much involvement he could have had in the 31 separate attacks he listed. The Sept. 11 commission described Mohammed as a flamboyant operative who developed grandiose plans for attacks even as other al-Qaeda leaders urged him to focus on the Sept. 11 plot.

One of those plans revealed Mohammed as captivated by “a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star — the superterrorist,” the commission wrote.

It’s far more likely the Bush Administration used torture to extract false 9/11 confessions from the low-competence and mentally unstable KSM than KSM was remotely competent enough to pull off 9/11.

Posted by James on Apr 23, 2010

FBI: Incompetent or covering up murders?

The deadly anthrax attacks that followed 9/11 were highly sophisticated. The anthrax escaped sealed envelopes and killed postal workers and even an old woman whose letter was perhaps briefly near one of the infected letters. The anthrax sent to leading Democratic Senators, Senate Judiciary chariman Pat Leahy and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was military-grade biowarfare quality… as good as anything the U.S. or former Soviet Union could produce. Very few people in the world know how to make it, and only a subset of those people possess the expensive equipment to create it.

Further, whoever sent the letters covered their tracks exceptionally well and/or have powerful friends in Washington who prevented a real investigation of the evidence.

Immediately after the letters arrived, the Bush Administration immediately tried — without evidence — to blame Saddam Hussein:

At first, the finger was pointed at Saddam Hussein, but the focus quickly shifted to a home-grown perpetrator, when molecular typing made clear that the strain used was a laboratory strain, the Ames strain, which was originally isolated in the US. I remember that forensic applications of whole-genome sequencing were discussed at a meeting I attended in Florida in November 2003. At that meeting I met Paul Keim who did the anthrax typing and Jacques Ravel who was doing the genome sequencing. The talk in the bar was that the epidemiological typing results delayed the start of the Iraq war by at least a year, because unless Saddam had been ruled out, the Bush Administration would have used the Amerithrax incident as a pretext for invasion (of course, they found other reasons anyhow).

Instead of trying to find the murderers (likely plural, given the difficulty of producing and sending such sophisticated anthrax), the FBI fixated on Dr. Steven Hatfill. The FBI hounded him for years, attacked him in the press and did everything short of charge him with the crime. Hatfill steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and fought back, eventually winning a $5.82 million settlement from the government.

The FBI then shifted its spotlight to Bruce Ivins, a socially awkward man. The FBI pushed Ivins even harder than they had pushed Hatfill. U.S. Army colonel Dr. Lawrence Sellin writes:

It has been reported that Ivins underwent a similar degree of harassment and subjected to an equivalent amount of leaking of confidential information as Hatfill, before the case was officially closed in February 2010. The FBI allegedly told Ivins' children that he was a murderer, showed them photos of the victims and offered his son cash and a sports car if he turned against his father.

Perhaps the only difference between the two was Hatfill’s ability to withstand the pressure.

Eventually, Ivins apparently committed suicide. Whether he really killed himself or was murdered, Ivins' death was most convenient for the FBI because its target could no longer defend himself.

Most microbiologists who have studied the evidence against Ivins are extremely skeptical of the FBI’s case and Ivins' involvement. This is true of both microbiologists who knew Ivins and those who didn’t. Nevertheless, the FBI has closed its investigation.

In 2008, one of the world’s top bioweapons experts, Richard Spertzel, wrote “Bruce Ivins Wasn’t the Anthrax Culprit” in The Wall Street Journal:

Let’s start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.

Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled.

What’s more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a “product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before.” Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That’s what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time.

Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air, and increased their retention in the lungs.

In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the Department of Homeland Security as “according to the Russian recipes” — apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge.

The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax’s DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might have made the product…

The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.

The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying “to reverse engineer” (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs. Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why should federal investigators or the news media or the American public believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?

Now, some who worked with Ivins for years are agreeing with Spertzel that not only is the evidence against Ivins ridiculously weak but that Ivins could not POSSIBLY have carried out these attacks:

A former Army microbiologist who worked for years with Bruce E. Ivins… told a National Academy of Sciences panel on Thursday that he believed it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory, as the F.B.I. asserts.

Asked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, the microbiologist, Henry S. Heine, replied, “Absolutely not.” At the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Maryland, where Dr. Ivins and Dr. Heine worked, he said, “among the senior scientists, no one believes it.”

Dr. Heine told the 16-member panel… that producing the quantity of spores in the letters would have taken at least a year of intensive work using the equipment at the army lab. Such an effort would not have escaped colleagues’ notice, he added later, and lab technicians who worked closely with Dr. Ivins have told him they saw no such work.

He told the panel that biological containment measures where Dr. Ivins worked were inadequate to prevent the spores from floating out of the laboratory into animal cages and offices. “You’d have had dead animals or dead people,” he said….

Asked why he was speaking out now, Dr. Heine noted that Army officials had prohibited comment on the case, silencing him until he left the government laboratory in late February.

…[Anthrax] from the flask were widely shared, Dr. Heine said. Accusing Dr. Ivins of the attacks, he said, was like tracing a murder to the clerk at the sporting goods shop who sold the bullets.

“Whoever did this is still running around out there,” Dr. Heine said. “I truly believe that.”

I’ve read about this case with great interest and have always believed Ivins was innocent. Given the FBI’s need to “solve” this case, did it pick out Ivins as the most easily framed and suicide-prone? Or did the FBI make an honest mistake and simply choose to reject the conclusion reached by many, many top microbiologists and biological weapons experts?

Could the FBI be covering up for a small group of military biowarfare experts who carried out the attacks, perhaps because they believed the attacks would compel Congress to dramatically increase funding for “defensive” biological weapons research? Since letters were mailed to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Democratic Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy — who were best positioned to prevent passage of the Orwellian PATRIOT Act — and were quickly used to “justify” attacking Iraq, it’s quite plausible the letters were sent by Americans pursuing the Bush Administration’s agenda. This suspicion is even more plausible because White House officials began taking Cipro on 9/11 and secretly advised favored reporters to start taking Cipro, days before the first anthrax letters were mailed.

It’s even more plausible still when you realize that Dr. David Kelly, one of the world’s top biological weapons experts, was murdered, almost certainly because he had begun speaking out against the British government’s groundless claims about Iraq’s biological weapons program:

This now infamous “45-minute claim” fed through to the dossier of intelligence which was used as the justification for our involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

It was this dossier, and the 45-minute claim in particular, that David Kelly challenged in his crucial interview with the BBC.

By doing so, did he sign his own death warrant?

The “dodgy dossier” with its frightening 45-minute claim bolstered support for attacking Iraq. The author of the dossier’s first draft, John Williams, has confessed it was a lie. And the dossier’s final author, Sir John Scarlett, has also confessed. Sir Scarlett was not punished… he was rewarded for supporting the false claims, by being appointed head of MI6!

Though Dr. Kelly was obviously murdered, the British government investigation absurdly concluded he committed suicide. One Member of Parliament was so disturbed by the overwhelming medical evidence and widespread medical testimony contradicting the suicide claim that he quit his job to investigate full time, eventually declaring his conviction Dr. Kelly had been murdered:

The more I examined [Lord Hutton’s inquiry], the more it became clear to me that Hutton’s judgment was faulty and suspect in virtually all important respects.

I was not alone in these suspicions. Letters began to appear in the press from leading medical specialists, in which they queried the suicide verdict.

The letters were well argued, raising profound and disturbing questions that remain unanswered to this day.

Increasingly concerned, I decided to give up my post on the Liberal Democrat front bench to look into Dr Kelly’s death.

My investigations have since convinced me that it is nigh-on clinically impossible for Dr Kelly to have died by his own hand and that both his personality and the other circumstantial evidence strongly militate against suicide.

Given that his death was clearly not an accident, that leaves only one alternative – that he must have been murdered.

Who had the motive, means and opportunity to concoct false evidence against Saddam Hussein — both weaponized anthrax attacks in America and false claims Saddam could launch a WMD attack within 45 minutes — and the motive, means and opportunity to cover up the true culprits?

Posted by James on Apr 23, 2010

Fed rips off taxpayers to benefit JPMorgan Chase and Bear Stearns creditors

The Federal Reserve should have been closely monitoring Bear Stearns and forced it into restructuring as Bear Stearn’s net equity (assets less liabilities) approached zero.

Instead, the Fed let Bear Stearns continue operating until it had racked up massive debt.

At this point, the Fed should have said to Bear Stearns' creditors, “Well, Bear Stearns has negative equity, so it can’t pay you in full but will give you XX cents on the dollar.”

Instead — the Fed finally revealed right before this three-day holiday, during which Congress is on recess — the Fed stripped out Bear Stearns' worst investments, including “liar loans,” and paid Bear Stearns tens of billions of dollars more for them than they were then worth!

After effectively injecting tens of billions of dollars into Bear Stearns, the Fed then let JP Morgan Chase buy — practically for free — Bear Stearns stripped of its crippling debt, creating an even-bigger-than-too-big-to-fail bank.

How bad was the garbage the Fed overpaid for?

“To say this portfolio is a pile of junk is being unkind to junk,” David Zervos, Jefferies & Co. global fixed-income strategist, wrote in a note Thursday.

(As outrageous as this story is, I’m even more outraged by how hard it is to find articles about it.)

Posted by James on Apr 02, 2010

"Food, Inc." airing on PBS

We are what we eat. And we’ve reshaped our planet to provide us with what we eat, too.

So I was thrilled to see that the PBS show “P.O.V.” is now airing the movie “Food, Inc.” on many PBS stations.

I’ve seen clips from the movie and am excited to watch the whole movie. I encourage you to watch too.

For more info, visit the official movie website. “Food, Inc.” has an excellent 7.9 rating on IMDB.com, so many people have enjoyed it and/or found it worthwhile.

Posted by James on Apr 23, 2010

GE and Exxon pay no U.S. taxes; they shouldn't have unlimited "free speech"

The Supreme Court recently granted corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts to buy favorable U.S. election results. Corporations can bribe contribute to any candidate’s election or run massive ad campaigns against any legislator who refuses to do their bidding. They don’t even need to spend the money. They just need to say to legislator X, “Vote the wrong way on this legislation and we’ll give your next opponent $25 million.”

Here’s the (right-wing controlled) Supreme Court’s “logic”:

  1. Corporations are American citizens
  2. American citizens have a right to free speech
  3. Free speech equals the right to spend millions or even billions of dollars advocating for your views, for your favored legislative candidates and against legislators you oppose

The first claim is patently false. It’s “We the people,” not “we the corporations.” Mega-corporations are not American citizens.

In fact, most mega-corporations aren’t even American corporations! Most have huge global operations. General Motors, to name but one example off the top of my head, now makes most of its profit in China.

And the third claim is absurd. Even citizens' rights to contribute cash to political candidates is limited.

But here’s where I really get lost. Imagine that I — perhaps because of this wonderful blog — earned $10 billion last year… but didn’t pay a dime in taxes. What would happen to me? My assets would be seized, and I’d be thrown in prison. My wife too, because she also signs our tax returns.

Well, then how does GE — an “American” company — earn $10.3 billion last year and not only pay no income tax but even generate “a tax benefit of $1.1 billion”??? And why should GE be able to spend whatever it wants influencing U.S. elections when it doesn’t pay a dime on its $10 billion in profits???

Similarly, Exxon earned $35 billion last year, but “of $15 billion in income taxes last year, Exxon paid none of it to Uncle Sam”. Chevron, which earned $18.5 billion paid $0.2 billion in U.S. taxes. Bank of America earned $4.4 billion but paid NEGATIVE $1.9 billion. Forbes explains, “With a provision for credit losses of $49 billion, Bank of America probably won’t be paying taxes for a long time.”

These companies are earning billions — even tens of billions — of dollars in profit, paying no taxes, yet it getting unlimited “free speech” to buy U.S. election results?!?!?!

How can these firms do this? One golden loophole Washington gives global corporations: The right to defer — forever — paying U.S. taxes on overseas profits. That’s a loophole American citizens abroad don’t get. U.S. citizens earning money abroad still owe U.S. taxes on those earnings. The IRS explains:

Income from Abroad is Taxable…

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you must report income from all sources within and outside of the U.S….

You will face serious consequences if the IRS finds you have unreported income or undisclosed foreign financial accounts. These consequences can include not only the additional taxes, but also substantial penalties, interest, fines and even imprisonment.

The IRS should add “…unless you’re a corporation, in which case you can disregard this and not pay any taxes on overseas earnings, unless you want to.”

And corporations aren’t even content with this golden goose! Companies then use accounting gimmicks to book artificial profits outside of America and book artificial expenses inside America, thus pretending most of their American profit is actually overseas profit: “figures tax economist Martin Sullivan, companies are keeping some $28 billion a year out of the clutches of the U.S. Treasury by engaging in so-called transfer pricing arrangements, where, say, Microsoft’s overseas subsidiaries license software to its U.S. parent company in return for handsome royalties (that get taxed at those lower overseas rates)”.

That GE could pay no taxes on $10 billion in profits and Exxon none on $35 billion proves that corporations already owned Washington before the outrageous Supreme Court ruling. Now, this problem will only feed further on itself.

Can’t we at least agree corporations that pay no U.S. taxes can’t buy U.S. politicians?

Posted by James on Apr 05, 2010

GOP puppet masters fool some of the people all of the time (and kill some too)

Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship refuses to hire union employees and pays lawyers to fight government fines for his mine safety violations rather than fix those safety violations.

Blankenship’s greed just cost 25 to 29 of his employees their lives:

The company that runs the West Virginia mine where an explosion killed at least 25 workers frequently sidesteps hefty fines by aggressively contesting safety violations, including recent problems with the ventilation system that clears away combustible methane gas….

Massey Energy Co., which owns the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of Monday’s explosion, is still contesting more than a third of all its violations there since 2007. In the past year, federal inspectors have proposed more than $1 million in fines for violations at the mine in Montcoal, W.Va. Only 16 percent have been paid.

Among the violations that have been appealed are the company’s two largest fines on record, assessed in January for problems with the mine’s ventilation systems….

Investigators still don’t know what ignited Monday’s blast but believe concentrated methane may have had something to do with it. The mine has a history of violations for not properly ventilating the highly combustible gas, which is common in coal deposits.

What makes Mr. Blankenship even more fiendishly repugnant is his use of Massey Energy money to fund 2009’s Labor Day Tea Party.

By breaking laws to skimp on safety, Blankenship exploits his non-union workers to maximize profit. He then pours some of that profit into a political movement that tricks desperate, bitter, disillusioned, frustrated people with the most to gain from unions, government programs, and government regulation into opposing these as the reasons for America’s dire predicament.

So many Americans have been intellectually crippled by our horrid K-12 school system and god-awful media that tens of millions of poor- and middle-class Americans are easily manipulated by corporate money and media into perceiving policies that would improve their lives (like an expansion of health care access) as dangerous threats rather than beneficial solutions.

Greedy manipulators like Don Blankenship are pulling their strings.

Posted by James on Apr 07, 2010

"Homeowner bailout" really (another) bank bailout

According to The New York Times, “As of the third quarter of last year, more than 10 million homeowners — or about one in eight — owed more than 120 percent of their homes’ worth, according to Moody’s Economy.com. Nearly 4.6 million owed 50 percent more than their homes’ value.” Also, “About seven million households are behind on their mortgage payments.”

Who will bear the losses from these 10+ million “underwater” homes? If the “owners” of these underwater homes all vacated tomorrow, banks would eat the entire loss. But if those “owners” stay in those homes and continue making payments until the values of those homes exceed their outstanding mortgages, then banks would lose nothing.

Home “owners” are legally entitled to walk away and leave the loss on banks since mortgages are “no-recourse” contracts. Those contracts state what happens if the buyer defaults: the bank gets the house, no more and no less. Giant banks with trading desks are whining that underwater “buyers” are morally responsible to pay their bank loans in full. They’re being disingenuous because those giant banks walk away from bad deals whenever doing so saves them a buck.

House price appreciation from current low levels would completely benefit underwater lenders, not underwater “owners.” Why? If Mary and Bill “own” a house now worth $160,000 but still owe $200,000 on their mortgage, they can walk away from their home and let the bank eat the $40,000 loss. If Mary and Bill instead stay in the house until its value increases $40,000, their bank is $40,000 richer, but they would still walk away from their house with nothing because the entire $200,000 (plus all the additional mortgage payments they’ve made) would go to their bank. (Mary and Bill would, though, have avoided paying rent. But they’ve also damaged their credit rating.)

So banks don’t want underwater “owners” to walk away from their negative equity homes. If Bill and Mary mail the keys back to the bank, the bank loses Bill & Mary’s mortgage payments, the maintenance value of “owners” who keep the property safe and in good condition, and the property’s potential to rise in value. If Bill and Mary mail back the keys, they’ve effectively sold the $160,000 house back to the bank for the $200,000 they owe the bank. If Bill and Mary instead stay in the house until they sell the house for $200,000, the bank rakes in a $40,000 profit.

Now that the government is finally trying to address this massive problem, people are angry their taxes may help pay off private mortgage debt:

angry comments flooded in after the federal government announced it was expanding its program to assist unemployed homeowners, as well as borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are now worth.

Why, some asked on The New York Times Web site, should we have to pay for the mistakes of homeowners who lived far beyond their means when credit was easy to get? Shouldn’t they pay for their own mistakes?

I understand this anger, but people should realize this government program is (yet another) massive subsidy for BANKS at least as much as it is for home “owners” because banks profit when underwater “owners” keep making payments.

Bankers want to dissuade underwater borrowers from walking away from their homes, but banks also want to suck as much out of each borrower as they can without pushing them so far they walk away from their home. So, for example, Bank of America has rolled out what it calls a “targeted principal reduction program”, which is a nice way to say, “Get as much from each borrower as we possibly can.” Bank of America offers no help to people who are still making their payments or to people whose homes aren’t worth much less than their remaining mortgage balances. BofA offers principal write-downs only to “delinquent consumers with specific, deeply troubled loans” and “delinquent borrowers who are ‘underwater.’”

Here’s proof Bank of America foregives debt only when it believes doing so maximizes its profits:

What we have discovered is many customers with high loan-to-value ratios, even if you make the payment affordable, that’s really not enough for them. They may choose to walk away from their home versus sign up for the modification if they don’t have some chance for equity in the near-term future. Thirty percent (of underwater, delinquent customers) ignored all offers until we had the magic words “principal reduction” built into it. The successful modification can often make it cheaper [for Bank of America] because a modification the customer accepts and then redefaults still ends up being very expensive. The modification that’s sustainable ends up being cheaper.

Wells Fargo does the same: “We offer a principal reduction if that makes sense for that individual borrower’s situation.”

Banks are pursuing what economists call “price discrimination.” They’re trying to give breaks only to those underwater home “owners” who will otherwise walk away from their homes:

Many banks don’t want word to get around that they reduce principal. They fear that homeowners who can afford their payments will demand better deals. John Lashley, a 44-year-old salesman in Huntersville, North Carolina, is making his payments. But he is thinking about walking away from his four- bedroom home unless his lender, Sun Trust Mortgage, agrees to cut the principal on his $345,000 loan.

The house next door recently sold for $260,000, and Lashley doesn’t see the point of pouring money into his house when he may never recoup the investment he made in 2007. “Why should I stay in my house?” he says. “It’s not a moral decision. It’s a financial decision.”

But if banks continue being so stingy, more people will walk away from their homes and home prices will keep falling:

to truly break the cycle of declining home values, most experts agree that mortgage servicers must reduce the principal of the mortgage…. As part of the expanded program, the Treasury is being paid higher incentives to erase principal. But some experts say they think banks will continue to drag their feet, which will prolong the foreclosure crisis.

Indeed, Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, argued that both the Bush and Obama administrations had focused too much on making house payments affordable, based on income levels, and not enough on reducing debt.

“What we are really doing is propping up the banks in another way,” he said. “They are very powerful politically and they are very good at getting the government to give them money. So I think that’s why we don’t deal with the real simple problem, which is negative equity. Banks believe, and they are probably right, that there are probably some homeowners they can squeeze the money out of and they don’t want to give up the opportunity to squeeze such people.”

In fact, banks have fancy models that predict the likelihood any particular borrower will default on her/his mortgage. They can and do use such models to maximize profit by giving likely-to-default borrowers just enough debt reduction to convince them to pay off their mortgage.

Because of this, programs promising to help underwater homeowners are really helping banks far more than homeowners. They’re just the newest hidden bank bailouts.

(Paying off underwater mortgages was the bank bailout we should have STARTED with, not finished with. Paying off mortgages that had been packaged into CDOs and then re-packaged many times over in various CDSes could have avoided hundreds of billions in CDS payments, like those the U.S. government paid to Goldman and other banks on behalf of AIG.)

Posted by James on Apr 28, 2010

Honey, may I keep all my books now?

My wife frequently bugs me urges me to throw away some of the “junk” I’ve accumulated, mostly piles of books I’ve bought the past 25 years.

I’m far more selective about the books I purchase now and actually do use a high proportion of my recent purchases. But in past decades I admittedly bought many books that I could probably part with… except that I can’t. The books I’ve read have sentimental value. And the garage half full of books I never got around to reading… well, how can I throw them away before I find time to read them?!?!

So I was thrilled to discover “Home Libraries Provide Huge Educational Advantage: Will your child finish college? The answer may be as close as your bookshelves, or lack thereof”, offering a great excuse to never — or, at least, till my 1-year-old leaves for college — toss my books:

After examining statistics from 27 nations, a group of researchers found the presence of book-lined shelves in the home — and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect — gives children an enormous advantage in school.

“Home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment, even adjusting for parents’ education, father’s occupational status and other family background characteristics,” reports the study, recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. “Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books.

“This is a large effect, both absolutely and in comparison with other influences on education,” adds the research team, led by University of Nevada sociologist M.D.R. Evans. “A child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library.”

This effect holds true regardless of a nation’s wealth, culture or political system, but its intensity varies from country to country. In China, a child whose parents own 500 books will average 6.6 more years of education than a comparable child from a bookless home. In the U.S., the figure is 2.4 years — which is still highly significant when you consider it’s the difference between two years of college and a full four-year degree.

In fact, I may need to go buy some more right now:

“Regardless of how many books the family already has, each addition to a home library helps the children get a little farther in school,” they report.

Posted by James on Apr 14, 2010

How the media pretends to cover stories it can't ignore

Any sane American who watches U.S. soldiers enthusiastically murder a Good Samaritan for helping a severely wounded and immobile man — and seriously wound the Good Samaritan’s children — would be outraged, especially after those soldiers then blame the victims.

So I’m outraged by widespread media coverage that completely ignores the most heinous portion of this incident (i.e., cold-blooded murder of an unarmed, defenseless journalist) and fixates on the most innocuous. I already covered AP’s lies about it being a “firefight”.

Well, reports of media malpractice are pouring in.

Apparently the “liberal” Ed Schultz whitewashed the whole affair:

He played a very small part of the video and totally took out the part where they shot up the makeshift ambulance who turned out to be a good samaritan with his two small children in the van. They killed these children’s father with absolutely no provocation and severely injured them in the process. In the discussion that followed with an MSNBC general none of these facts were ever mentioned and all they said was this followed the rules of engagement because they believed there was a threat and that they were carrying weapons. Then they shifted the topic to the pentagon not releasing this sooner. Not a single mention that 2 small children were badly injured, that their father was killed, and that there was absolutely no reason to shoot at that ambulance.

This is exactly how the Pentagon wants this issue covered: Show the most defensible portion of the video, ignore the rest, and then people won’t bother watching the entire video and seeing how horrific it is because they’ll believe they’ve already seen it.

Much of the media is following the Pentagon’s script. CNN’s “Situation Room” did exactly the same thing, showing only the portion of the video before shooting began and never mentioning the Good Samaritan.

CNN’s shameful, preposterous excuse for not showing any of the attacks: CNN’s respect for the victims' families. How dishonest! Those families (and the Reuters news agency) have been pressing for the release of this video for years. And the widowed wife and two wounded children allowed themselves to be interviewed by Al Jazeera. They WANT the truth to come out. They WANT Americans to see how their husband/father was murdered.

But the Pentagon and U.S. corporations that profit from war (like GE, which owns NBC & MSNBC) don’t want to you to see the truth, and they’re using every media trick to keep you from viewing this cold-blooded murder.

Posted by James on Apr 07, 2010

If the Tea Partiers were black...

Tim Wise asks us to imagine the reaction if blacks were doing what white Tea Partiers are doing:

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

Please read more of his thought experiment to consider many other shocking right-wing behaviors that would outrage average Americans if they were done by black people.

Posted by James on Apr 25, 2010

Jon Stewart offered much better plan than Fed, Bush or Obama

Jon Stewart repeatedly said bailout money should not go directly to banks but to the people to pay off their bank debt. I recall Jon also saying the government could pay off all subprime mortgages for far less money than it was handing banks.

For Main Street, Stewart’s plan was far superior. Banks loans would be repaid, but taxpayers would receive the windfall. Instead, government gave banks the money directly — and no relief to citizens whose house values had plunged — because Wall Street is far more powerful in Washington than Main Street.

One reason Stewart’s plan was much smarter is that the problem was far worse than borrowers' inability to pay off mortgage debt that in many cases now exceeded their homes' value. The real problem was that gamblers investors had placed massive side bets on those mortgages, so that $10 or $100 could be bet for every dollar in actual mortgage debt:

The mortgage investment that is the focus of the S.E.C.’s civil lawsuit against Goldman, Abacus 2007-AC1, didn’t contain any actual mortgage bonds. Rather, it was made up of credit default swaps that “referenced” such bonds. Thus the investors weren’t truly “investing” — they were gambling on the success or failure of the bonds that actually did own mortgages. Some parties bet that the mortgage bonds would pay off; others (notably the hedge fund manager John Paulson) bet that they would fail. But no actual bonds — and no actual mortgages — were created or owned by the parties involved….

While such investments added nothing of value to the mortgage industry, they weren’t harmless. They were one reason the housing bust turned out to be more destructive than anyone predicted. Initially, remember, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and others insisted that the damage would be confined largely to subprime loans, which made up only a small part of the mortgage market. But credit default swaps greatly multiplied the subprime bet. In some cases, a single mortgage bond was referenced in dozens of synthetic securities. The net effect: investments like Abacus raised society’s risk for no productive gain….

Congress should take up the question of whether parties with no stake in the underlying instrument should be allowed to buy or sell credit default swaps. If it doesn’t ban the practice, it should at least mandate that regulators set stiff capital requirements on swaps for such parties so that they will not overleverage themselves again to society’s detriment.

By paying off the underlying mortgages, Stewart’s plan would have helped Main Street while eliminating the need to make hundreds of billions in credit default swap payments… the very same credit default swap payments that bankrupted AIG and others, necessitating massive taxpayer bailouts.

No wonder investors who stood to earn billions from credit default swap payments — including Goldman Sachs, which gave Obama nearly $1 million during his presidential campaign and John Paulson, who raised money for both Democrats and Republicans — contributed so heavily in 2008. Their political “generosity” ensured they could collect on their billions in anticipated gambling profits that would have vanished had the government acted in the people’s interest.

Posted by James on Apr 20, 2010


Quick U.S. Constitution quiz. How do you answer?

The president has the power to order the assassination of a U.S. citizen. True or False?

I always believed the (obvious) answer to this question was “False.” The Constitution declares we’re entitled to a jury trial. But Constitutional law scholar and current President of the United States Barack Obama says I’m wrong:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki…

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.

But the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, told a House hearing in February that such a step was possible. “We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”

Who can grant permission to assassinate an American citizen without trial? Apparently, the president’s National Security Council:

People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford.

Both the C.I.A. and the military maintain lists of terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and its affiliates who are approved for capture or killing, former officials said. But because Mr. Awlaki is an American, his inclusion on those lists had to be approved by the National Security Council, the officials said.

With a jury trial, a judge and jury have faces, evidence is presented, testimony is given, and witnesses are cross-examined.

With this decision to assassinate an American, no one is taking any responsibility. The New York Times article offers no evidence of the man’s alleged crimes and is written almost entirely based on confidential statements from faceless, unnamed executive branchers:

  • “American counterterrorism officials say…”
  • “They say they believe…”
  • “…said an American official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke of the classified counterterrorism measures on the condition of anonymity.”
  • “…former officials said.”

Even some at the conservative National Review are scared by the idea of a Jack Bauer president murdering American citizens without trial:

[A]m I the only one who is just a little bit queasy over the fact that the president of the United States is authorizing the assassination of American citizens?

…Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens. It is not impossible to imagine a president who, for instance, sincerely believes that Andy McCarthy is undermining the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute the war on terror on the legal front. A government that can kill its citizens can shut them up, no? I ask this not as a legal question, but as a moral and political question: How is it that a government that can assassinate Citizen Awlaki is unable to censor Citizen McCarthy, or drop him in an oubliette? Practically every journalist of any consequence in Washington has illegally handled a piece of classified information. Can the president have them assassinated in the name of national security? Under the Awlaki standard, why not?

Posted by James on Apr 08, 2010

Krugman: Tiny economic growth reduction smarter than gambling our planet's future

An extended, thoughtful, informed Paul Krugman essay explains why we must urgently and substantially cut back our greenhouse emissions and presents the very happy news that reducing emissions won’t be expensive at all:

Just as there is a rough consensus among climate modelers about the likely trajectory of temperatures if we do not act to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases, there is a rough consensus among economic modelers about the costs of action. That general opinion may be summed up as follows: Restricting emissions would slow economic growth — but not by much. The Congressional Budget Office, relying on a survey of models, has concluded that Waxman-Markey “would reduce the projected average annual rate of growth of gross domestic product between 2010 and 2050 by 0.03 to 0.09 percentage points.” That is, it would trim average annual growth to 2.31 percent, at worst, from 2.4 percent. Over all, the Budget Office concludes, strong climate-change policy would leave the American economy between 1.1 percent and 3.4 percent smaller in 2050 than it would be otherwise.

And what about the world economy? In general, modelers tend to find that climate-change policies would lower global output by a somewhat smaller percentage than the comparable figures for the United States. The main reason is that emerging economies like China currently use energy fairly inefficiently, partly as a result of national policies that have kept the prices of fossil fuels very low, and could thus achieve large energy savings at a modest cost. One recent review of the available estimates put the costs of a very strong climate policy — substantially more aggressive than contemplated in current legislative proposals — at between 1 and 3 percent of gross world product.

Krugman tells us to ignore right-wing talking points about how expensive reducing emissions would be because their numbers are false:

[C]onservatives abandon all faith in the ability of markets to cope with climate-change policy because they don’t want government intervention. Their stated pessimism about the cost of climate policy is essentially a political ploy rather than a reasoned economic judgment. The giveaway is the strong tendency of conservative opponents of cap and trade to argue in bad faith. That Heritage Foundation broadside accuses the Congressional Budget Office of making elementary logical errors, but if you actually read the office’s report, it’s clear that the foundation is willfully misreading it. Conservative politicians have been even more shameless. The National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, issued multiple press releases specifically citing a study from M.I.T. as the basis for a claim that cap and trade would cost $3,100 per household, despite repeated attempts by the study’s authors to get out the word that the actual number was only about a quarter as much.

He suggests a workable carrot-and-stick approach to bring China and other nations along:

Imagine setting up cap-and-trade systems in China and the United States — but allow international trading in permits, so Chinese and American companies can trade emission rights. By setting overall caps at levels designed to ensure that China sells us a substantial number of permits, we would in effect be paying China to cut its emissions. Since the evidence suggests that the cost of cutting emissions would be lower in China than in the United States, this could be a good deal for everyone….

Suppose that China refuses to reduce emissions, while the United States adopts policies that set a price of $100 per ton of carbon emissions. If the United States were to impose such a carbon tariff, any shipment to America of Chinese goods whose production involved emitting a ton of carbon would result in a $100 tax over and above any other duties. Such tariffs, if levied by major players — probably the United States and the European Union — would give noncooperating countries a strong incentive to reconsider their positions.

And he says the most powerful argument for taking quick, decisive action is that we’re currently hitting the accelerator toward uncertainty and potential catastrophe:

We’re uncertain about the magnitude of climate change, which is inevitable, because we’re talking about reaching levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere not seen in millions of years. The recent doubling of many modelers’ predictions for 2100 [from about 4.5 degrees of warming to 9 degrees] is itself an illustration of the scope of that uncertainty; who knows what revisions may occur in the years ahead. Beyond that, nobody really knows how much damage would result from temperature rises of the kind now considered likely.

You might think that this uncertainty weakens the case for action, but it actually strengthens it. As Harvard’s Martin Weitzman has argued in several influential papers, if there is a significant chance of utter catastrophe, that chance — rather than what is most likely to happen — should dominate cost-benefit calculations. And utter catastrophe does look like a realistic possibility, even if it is not the most likely outcome.

Posted by James on Apr 08, 2010

Many CEOs' secret weapon: psychopathy

I don’t know whether Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is a true psychopath or only acting like one, but I’m betting his rise to power and wealth was facilitated by his primary job qualification: his lack of a conscience or concern for anyone but himself:

Blankenship, his opponents and supporters agree, simply has to get his way. Nothing illustrates this better than his fight with a maid earning $8.86 an hour. In 2001, Deborah May started working for Mate Creek Security, a company “related to Massey Energy,” according to court documents. When Mate Creek assigned her to work for Blankenship, according to the documents, May cleaned his three-story home, shopped, and did laundry. By 2005 she was also cleaning a bus, two cabins, and a mansion in Kentucky. She received one 30 cents hourly raise. After Blankenship said she would also have to care for a “German police dog,” according to the documents, she quit.

In November 2005, May applied for unemployment benefits, saying she was forced to leave the job. The state denied her claim, concluding she quit for no reason. In June 2008, West Virginia’s top court reversed the state’s denial of benefits. Two of the court’s justices said “the unrefuted evidence” showed that Blankenship “physically grabbed” the maid, threw food after she brought back the wrong fast-food order, and tore a tie rack and coat hanger out of a closet after she forgot to leave the hanger out for his coat. “This shocking conduct” showed May was in effect fired because she felt compelled to quit, the justices said. They said the conduct was “reminiscent of slavery and is an affront to common decency.”

When you don’t care about anyone else in the world, it’s easy — reportedly even pleasurable — to exploit people by union busting, telling Federal Government regulators to take a flying leap over dangerous conditions in your mines, bribing Supreme Court justices, and scaring your minimum wage maid into abject submission.

By law, corporate executives are required to care only about shareholder profit (except to the extent they’re constrained by other laws). And many corporations act that way, exploiting employees, ripping off customers, cheating on taxes, and ruining the environment on their way to higher profits. Blankenship’s greed has killed employees before:

In January 2006 a fire broke out in Massey’s Alma No. 1 mine, 60 miles from Charleston, W. Va. Two miners died and nine were hurt. The widows sued Blankenship, Massey, and Aracoma, the affiliate that runs the mine. Citing a memo Blankenship sent his mine superintendents in October 2005, the widows alleged he was personally responsible for safety problems. In the memo, he urged superintendents to ignore orders to do anything other than “run coal.” This included working on construction projects involving “overcasts,” ventilation controls that help keep the mines safe. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills,” Blankenship wrote.

It’s easier for psychopaths to (mis)behave this way because they not only don’t find inflicting pain and death on others abhorrent but even derive sick pleasure from it. Sadly, ordinary non-psychopathic humans can behave similarly after becoming desensitized to others' suffering.

For more information on psychopathy, visit Robert Hare’s website.

Posted by James on Apr 19, 2010

Media blackout of the anti-war movement

Marginalizing the anti-war movement has been a major media function since at least the Vietnam War.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) complained in September 2005 that the “Media shrug off mass movement against war”:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans around the country protested the Iraq War on the weekend of September 24-25, with the largest demonstration bringing between 100,000 and 300,000 to Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

But if you relied on television for your news, you’d hardly know the protests happened at all. According to the Nexis news database, the only mention on the network newscasts that Saturday came on the NBC Nightly News, where the massive march received all of 87 words.

A 2006 FAIR analysis showed the extreme pro-war bias extends even to the “liberal” PBS NewsHour:

The Iraq War was the most frequently featured subject on the NewsHour, with 81 segments and 276 sources. Despite the wide-ranging and international implications of the war, the discussion on the NewsHour was quite circumscribed. White men from the United States dominated the debate with 66 percent of all sources; Iraqi sources accounted for only 15 percent, and voices from other countries barely registered, at 3 percent. Among U.S. sources, 88 percent were white and 90 percent were men.

Current and former U.S. government and military officials constituted 57 percent of all sources, and journalists made up 15 percent. In the entire six months studied, not a single peace activist was heard on the NewsHour on the subject of Iraq….

Of the government officials, Republicans dramatically outnumbered Democrats, 72 percent to 28 percent. The imbalance was virtually the same when only live segment guests were considered (70 percent to 30 percent).

At the beginning of the Iraq War, a FAIR study (Extra!, 5–6/03) of six national news shows including the NewsHour found that they featured war supporters almost 24 times as often as war critics: 71 percent of sources took an explicit pro-war stance, vs. 3 percent expressing opposition. Despite PBS’s mandate to offer an alternative to commercial media, the NewsHour in that study fell closely in line with its commercial competition, with 66 percent pro-war sources vs. 3 percent antiwar.

The current study found the NewsHour to have a continued aversion to antiwar voices. During the period studied, polls found a large proportion of the U.S. public to be in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops; according to the CBS News poll (10/3–5/05, 1/5–8/06, 1/20–25/06), those in favor of having “U.S. troops leave Iraq as soon as possible” ranged from 59 percent to 44 percent, while those who supported keeping troops there “as long as it takes” fluctuated between 50 percent and 36 percent.

But watching the NewsHour, viewers might think there was almost no debate on the issue, let alone a sizable constituency favoring withdrawal. Of the 276 NewsHour sources who discussed Iraq, only 53 expressed an opinion on the subject of U.S. troop withdrawal, and only eight of those sources argued in favor of a timetable for withdrawal. (None argued for immediate withdrawal.) Rep. John Murtha (D.-Penn.) accounted for five of those pro-withdrawal sources, meaning only three different voices were heard on the NewsHour advocating withdrawal. Those arguing against withdrawal (41 sources) outnumbered the pro-withdrawal sources by more than 5-to-1, while four sources took a middle position critical of the Bush “stay the course” strategy without advocating a timetable. Among live guests, the imbalance grew to more than 10-to-1, with 22 sources arguing against withdrawal, two in favor, and two taking a middle position.

And this rant complains that the pro-war conspiracy extends to media (non)coverage of anti-war protests:

For 8 years I attended over 20 massive protests in DC & NYC

Some of those protests had over 500k attendees. I remember a protest in Sept of 2003 when Bloomberg wouldn’t give us a permit to march. We ended up shutting down lower Manhattan thru Times Square – that takes a TON of people to manage that.

Why did we gather? Mainly to protest a war we felt was start without any reason. Sure there were a few nut jobs in our group but for most of us we were everyday regular folks who had something to say and gathered in unity to say it.

Did we get front page news everytime we gathered? Not really. Were we covered all the time on mainstream news – nope. We were lucky we got coverage on C-Span and even then C-Span would give equal coverage to the counter protest that maybe has 100 people gathered.

The Mainstream Media poo-pah’d us as irrelevant but yet bend over backwards to promote way smaller gatherings of white folks who haven’t figured out yet they benefit from what is going on with the Obama administration.

The Tea Party is nothing more than a bunch of fringe fanatics who are hypocrites of the system. Their protests are all about “ME” and “My Money”, “My Guns”. Whereas our protest were about illegal wars – soldiers being sent to die, civilians caught in the crossfire, illegal practices of torture.

I guess if we were a bunch of angry 50+ white folks protesting maybe they would have taken notice. Instead we were a cross-section of American – All colors, all nationalities, a regular melting pot of American Society. I guess that doesn’t sell well on MSM.

Posted by James on Apr 20, 2010

Money for nothing

Like money?

Like easy money?

No, this is not a late-night infomercial trying to scam you out of your paycheck unemployment check.

Just open a bank and the Fed will shower you with free money:

The easiest and most profitable risk-adjusted trade available for the banks is to borrow billions from the Fed — at a cost of around half a percentage point — and then to lend the money back to the U.S. Treasury at yields of around 3 percent, or higher, a moment later. The imbedded profit — of some 2.5 percentage points — is an outright and ongoing gift from American taxpayers to Wall Street.

You’re welcome.

And now for the truly obscene part. By keeping interest rates so stubbornly low — and by remaining committed to doing so — the Fed is crushing the rest of us, especially senior citizens on fixed incomes and those who have rediscovered saving in order to have some peace of mind.

For instance, despite my bank calling it a “premier platinum savings” account, I am getting a measly 0.15 percent interest rate. On my “premier platinum checking” account, the interest rate is 0.01 percent. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal recently, Charles Schwab pointed out that there is more than $7.5 trillion in American household wealth stored in short-term, interest-bearing checking, savings and CD accounts. (The average interest rate for a one-year CD is 1.3 percent.)

Our savings is another source of virtually free capital for banks to use to lend out at much higher rates.

About a year ago, I attended a finance conference at Bloomberg. Someone in the audience asked Yale economist Robert Shiller about the chasm between the low rate banks were paying the Fed to borrow and the high rate banks were demanding from borrowers. Shiller replied the spread reflected simple market equilibrium; rates were high because risk to lenders was high. Wrong answer. The Fed was giving the banking industry an incomprehensibly large gift of free money (on top of about $12.8 trillion in junk investments the Fed secretly bought from bankrupt banks for 100 cents on the dollar), and competition among lenders had declined due to further government-approved bank consolidation, even as the entire world worried about “too big to fail.”

The financial crisis may have waned, but borrowers, lenders and taxpayers all continue to be fleeced to enrich banks that should have been restructured by wiping out all equity holders and firing their “leaders.”

The media and government are trying to bamboozle us into believing that if the Federal Government recoups its $700 billion in TARP payments we will have done well on our “investments.” But, for all the cash taxpayers pumped in when banks had single-digit stock prices (which were only non-zero because investors guessed — correctly — the government would rescue the banks) and the risks we bore, we should OWN the banks and be receiving as windfall profits on our investments ALL the record profits banks are currently “earning.” Taxpayers deserve all those profits. Instead, if we’re lucky, we’ll get our TARP money back while tens of billions in bank profits enrich the shareholders who should have been wiped out. Even worse, we’re paying for this bailout in all kinds of sneaky ways. TARP is but a small fraction of the inconceivably massive cost our government is forcing us to pay to bail out all these bankrupt banks. I even suspect TARP was established to focus our attention away from the more massive, hidden bank subsidies.

Posted by James on Apr 20, 2010

Monsters in our military

Many U.S. soldiers — like the great, late Pat Tillman — serve most honorably and seek to defend their nation with humanity.

But after you witness the U.S. military murder a wounded, immobile, unarmed Reuters journalist and his would-be Good Samaritan rescuers, you must accept that there are monsters in our military who seem to actually enjoy killing unarmed civilians.

About ten minutes into this video, you will be absolutely sick. After the military fires on and kills most of a group of apparently unarmed people (including two Reuters personnel, one of whom is carrying a camera), a van pulls up — with two kids clearly sticking their heads out the passenger window the whole time — to rescue a wounded Reuters employee who can’t walk… and the military starts firing again! The soldiers paid with our tax dollars and firing with weapons and bullets paid for with our tax dollars act like they’re playing a video game, laughing “ha, ha!”

After ground personnel discover the two wounded kids in the van that had tried to rescue the wounded Reuters employee, the soldiers who fired on them said, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.” “That’s right.”

And the military says the rules of engagement were followed correctly.


Posted by James on Apr 06, 2010

New estimate: 18.5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico

First, the Coast Guard told us the exploded oil well wasn’t leaking. Then they told us it’s leaking 40,000 gallons a day. Now, they tell us it’s really 200,000 gallons a day! What will they tell us tomorrow?

After three months — their estimate of how long it will take to stop the leak — over 18 million gallons will have flooded the Gulf of Mexico, devastating the ecosystem.

Posted by James on Apr 30, 2010

Nine sad facts about America

From Bill Quigley’s “Nine Myths About Socialism in the United States”:

  1. The gap between the rich and everyone else is wider in the US than any of the 30 [OECD] countries surveyed. In fact, the top 10% in the US have a higher annual income than any other country. And the poorest 10% in the US are below the average of the other OECD countries.
  2. Infant mortality in the US is 4th worst among OECD countries — better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic.
  3. Child poverty in the US, at over 20% or one out of every five kids, is double the average of the 30 OECD countries.
  4. The US ranks in the bottom half of countries in terms of financial benefits for families with children.
  5. The US gives no paid leave for working mothers having children. [The other OECD] countries [all offer] some form of paid leave… Over two thirds of the countries give some form of paid paternity leave.
  6. Social mobility… in earnings, wages and education tends to be easier in Australia, Canada and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland
  7. Educational achievement of US children… is 7th worst in the OECD. On public spending for childcare and early education, the US is in the bottom third.
  8. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, only in Korea is the impact of governmental spending [on income distribution] lower.
  9. The US gives the smallest percentage of aid of any of the developed countries in the OECD.

Posted by James on Apr 12, 2010

Not all the smart money was dumb

One of the biggest mysteries — to me, at least — of the recent financial meltdown is how few “smart” money managers bet against the housing market, even though house prices had skyrocketed “thanks” to if-you-can-breathe-you-get-a-0%-down-mortgage lending standards and the Fed’s cheap money. Michael Lewis and others have chronicled a handful of investors who made a fortune betting against housing, but most of the “smart” Wall Street firms apparently suffered large losses from their net-long positions on mortgages.

Well, a bit of my mystery has been resolved by this article detailing how top executives at Goldman Sachs decided in late 2006 to force their mortgage business to take a net-short position. The executives became remarkably involved in their mortgage business, asking tons of questions and forcing their mortgage traders to sell off large mortgage holdings and buy bets (mortgage credit default swaps) that would pay off if housing nosedived.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is that some of Goldman’s top mortgage portfolio managers — who should have been frightened by rampant mortgage lending fraud — instead failed to see the obvious, believing home prices would never drop. Nevertheless, Goldman-the-organization overruled some of its top mortgage managers.

Perhaps those too close to the action can’t see the forest for the trees. And many in the mortgage business had become so drunk making money on mortgages that they couldn’t take the punch bowl away from themselves. Many firms that should and could have predicted this housing crisis lacked Goldman’s strong organizational culture, strong leadership, and access to information — esp. knowledge that huge hedge funds were working with Goldman to place massive bets against the housing market. All the smart people at Goldman banging heads and arguing over the data made an informed collective decision. Other firms instead continued with business-as-usual because doing so is easy.

Posted by James on Apr 19, 2010

Obama ignoring liberals on all fronts

President Obama shunned liberals when hiring his presidential staff.

Now he’s not even pretending to consider liberals for the Supreme Court:

As Obama considers his choice for a successor, such groups as the Alliance for Justice and the American Constitution Society, which back broad protection of individual rights, likely will wield far less influence than their conservative counterparts did under President George W. Bush.

The leading prospects — U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appellate judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood — are relative moderates. Kagan has backed strong presidential authority over national security; rulings by Garland and Wood suggest they would expand rights only gradually.

“The candidates who are truly liberals aren’t really on the table,” said Tom Goldstein, a Washington appellate lawyer whose Scotusblog Web site tracks the court….

Kagan, 49, Obama’s top Supreme Court advocate, has adopted much of the Bush administration’s approach toward national security, putting her at odds with civil libertarians. In a 2001 law review article she argued for stronger presidential control over administrative agencies, a position in line with conservative calls for a “unitary executive.”

Garland, 57, may be the most conservative of the three, particularly on criminal issues.

If Obama wanted to put a left-of-center judge on the Supreme Court, he should be floating many ultra-liberal names and letting the right feel good about confirming a left-of-center nominee. Instead, he’s floating only “centrist” names.

Obama’s either lousy at poker or tricked tens of millions of American voters into believing he’s more liberal than he really is. My money’s strongly on the latter.

Posted by James on Apr 14, 2010

Parenting can be scary, and health can be fragile

Even in the best of times, raising two young children is stressful, hard work. With high hopes for our kids' future happiness, we strive to make smart parental decisions, always wondering whether we could be doing better.

But, even when you make all the right decisions, bad things sometimes happen.

This weekend, we made one trip to a doctor’s office and two trips to the emergency room, once via ambulance — my first call to 911 and my first ambulance ride — after our 1-year-old apparently had a severe allergic reaction to a virus. It was exhausting and stressful for us all. And it’s incredibly scary for a parent (or older brother) to watch their little sweetheart’s body turn red, blue and purple all over.

Lia appears to (finally) be slowly improving. And we all caught up a bit on our sleep deficits last night.

I had been planning to spend Friday doing our taxes but still haven’t gotten started. For the first time ever, I’m actually looking forward to this chore because my ability to do it will mean a return to normalcy.

And this incident reinforces how lucky every healthy person is to be healthy. We take our health for granted. But there are no guarantees in life. I was reminded of that watching Phil Mickelson strike a putt just as something blew down right in front of his ball, knocking it away from the cup. It’s a trivial occurrence, but a powerful metaphor for our lives. If you strike that putt 1,000 times, 999 times, nothing will fall right in the path of your ball. But you never know for certain.

We couldn’t function without automatically assuming the world is stable. We assume our house won’t get hit by a tornado while we’re sleeping. We assume we won’t suffer a heart attack tomorrow. We assume cars won’t veer off the road on onto the sidewalk, maiming or killing us. We assume our child won’t fall off the swing and land on their head. But, inevitably, bad things sometimes happen.

Isn’t that reason enough to embrace “socialized medicine”?

Posted by James on Apr 12, 2010

Patent absurdity

I despise patents, especially the proliferation of absurd patents, like patents on human genes, mathematical formulas, and blatantly obvious ideas (like Amazon’s patent on one-click purchasing). Software is copyrightable but shouldn’t be patentable.

So I’m excited by this new free movie titled “Patent Absurdity”.

I’m watching it now, and it’s great so far.

I highly recommend you download a copy and watch it.

Posted by James on Apr 17, 2010

Pentagon fires two irony missiles

Secretary of “Defense” (sic) Robert Gates had the brass balls to criticize Wikileaks for giving the world a peak inside America’s endless, lethal (and endlessly lethal) occupation of Iraq:

GATES: “You are looking at the war through a soda straw and you have no context or perspective.”

Perhaps so, but it’s hard to imagine what context or perspective could justify murdering a Good Samaritan rescuing a severely injured unarmed man.

But here’s Gates' first irony attack: Americans' “soda straw” view is completely your fault! Because the U.S. war machine doesn’t want to be forced by the American people — as it was in Vietnam — to stop spending the people’s money to kill foreigners (using expensive, highly-profitable weapons), the military has manipulated media coverage from Day One to maximize public approval for this horrible war.

Your Pentagon manipulated coverage of the war through “embedded” journalists.

Your Pentagon saturated TV coverage of the Iraq “War” with former generals and admirals who were still taking their marching orders from the Pentagon without disclosing the bias.

Your Pentagon planted lies about Iraqi WMDs in America’s top paper.

Your Pentagon killed journalists who tried to cover the war honestly:

On April 8… U.S. military forces launched what appeared to be deliberate attacks on independent journalists covering the war, killing three and injuring four others.

In one incident, a U.S. tank fired an explosive shell at the Palestine Hotel, where most non-embedded international reporters in Baghdad are based. Two journalists, Taras Protsyuk of the British news agency Reuters and Jose Couso of the Spanish network Telecino, were killed; three other journalists were injured. The tank, which was parked nearby, appeared to carefully select its target, according to journalists in the hotel, raising and aiming its gun turret some two minutes before firing a single shell.

Journalists who witnessed the attack unequivocally rejected Pentagon claims that the tank had been fired on from the hotel. “I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel,” David Chater of British Sky TV told Reuters (4/8/03). Footage shot by French TV recorded quiet in the area immediately before the attack (London Independent, 4/9/03).

Earlier in the day, the U.S. launched separate but near-simultaneous attacks on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, two Arabic-language news networks that have been broadcasting graphic footage of the human cost of the war. Both outlets had informed the Pentagon of their exact locations, according to a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists. As with the hotel attack, Pentagon officials claimed that U.S. forces had come under fire from the press offices, charges that were rejected by the targeted reporters.

The airstrike against Al Jazeera killed one of the channel’s main correspondents in Iraq, Tareq Ayoub, and injured another journalist, prompting Al Jazeera to try to pull its remaining reporters out of Baghdad for fear of their safety (BBC, 4/9/03)…

“We can only conclude that the U.S. Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists,” Reporters Without Borders declared (4/8/03). “We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions,” wrote the Committee to Protect Journalists in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (4/8/03), referring to the protection journalists receive under the laws of war. The attacks on journalists “look very much like murder,” Robert Fisk of the London Independent reported (4/9/03).

In short, your Pentagon has, as a matter of policy, made it virtually impossible for Americans to see the war. And now you’re justifying murder of innocent civilians on the grounds that we aren’t seeing the bigger picture?!?!?

Irony missile #2:

GATES: “These people [Wikileaks] can put out whatever they want and are never held accountable for it. There is no before and no after. It is only the present.”

The U.S. military wants to talk about being never held accountable?!?!? The soldiers who murdered a Good Samaritan in this video weren’t even punished! You judged their actions correct and are sticking by that, even in the face of global outrage!

The U.S. military’s Central Command said on Wednesday it has no current plans to reopen an investigation into a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff, amid rights groups' appeals after graphic video footage was leaked.

Some international law and human rights experts who have watched the video of the incident say the Apache helicopter crew in the footage may have acted illegally….

Rear Admiral Hal Pittman, director of communications at Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq, said in a statement to Reuters: “Central Command has no current plans to reinvestigate or review this combat action.”

And what about the tens of billions of dollars in cash your military “misplaced” in Iraq?!?!? You handed out bricks of $100 bills without even recording who received them!?!?! Who was punished? No one!

And what about the “at least half a billion dollars that was supposed to equip the new Iraqi military [that] was stolen by the very people the U.S. had entrusted to run it”?

And what about the many U.S. soldiers who died by electrocution due to shoddy work by defense contractors?

And what about the trillions of dollars the Pentagon can’t account for, roughly $1 trillion a year?!?!

The military’s money managers last year made almost $7 trillion in adjustments to their financial ledgers in an attempt to make them add up, the Pentagon’s inspector general said in a report released Friday.

The Pentagon could not show receipts for $2.3 trillion of those changes, and half a trillion dollars of it was just corrections of mistakes made in earlier adjustments….

“These ($6.9 trillion in) entries were processed to force financial data to agree with various data sources, to correct errors and to add new data,” the inspector general said. “The magnitude of accounting entries required to compile the DoD financial statements highlights the significant problems DoD has producing accurate and reliable financial statements with existing systems and processes.”

The department’s “internal controls were not adequate to ensure that resources were properly managed and accounted for, that DoD complied with applicable laws and regulations and that the financial statements were free of material misstatements,” the report said.

“One expects that the financial statements of an entity, whether of an agency or a company, should reflect accurately what the department or company has and fairly present the results of their operations,” said Jay Lane, chief of the inspector general’s finance and accounting directorate. “We’re saying we can’t audit that to tell you that.”

Nothing has happened to punish those “losing” trillions of dollars, even though Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself admitted it (Watch the video).

In fact, nothing has even changed to allow Pentagon finances to be accurately audited!

Posted by James on Apr 14, 2010

Pentagon protecting monsters

The Guardian makes another good point I missed in my previous post:

Initially the US military said that all the dead were insurgents. Then it claimed the helicopters reacted to an active firefight. Assange said that the video demonstrated that neither claim was true.

“Why would anyone be so relaxed with two Apaches if someone was carrying an RPG and that person was an enemy of the United States?” he said. “The behaviour of the pilots is like a computer game. When Saeed is crawling, clearly unable to do anything, their response is: come on buddy, we want to kill you, just pick up a weapon … It appears to be a desire to get a higher score, or a higher number of kills.”

It’s horrible enough the shooters were itching to murder these unknown, mostly/totally unarmed, and totally unthreatening Iraqis, even after they were crippled. But the Department of Defense issued repeated lies to cover up what happened… and still hasn’t punished any of the monsters. The Pentagon is protecting cold-blooded murderers, just as the Catholic Church protected child molesting priests.

Posted by James on Apr 06, 2010

Pulitzer for WikiLeaks, please

WikiLeaks is producing better investigative journalism than anything Fox, CNN, ABC or NBC has put out in a long time:

Three months ago, WikiLeaks, a whistleblower Web site that posts classified and sensitive documents, put out an urgent call for help on Twitter.

“Have encrypted videos of U.S. bomb strikes on civilians. We need super computer time,“ stated the Web site, which calls itself “an intelligence agency of the people.”

Somehow — it will not say how — WikiLeaks found the necessary computer time to decrypt a graphic video, released Monday, of a United States Army assault in Baghdad in 2007 that left 12 people dead, including two employees of the news agency Reuters. The video has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube, and has been replayed hundreds of times in television news reports….

Reuters had tried for two and a half years through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the Iraq video, to no avail….

After decrypting the attack video, WikiLeaks in concert with an Icelandic television channel sent two people to Baghdad last weekend to gather information about the killings, at a cost of $50,000, the site said….

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks claimed to have another encrypted video, said to show an American airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 97 civilians last year.

If WikiLeaks can publish this Afghanistan video, perhaps it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize too!

Posted by James on Apr 09, 2010

Punishing whistleblowers and rewarding criminals

One of the most outrageous realities of modern Washington, DC is that criminals not only escape punishment but are showered with riches after leaving government jobs while whistleblowers are punished in proportion to the severity of the crimes they have uncovered.

Here is — apparently — yet another example:

A former senior executive with the National Security Agency has been indicted on 10 felony charges related to the alleged leaking of classified information to a national newspaper in 2006 and 2007, the Justice Department announced Thursday morning.

Thomas A. Drake, 52, headed an office in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate at Fort Meade between 2001 and 2005, and continued to work with the agency as a high-ranking contractor through 2008, U.S. officials said. The indictment alleges that Drake exchanged hundreds of e-mails with an unidentified reporter for a national newspaper and served as a source for its articles about Bush administration intelligence policies between February 2006 and November 2007, U.S. officials said.

It’s not clear what Drake is accused of having revealed, but judging from his public defender’s words, Drake blew the whistle on some of the many illegal and unconstitutional actions the NSA has taken this decade:

“Mr. Drake loves his country. He’s very disappointed that criminal charges were brought and we were not able to resolve this matter in another way,” Wyda said.

The weirdest part of this case is that an NSA senior executive was sharing intelligence secrets via email. Didn’t Drake know the NSA routinely makes copies of most emails as they travel across the Internet?

Posted by James on Apr 15, 2010

Racism & selfishness driving outrage at government health help for the needy

Florida urologist Dr. Jack Cassell posted a sign on his office telling patients, “If you voted for Obama… seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your healthcare begin right now, not in four years.”

Why is Dr. Cassell so outraged by this (lame, marginally beneficial) healthcare reform? Even he doesn’t know:

Cassell: Well I think that they’re cutting all supportive care, like nursing homes, ambulance services…

Colmes: What do you mean they’re cutting nursing homes?

Cassell: They’re cutting nursing home reimbursements.

Colmes: Isn’t what they’re cutting under the Medicare plan what was really double dipping; they were getting credits and they were getting to deduct them at the same time.

Cassell: Well you know, I can’t tell you exactly what the deal is.

Colmes: If you can’t tell us exactly what the deal is, why are you opposing it and fighting against it?

Cassell: I’m not the guy who wrote the plan.

Colmes: But if you don’t know what the deal is why are you speaking out against something you don’t know what the deal is?

Cassell: What I get online, just like any other American. What I’m supposed to understand about the bill should be available to me.

Colmes: It is. It’s been online for a long time. It’s also been all over the media.

Tea Party anger at this healthcare plan has nothing to do with the plan itself and everything to do with the (black/Hispanic, poor) people it will disproportionately benefit and the (black, “elitist”) president and the (gay, black, Hispanic, Jewish, and female) Democratic Congressmen who passed it.

I opposed the plan for accomplishing too little while giving away far too much to pharmaceuticals, hospitals, and health insurance companies. Mine are substantive objections. Many Republican opponents of the bill seem to have no idea what’s in it, reinforcing my previous post, “They’re only "welfare queens” if they’re black".

It’s even worse than racism and selfishness. It’s hypocrisy too because many Tea Partiers profess to be deeply religious Christians yet are acting most un-Christlike:

Jesus will say to those on His right hand, “Come, enter the Kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and you visited me.” Then Jesus will turn to those on His left hand and say, “Depart from me because I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink, I was sick and you did not visit me.” These will ask Him, “When did we see You hungry, or thirsty or sick and did not come to Your help?” And Jesus will answer them, “Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!” — Mother Teresa

Posted by James on Apr 05, 2010

Six truths

Excellent political rant today at DemocraticUnderground.com:

  1. [Sarah Palin] is not a “plain-spoken intellectual”… She is not “clever”, she is manipulative and she is laughing all the way to the bank as she makes money off people who cannot afford to get sick but shell out $30 for a copy of her self-serving ghost-written book…
  2. Bill Moyers is a journalist. Neil Cavuto is a whore….
  3. The majority of the Teabaggers are frightened ignoramuses being encouraged by racists and psychopaths to raise hell in public….
  4. The vast majority of the true misanthropes, those likely to actually hurt someone with whom they disagree, are right-wing true believers, not lefties…. (Proof from today’s news.)
  5. Corporations run this country and most of the rest of this world…
  6. There are more of “us” than “them.” If the lower and middle classes and all others who value social justice, integrity and tolerance could be sufficiently educated as to their true self-interest, conservatism would be be relegated to that much ballyhooed “ash bin of history.”

Posted by James on Apr 01, 2010

Tea Partiers = Corporate stooges

Cenk nails it again:

We’re down to the wire here on financial reform. I can’t think of a better time to put pressure on Wall Street and Washington to make sure there is adequate regulation to ensure that we never have another bailout. The AFL-CIO is about to have a protest at Wall Street on April 29th. Great, that makes sense. I’m sure the right-wing groups who are also upset about the bailouts will join them.

If you remember, the Tea Parties were originally formed to protest the bailouts. They were so mad at the Wall Street bankers who destroyed the economy and then took our hard earned money for their efforts.

So, they will take this opportunity of course to launch their own protest of Wall Street. They will protest the TARP money, the easy credit, the lack of regulation, the wild risk taking and the excessive bonuses paid with taxpayer money. They’re really going to take the fight to them.

Just kidding. They’re not going to do anything. They’re going to sit out this fight on financial reform and put absolutely no pressure on Wall Street at all. Because they are tools easily manipulated by right-wing organizations funded by corporate America.

I really feel sorry for them. They’re dupes. They think they are so fiercely independent when in fact they are the most easily manipulated people in the country. All that anger toward the power establishment and what happened? They were used by that same establishment to fight against health care reform and to try to protect the health insurance companies. Suckers.

Now, when it’s time to fight the financial companies, where are they? Nowhere to be found. Why? Because FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity didn’t organize any bus rides to Wall Street. They didn’t manufacture the outrage they did in protecting the health care companies.

Posted by James on Apr 24, 2010

The economic "recovery"

For Main Street, as opposed to Wall Street, “recovery” has been minimal:

If financial companies in the S.& P. 500 were removed from consideration, overall corporate earnings would have grown 18 percent in the fourth quarter — not the 206 percent officially reported, according to Thomson Reuters.

I’m not sure whether this reflects more poorly on Obama-and-the-Fed’s outrageous “generosity” (with our money) toward bankrupt banks or on how sick our economy remains. (I’m in the camp that believes this is no cyclical downturn but a structural one.)

Posted by James on Apr 20, 2010

The Fed has spent trillions buying dodgy bank assets. Find out who, what, when and why!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: AUDIT THE FED!!!

You can always count on the U.S. Senate to do the wrong thing. So it’s no surprise to learn the Senate is trying to gut the House-passed demand for a substantive Federal Reserve audit.

This is damn important because — to update former House Speaker Sam Rayburn for modern times — “A trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Posted by James on Apr 25, 2010

The inevitability of insider trading

After presenting many obvious advantages Wall Street and Greenwich, CT trading firms have over ordinary investors and day-traders (e.g., sophisticated computers and computer models), Henry Blodget explains the impossibility of stopping all insider trading:

There is simply no way to police facial expressions and body language. When you’re at a cocktail party with your buddy who knows what is going on inside a particular company, you don’t have to be a mind-reader to get a good sense of it yourself.

The buddy doesn’t need to tell you anything specific. The buddy doesn’t need to pass you secret confidential documents. The buddy doesn’t need to give you hand signals. All the buddy has to do is look at you in a certain way. To paraphrase the old saying, a facial impression is worth 1000 words (and it also has the convenient feature of not being persuasive evidence in court).

Facial expressions don’t have to just come from buddies, of course. When you’re meeting one-on-one with a CEO, you can learn more from the way a CEO responds to a startling question than you can from a thousand page SEC filing. And no one will ever complain that you’ve been given material non-public information—even though that’s just what you’ve been given.

Posted by James on Apr 15, 2010

The Ministry of Truth

The gap between how Tibetans and ordinary Chinese view Tibet could not be wider because the Chinese government — which controls Chinese media — has heavily censored Tibet news for decades. (The same is true of Xinjiang.) Exhibit 1: coverage of the recent earthquake:

The Buddhist monks stood atop the jagged remains of a vocational school, struggling to move concrete slabs with pickax shovels and bare hands. Suddenly a cry went out: An arm, clearly lifeless, was poking through the debris.

But before the monks could finish their task, a group of Chinese soldiers who had been relaxing on the school grounds sprang to action. They put on their army caps, waved the monks away, and with a video camera for their unit rolling, quickly extricated the body of a young girl.

The monks stifled their rage and stood below, mumbling a Tibetan prayer for the dead.

“You won’t see the cameras while we are working,” said one of the monks, Ga Tsai, who with 200 others, had driven from their lamasery in Sichuan Province as soon as they heard about the quake.

“We want to save lives. They see this tragedy as an opportunity to make propaganda.”

…Tsairen, a monk from a monastery in Nangqian County in Sichuan, spoke about how he and scores of other monks tussled with soldiers at a collapsed hotel that first night. “We asked why they wouldn’t let us help, and they just ignored us,” said Tsairen, who like some Tibetans, uses only one name.

Later, he and more than 100 others headed to the vocational school, where the voices of trapped girls could still be heard in the rubble of a collapsed dormitory.

They said the soldiers blocked them from the pile and later, the chief of their monastery, Ga Tsai, scuffled with a man they described as the county chief.

“He grabbed me by my robe and dragged me out to the street,” Ga Tsai said.

In the evening after the soldiers had left the scene, they went to work, eventually pulling out more than a dozen bodies.

Posted by James on Apr 18, 2010

The perks of incompetence

BusinessWeek (19 April 2010, p. 41) excerpts Roger Lowenstein’s The End of Wall Street. This caught my eye:

Well into the crisis period, when banks such as Citigroup were operating on federal investment and when Citi’s stock was in single digits, Vikram Pandit, the CEO, was observed with a lunch guest at Le Bernardin, one of the top-rated restaurants in New York. Pandit looked discerningly at the wine list, saw nothing by the glass that appealed, and ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor “a glass of wine worth drinking.” Pandit drank just one glass; his friend had none.

Even trust-fund kids who live up (or is that down?) to their spoiled-brat caricature binge on their parents' money, not yours and mine. And, although many trust-funders take more from society than they contribute, at least trust-fund kids don’t run massive companies into the ground while smugly continuing to believe the world owes them.

Posted by James on Apr 19, 2010

The seductiveness of sleaze

No, I’m not talking about everyone’s fascination with celebrity sex scandals.

I’m talking about how slimy politicians reframe their (contributors') pro-corporate, pro-rich, anti-middle-class positions to make them irresistable.

Taxing the estates of only multi-millionaires — including capital gains never taxed during the deceased’s lifetime — when they die becomes “the death tax.” Who could support that?

Offshore drilling is a “national security” issue. And “Drill, baby, drill” became a Republican rallying cry.

Economist Simon Johnson notes this particularly clever posturing by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

In a Senate floor speech yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell (Senate Republican leader) said, ”The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes pay for them. We won’t solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail.”

Do not be misled by this statement. Senator McConnell’s preferred approach is not to break up big banks; it’s to change nothing now and simply promise to let them fail in the future.

This proposal is dangerous, irresponsible, and makes no sense. The bankruptcy process simply cannot handle the failure of large complex global financial institutions – without causing the kind of worldwide panic that followed the collapse of Lehman and the rescue/resolution of AIG. This is exactly the lesson of September 2008.

If a huge financial institution were to reach the brink of bankruptcy, the choice again would be: collapse (for the world economy) or rescue (of the very bankers and creditors who are responsible for the mess). The point of the reforms now before us is to remove that choice, as far as possible, from the immediate future.

There is only one plausible way to ensure banks that are currently “too big to fail” can actually fail: Make them substantially smaller.

(Right-wing think tanks employ an army of researchers and wordsmiths who spend their lives getting richly rewarded for slapping lipstick on pigs. Some right-wing thought campaigns are designed not to directly help contributors but to strengthen the right’s political base. For example, preventing girls and women from choosing abortion — when, for example, they can’t afford the immense financial, time, and emotional investment required to properly raise a child — is “pro-life.” Conversely, those of us who would spare a child-to-be from being raised by a drug-addicted, poor, young woman who accidentally got pregnant by who-knows-whom and doesn’t want to be a mom… well, we’re obviously “anti-life.”)

Posted by James on Apr 14, 2010

They're only "welfare queens" if they're black

Ronald Reagan rode to the presidency in part by repeatedly telling a fictitious story about a “Chicago welfare queen”:

Over a period of about five years, Reagan told the story of the “Chicago welfare queen” who had 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, and collected benefits for “four nonexisting deceased husbands,” bilking the government out of “over $150,000.” The real welfare recipient to whom Reagan referred was actually convicted for using two different aliases to collect $8,000. Reagan continued to use his version of the story even after the press pointed out the actual facts of the case to him.

The powerful image Reagan painted was of black women getting rich ripping off honest white taxpayers.

Even if the story had been true, the implicit claim that the story was typical was a sham. Taxpayers weren’t being abused by blacks stealing their income taxes. In fact, taxpayers were — and still are — being abused primarily by whites stealing their income taxes.

These white people cleverly hide behind facades (called “corporations”) and profit unfairly from massive tax loopholes they’ve paid Congress and the president to write into law for them. They profit unfairly from sweetheart deals to provide shoddy services at inflated prices (Halliburton, Blackwater) or produce extremely expensive, extremely profitable things we don’t need (Raytheon, Lockheed Martin). They profit from massive government subsidies (Archer Daniels Midland). And they profit from extremely low royalty rates to extract natural resources from U.S. government land… and then pay only a fraction of what they owe (Chevron, BP; see: Public Citizen and SourceWatch.org).

The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, found:

The federal government spent $92 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to businesses and private-sector corporate entities — expenditures commonly referred to as “corporate welfare” — in fiscal year 2006…. For the purposes of this study, “corporate welfare” is defined as any federal spending program that provides payments or unique benefits and advantages to specific companies or industries.

$92 billion is 920,000 welfare queens each ripping off taxpayers $100,000 a year!

I’d like to believe Americans fell for Reagan’s canard due to stupidity. We just can’t see the forest of white-collar welfare when presented such a vivid story about a (perhaps apocryphal) black woman stealing our tax dollars.

But our eagerness to rationalize much larger welfare by white people suggests it’s a race/class issue. Large government handouts to rich white people are somehow acceptable, perhaps deserved. Conversely, tiny government handouts to poor black people are unfair and dirty.

Here’s an example:

But for one important detail, Stephen Fincher could be a perfect “tea party” candidate: a gospel-singing cotton farmer from this tiny hamlet in western Tennessee, seeking to right the listing ship of Washington with a commitment to lower taxes and smaller government.

The detail? Fincher accepts roughly $200,000 in farm subsidies each year….

Fincher and his wife, Lynn, received about $2.5 million in subsidies between 1995 and 2006. But Fincher said that without that money, his farm would have shut down years ago.

Since he rationalizes millions in subsidies as keeping his farm from failing, I guess he’s a big fan of capitalism too? “Capitalism,” that is, like the big banks believe in. Capitalism where they privatize any profits and taxpayers cover any losses.

A few Tea Partiers “get” the irony of electing a welfare queen to cut government spending:

Jim Tomasik, a leader of the Mid-South Tea Party in Cordova, Tenn., is heading perhaps the most organized effort to portray Fincher as a welfare-farmer who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from other subsidy-receiving farmers.

“If Republicans are going to complain about subsidizing General Motors, that’s a drop in the bucket to farm subsidies,” Tomasik said. “But they’re backing candidates who are taking large amounts of money from the federal government. That’s hypocritical.”

But Fincher has raised almost a million dollars and has strong support, from people who like his opposition to expanding healthcare to cover more (poor and black) people:

Fincher’s supporters are drawn to his social conservatism, including his antiabortion stand, and his commitment to opposing new taxes (he signed the no-tax pledge of the group Americans for Tax Reform)….

“He is for the Constitution,” said Lucy Overstreet, an organizer with the Jackson Madison County TEA Party who is supporting Fincher. “He is for getting the budget balanced. He does not want this health care. He is right in line with the views we are holding true to.”

Fincher promises to balance the budget without new taxes. How does he plan to do that without bankrupting his farm? I guess he intends to cut off those 920,000 welfare queens!

Unfortunately, even $92 billion is a tiny fraction of the $2 trillion annual deficits America is now running. I’d suggest slashing the $1.2 trillion we’re spending each year on the Department of “Defense”, much of which gets absolutely wasted on G.I. Joe toys we don’t need (e.g., tens of thousands of nuclear missiles, dozens of nuclear submarines, thousands of fighter jets we never use). That’s where the real welfare queens can be found.

Posted by James on Apr 05, 2010

This is why you TEST software before releasing it

According to “Botched McAfee update shutting down corporate XP machines worldwide”:

We’re hearing from all over that a bad McAfee for Windows XP update is causing computers worldwide to shut down. Apparently DAT update 5958 deletes the svchost.exe file, which then triggers a false-positive in McAfee itself and sets off a chain of uncontrolled restarts and loss of networking functionality. Yeah, wild — Twitter is basically going nuts, and McAfee’s support site appears to be down. There are some fixes floating around out there, but it may be too late — the final tally of borked PCs today may reach into the millions. We’ve already heard anecdotally that an Intel facility has been affected, as well as Dish Network call centers….

The anecdotal numbers keep rolling in, and they’re not small — 30,000 machines are knocked out here, 60,000 there. Given that the only fixes right now involve techs spending time with each affected machine individually, things could get seriously messy.

Posted by James on Apr 22, 2010

Transferring wealth from "dumb money" (our pensions) to "smart money" (hedge funds)

Bethany McLean writes:

Goldman did not tell a customer who didn’t want to lose money — the very definition of a buyer of AAA-rated securities — that the investment it was selling had been rigged to amplify the chances that it would, yes, lose money.

Transactions like this one open up a window into modern finance, and the view is downright ugly. This deal didn’t build a house, finance a world-changing invention or create any jobs. It was just a zero-sum game that transferred wealth from what Wall Street calls “dumb money” (often those who manage the public’s funds) to a hedge fund.

She then, correctly, says the parties most culpable for the financial crisis were Congress, the Federal Reserve, and federal government regulatory agencies who all did, at best, nothing helpful and, at worst, set the table for the crisis by eliminating the laws preventing Wall Street firms from gambling with money it did not have but could be supplied only by taxpayers.

Posted by James on Apr 27, 2010

Two sightings of an endangered species: Sensible judicial rulings

In recent years, the law has been so frequently distorted and perverted for political purposes by right-wing political hacks — yeah, I’m looking at you, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales and Jay Bybee and Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and John Roberts and Samuel Alito and your many political allies appointed by Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II — that it shocked me to learn of two wonderful rulings in the past two days.

First, the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco ruled that illegal warrantless NSA wiretapping is… illegal! From a legal standpoint, it’s a no-brainer, but so many judicial decisions have been decided by politics rather than the law that it’s more than possible this ruling will be overturned on appeal by people possessing less than no brains.

The great irony — which would be funny if we weren’t talking about a massive, illegal government domestic spy apparatus that is systematically sucking up all information on hundreds of millions of Americans — is that many are outraged by this illegal spying but couldn’t get a court to rule on the merits of the case because the government successfully argued that people can’t sue for being spied on unless they can prove they’ve personally been spied on: “a 2006 decision by a federal judge in Detroit, Anna Diggs Taylor, was reversed on the grounds that those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped and so lacked legal standing to sue.” In other words, if the government had kept details of who it was spying on secret — even if it was spying on every single American — it probably could have kept the courts from declaring its massive spy operation illegal.

Second, a New York judge ruled, in effect, that you can’t patent a gene that already exists in nature. Again, blatantly obvious from a legal standpoint. Patents are intended for inventions. If nature invented a gene, you can’t come along and claim you invented it. But that’s precisely what thousands of patents — each claiming a broad monopoly over a gene in your body — profess. It’s totally absurd, but companies have been racing for many years to patent our genes, hoping to get rich monopolizing tests and drugs related to those genes.

To see how absurd this is, imagine if the U.S. Patent & Trademark office let whoever saw the first apple tree have a monopoly over apples. And whoever first saw corn would get the corn patent. And whoever first saw cows could patent beef and cow’s milk. It’s absurd. But the USPTO has kept handing out patents over our genes. One judge, at least, has the sense to say, “No!” Unfortunately, many who profit from patent monopolies are already predicting this decision will be overturned, even though even The Wall Street Journal admits disallowing gene patents may benefit patients AND drug companies overall.

Both of these rulings are sensible, legally correct, and serve the public interest. Corporations who profit from bending the law to their benefit care only about their bottom lines. That’s precisely why I fear they’ll find legislative and/or legal servants to overturn these wise decisions.

Posted by James on Apr 01, 2010

U.S. Chamber of Commerce exploits small businesses

I’ve long suspected U.S. Chamber of Commerce leaders of being amoral money-grubbers who exploit the bulk of their membership to push their big business, anti-government political agenda and the interests of the Chamber’s most powerful and deep-pocketed companies. I wrote this article to make that point and then discovered this fact that makes my argument more persuasively.

Look who’s on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors: Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship! I argued earlier that Blankenship — whose contempt for miner safety laws warrants a murder conviction — acts like a psychopath.

Many large organizations today seem more interested in exploiting their members than helping them. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, AARP!) No organization sells out and manipulates its members better than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Consider this news:

In filings with the FCC on the open Internet proceeding, which are due Monday, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the FCC should resist the urge to interfere with broadband until they have thoroughly examined all of the ramifications…

Jason Goldman, counsel for telecommunications and e-commerce for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said there “really is intense competition” in the broadband market.

Translation: The Federal Communications Commission should let cable companies exploit their stranglehold on your Internet access however they desire — e.g., cutting off your access to websites they don’t like; charging additional fees to visit Youtube, etc. — because the Internet access industry is so darn competitive.

That’s laughable outrageous! I just looked up my Internet access options at DSLReports.com. Here’s the complete list for my zipcode (and I live in a city):

CABLE providers in your area — Optimum Online

Or I could try DSL. That’s it. So I pay Optimum Online several gazillion dollars every month.

I’m hardly alone. Greedy politicians have let telecom companies carve the whole country up into regional monopolies and duopolies, just as mob kingpins carve a city into pieces and “tax” each crime family to keep the families from attacking each other or cutting into one another’s fat profit margins.

Politicians killed off efforts to provide entire cities with cheap or free city-provided WiFi (called “muni Wifi” and “public WiFi”). In March 2005, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig explained “Why Your Broadband Sucks”:

You’ll be pleased to know that communism was defeated in Pennsylvania last year. Governor Ed Rendell signed into law a bill prohibiting the Reds in local government from offering free Wi-Fi throughout their municipalities. The action came after Philadelphia, where more than 50 percent of neighborhoods don’t have access to broadband, embarked on a $10 million wireless Internet project. City leaders had stepped in where the free market had failed. Of course, it’s a slippery slope from free Internet access to Karl Marx. So Rendell, the telecom industry’s latest toady, even while exempting the City of Brotherly Love, acted to spare Pennsylvania from this grave threat to its economic freedom….

this sort of insanity is raging across the US today. Pushed by lobbyists, at least 14 states have passed legislation similar to Pennsylvania’s. I’ve always wondered what almost $1 billion spent on lobbying state lawmakers gets you. Now I’m beginning to see….

Broadband is the perfect example. The private market has failed the US so far. At the beginning, we led the world in broadband deployment. But by 2004, we ranked an embarrassing 13th. There are many places, like Philadelphia, where service is lacking. And there are many places, like San Francisco, where competition is lacking. The result of the duopoly that currently defines “competition” is that prices and service suck. We’re the world’s leader in Internet technology – except that we’re not.

Five years later, Americans still pay much higher prices for much slower Internet access than citizens of any other developed nation (see: “The Broadband Gap” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

The Internet is a powerful business tool. So, if there’s one issue the U.S. Chamber of Commerce should be screaming for, it’s universal, cheap, fast Internet access. But instead of supporting it, the Chamber is spending millions lobbying to let telecoms exploit their monopoly power however they desire.

The Chamber is advocating for telecom companies — which bribed politicians to prevent competition — by claiming “intense competition” justifies letting telecom companies act as chokeholds over any Internet service its users might wish to access! You want to watch Youtube? Pay the Youtube access fee. You want ESPN.com? There’s a fee for that. Telecoms are drooling over the prospect of extorting extra money from Internet companies and their own customers to let them connect to each other.

And some telecoms probably want to be able to exercise political control over what Americans read and watch over the Internet. You want DemocraticUnderground.com? I’m sorry. Comcast doesn’t allow that.

Telecom control of your Internet access — especially in a country with virtually no choice of Internet provider — is very scary. Of the 3+ million businesses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims as members, most are small businesses that want (or should want) unfettered Internet access. Many run their small businesses on the Internet. Most buy supplies over the Internet. Many advertise on the Internet. Why would they want to hand giant telecom companies the power to charge extra or to cut off access to certain Internet resources? It makes no sense… until you realize that the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been doing the bidding of the big corporations — in this case, telecoms — for years.

So what is the Chamber fighting for? It opposes efforts to save the planet from global warming, despite loud protests from its own top membership. A handful of energy companies loudly quit the Chamber in protest. Apple quit too. And Nike resigned from the Chamber’s board of directors.

As with Internet access, U.S. politicians have taken campaign contributions to stifle healthcare competition, and ordinary Americans and their employers — who actually pay the bulk of healthcare costs — are getting screwed. Internet access is also like healthcare in that the government has taken a hands-off, laissez-faire attitude, whereas other developed nations view healthcare and Internet access as worthy of government involvement to hold down prices. And the Chamber has been forcefully on the wrong side of both issues.

Three of the Chamber’s current top issues it’s urging members to lobby Congress about are issues its members would benefit from being on the other side of:

  1. “Oppose the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act” which is “another government takeover of American business”: Every business has a bank account. And businesses are suffering under a rapacious financial system, just as individuals are. Why would small business people benefit by allowing banks to continue using all kinds of tricks to suck money from them? And how did small businesses benefit when they couldn’t borrow money after deregulation led to a near collapse of the financial system?

  2. Increase free trade: U.S. businesses are being undercut by companies that cut costs by mistreating workers, paying them a pittance and polluting their environments. U.S. businesses should be demanding a level playing field. Instead, the Chamber is telling them we need to further tilt the playing field in favor of countries that are already playing dirty.

  3. Oppose healthcare reform: Why!?!? As Paul Tullis succinctly writes,

Businesses pay for most people’s health insurance. The cost of this insurance is going up four times faster than inflation and ten times faster than the economy is growing. It’s said that GM’s health care costs add thousands of dollars to the price of every car it sells.

So shouldn’t the Chamber of Commerce be in favor of unloading this expense from the backs of its members? The group’s opposition to reform makes no sense.

Tullis also points out the Chamber’s claims are a pack of lies, which speaks volumes for the Chamber’s regard for its members' interests (and intellect):

The ad was stunning for the breadth of the chasm between it and the truth…

Lie #1) The ad claims health care costs to families will go up. In fact they will go down. This is so obvious that anyone who’s read the first thing about the House and Senate bills should not be fooled by the Chamber’s efforts on this point….

Lie #2) The ad claims the current bills before Congress will add to the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office says both bills will reduce the deficit.

National Journal reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “has spent approximately $70 million to $100 million on the [anti-healthcare reform] advertising effort”:

Since last summer, the chamber has poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising by the two business coalitions that it helped assemble: the Campaign for Responsible Health Reform and Employers for a Healthy Economy.

In late October, the chamber helped cobble together a larger coalition, Employers for a Healthy Economy, which became the key advertising vehicle for attacking provisions in the House and Senate bills being developed. The newer coalition includes such business giants as the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

The ads sharply criticized the high costs of the separate bills, especially the House version. The commercials warned the legislation would raise taxes for Americans and hurt the economy as it tries to recover from the recession. And some chamber-financed commercials attacked setting up a government run plan to compete with private insurers — a special sore point for the insurance industry — which is part of the House measure.

The U.S. Chamber has spent approximately $70 million to $100 million on the advertising effort, according to lobbying sources.

In reality, this evil Obama plan offered tremendous benefits to small businesses:

The Obama Small Business Health Tax Credit will provide a refundable credit of up to 50 percent on premiums paid by small businesses on behalf of their employees….

The Obama health care plan will provide small businesses with new opportunities to buy low-cost, high quality health plans for their employees through a national exchange similar that will allow small businesses to get the same benefits of spreading risk and administrative costs over a large pool that larger businesses currently enjoy….

The Obama plan will reimburse employer health plans for a portion of the catastrophic costs they incur above a threshold if they guarantee such savings are used to reduce the cost of workers’ premiums. This reimbursement (often called reinsurance) is particularly important for small business plans, which can be overwhelmed by the costs of catastrophic expenditures for even a single employee….

The Obama plan will aggressively lower health costs by facilitating broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, and other value-increasing innovations improving chronic care management, and increasing insurance market competition.

The Chamber pretends to support its 3 million U.S. businesses but only cares about its Don Blankenships.

(I stumbled across StopTheChamber.com, which might be of interest to some readers.)

Posted by James on Apr 27, 2010

We need a REAL 9/11 investigation (even if illegitimate crazyman Ahmadinejad agrees)

Illegitimate Iranian “leader” Mahmoud Amadinejad calls the official U.S. account of 9/11 “a big fabrication”:

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said last month that the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were “a big fabrication,” wrote to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Tuesday to ask him to open an investigation into the events of that day.

In a letter to the secretary general, Mr. Ahmadinejad asked him to “form an independent fact-finding committee trusted by regional countries on major elements behind [the] September 11 attack which was carried out as the main pretext to attack the Middle East,” according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

A completely biased sampling of the 36 posted reader comments shows many thoughtful people consider the official story absurd and believe the U.S. government has still not seriously investigated 9/11, positions I share completely:

  • There are a lot of unanswered questions about 9/11. See www.ae911truth.org. Just because the crazy Iranian leader says it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  • John Farmer, who was the Senior Counsel for the 9/11 Commission, recently came out with a book called “The Ground Truth: The Story Behind America’s Defense on 9/11″. The author builds the inescapably convincing case that the official version… is almost entirely untrue… Farmer, who is Dean of Rutger Universities' School of Law and former Attorney General of New Jersey, was responsible for drafting the original flawed 9/11 report. So, if its mostly untrue, then crazy Iranian guy in this case is unfortunately not wrong in asking for a new investigation.

  • About time someone with an international voice has the courage to drag this stinking corpse out in the open.

  • 1,100 architects and engineers worldwide signed a petition calling for independent investigation of the destruction of those three buildings this spring. The evidence they offer is compelling. There is no dispute that the official explanation offered by the 9/11 commission could stand a little work—it doesn’t even mention building 7. Personally, I can’t believe our air defense response was what it was and that no one seems to mind…. The victims families have been calling for independent investigation and have been largely shunned. Of course the whole subject is extremely difficult to face because it involves accepting as a premise some degree of complicity of forces within the US government.

  • I found this quote by former Reagan administration official & economist Paul Craig Roberts: “Most of the reviews of John Farmer’s book miss its importance. Farmer has no way of knowing what happened on 9/11 or who did it. What he does know and has figured out is that the 9/11 Commission was lied to by people who were supposed to be helping the Commission deliver the truth to the public. Whether the lies were big or little, whether the lies were told to coverup a false flag operation or to cover the butts of agencies that had failed in their responsibilities, whether Farmer’s explanations for the lies are correct or incorrect, the fact remains that the Commission was misled. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Commission’s report is unreliable and, therefore, that we do not have the truth about 9/11. That this conclusion comes from the legal counsel to the Commission is compelling evidence that a new investigation is required.”

  • I dare anyone of you to take these comments [supporting the official 9/11 story] to any firehouse in New York city and see what happens to you. Ahamadinejad or not [a real] investigation is coming.

  • The 9/11 investigation, done not at the request or desire of the Bush-Cheney administration, was a white-wash which does not withstand serious scrutiny. There are far too many strange things which occurred from the total lapse of the air force response (busy doing an “exercise” with Cheney supervising, in which fictional planes were attacking….), the in-footprint-collapse of WTC 1&2, which structurally should have ended with the floors gone but the central column(s) standing; to the inexplicable (by normal physics) collapse of the ignored bldg 7, and on and on. A true, independent investigation of 9/11 is long over-due and a necessity.

Posted by James on Apr 14, 2010

"We were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us"

The shocking video of U.S. soldiers murdering unarmed Iraqis is unusual not because U.S. soldiers murdered unarmed Iraqis but because we can watch the video.

Murder has been standard operating procedure since this war occupation began. Don’t believe me. Listen to the soldiers:

Jason Washburn, a corporal in the US Marines who served three tours in Iraq… [said], “Something else we were encouraged to do, almost with a wink and nudge, was to carry ‘drop weapons’, or by my third tour, ‘drop shovels’. We would carry these weapons or shovels with us because if we accidentally shot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body, and make them look like an insurgent.”

Hart Viges, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army who served one year in Iraq, told of taking orders over the radio.

“One time they said to fire on all taxicabs because the enemy was using them for transportation…. One of the snipers replied back, ‘Excuse me? Did I hear that right? Fire on all taxicabs?’ The lieutenant colonel responded, ‘You heard me, trooper, fire on all taxicabs.’ After that, the town lit up, with all the units firing on cars. This was my first experience with war, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the deployment.”

Vincent Emanuele, a Marine rifleman who spent a year in the al-Qaim area of Iraq near the Syrian border, told of emptying magazines of bullets into the city without identifying targets, running over corpses with Humvees and stopping to take “trophy” photos of bodies.

“An act that took place quite often in Iraq was taking pot shots at cars that drove by,” he said, “This was not an isolated incident, and it took place for most of our eight-month deployment.”

…Michael Leduc, a corporal in the Marines who was part of the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004, said orders he received from his battalion JAG officer before entering the city were as follows: “You see an individual with a white flag and he does anything but approach you slowly and obey commands, assume it’s a trick and kill him.”

Brian Casler, a corporal in the Marines, spoke of witnessing the prevalent dehumanizing outlook soldiers took toward Iraqis during the invasion of Iraq.

“… on these convoys, I saw Marines defecate into MRE bags or urinate in bottles and throw them at children on the side of the road,” he stated.

…[Adam] Kokesh [who served in Fallujah beginning in February 2004 for roughly one year] said, “At one point, we imposed a curfew on the city, and were told to fire at anything that moved in the dark.”

…Jason Wayne Lemue is a Marine who served three tours in Iraq… “carrying a shovel, or standing on a rooftop talking on a cell phone, or being out after curfew [meant those people] were to be killed. I can’t tell you how many people died because of this. By my third tour, we were told to just shoot people, and the officers would take care of us.”

[Iraq war veteran Jason] Moon brought back a video that shows his sergeant declaring, “The difference between an insurgent and an Iraqi civilian is whether they are dead or alive.”

Moon explains the thinking: “If you kill a civilian he becomes an insurgent because you retroactively make that person a threat.”

Posted by James on Apr 09, 2010

Whales eating human garbage

Last month, I noticed several reports of mass die-offs of baby sea mammals.

This month, Washington State is witnessing a gray whale die-off, and Cascadia Research Collective is researching “the fifth gray whale to have died this year in Washington and the fourth in Puget Sound in the last 2 weeks.” Its initial discovery:

The 37 foot near-adult male was found to be in better nutritional condition than some of the other gray whales that have died in recent weeks and starvation was not considered a major contributor to the cause of death. The animal had more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball… The debris while numerous, made up only 1-2% of the stomach contents and there was no clear indication it had caused the death of the animal. It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas. Gray whales are filter feeders that typically feed on the bottom and suck in sediment in shallow waters and filter the contents to strain out the small organisms that live there. They have been known to accumulate material including rocks and other debris from the bottom ingested in this process.

Other sea animals are probably suffering from humanity’s immense oceanic garbage dumps:

  • The North Atlantic Garbage Patch “is estimated to be hundreds of kilometres across in size, with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre”
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: “Although many scientists suggest that the patch extends over a very wide area, with estimates ranging from an area the size of the state of Texas to one larger than the continental United States, the exact size is unknown… The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris”

Posted by James on Apr 22, 2010

Why am I typing this standing up?

I was just sitting at my computer next to a box of cookies and thinking “I really need to stop eating these” as I read this article describing the surprisingly scant evidence that exercise affects body weight.

In short, exercise does burn calories but apparently ramps up appetite an equal amount, preventing weight loss. Kind of like Newton’s Third Law (“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”).

Fortunately, the article does offer one helpful suggestion, which I immediately put to use:

“Emerging evidence suggests that ­unlike bouts of moderate-vigorous activity, low-intensity ambulation, standing, etc., may contribute to daily energy expenditure without triggering the caloric compensation effect,” Braun wrote in the American College of Sports Medicine newsletter.

In a completed but unpublished study conducted in his energy-metabolism lab, Braun and his colleagues had a group of volunteers spend an entire day sitting. If they needed to visit the bathroom or any other location, they spun over in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, in a second session, the same volunteers stood all day, “not doing anything in particular,” Braun says, “just standing.” The difference in energy expenditure was remarkable, representing “hundreds of calories,” Braun says, but with no increase among the upright in their blood levels of ghrelin or other appetite hormones. Standing, for both men and women, burned multiple calories but did not ignite hunger. One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair.”

I read this lose-weight-by-standing idea a few months back and ditched my chair for a few days, but I somehow fell back into my chair habit. I hope I can stay chairless this time.

Posted by James on Apr 19, 2010

Why our schools stink: Reason #1

Why Are 25 Hedge Fund Managers Worth 658,000 Teachers?:

In 2009, the worst economic year for working people since the Great Depression, the top 25 hedge fund managers walked off with an average of $1 billion each. With the money those 25 people “earned,” we could have hired 658,000 entry level teachers. (They make about $38,000 a year, including benefits.) Those educators could have brought along over 13 million young people, assuming a class size of 20.

Posted by James on Apr 10, 2010

Women in the tech world

I enjoyed this article on the challenges women in tech fields face.

The article also mentions several studies showing that firms with women make smarter businesses decisions than male-dominated firms:

Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock, according to a recent white paper by Cindy Padnos, a venture capitalist who compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship….

Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

I’d bet that’s true of firms embracing all forms of diversity — race, nationality, age, sex, sexual preference, education, experience, etc.

Posted by James on Apr 19, 2010

Yet another corporation more powerful than the law

Samsung’s former chief legal counsel “accused [Samsung Electronics chairman and the richest man in South Korea, Lee Kun-hee] and his loyal aides of having stolen as much as 10 trillion won, or $9 billion, from Samsung subsidiaries and stashed it in stock and bank accounts illegally opened in the names of executives”:

The book alleges that they shredded books, fabricated evidence and bribed politicians, bureaucrats, prosecutors, judges and journalists, mainly to ensure that they would not stand in the way of Mr. Lee’s illegal transfer of corporate control to his only son, Lee Jae-yong, 41.

In his book, Mr. Kim depicts Mr. Lee and “vassal” executives at Samsung as bribing thieves who “lord over” the country, its government and media. He portrays prosecutors as opportunists who are ruthless to those they regard as “dead” powers, like a former president, but subservient to and afraid of Samsung, which he calls the “power that never dies.”

The legal counsel’s charges forced an investigation, which uncovered crimes, but Lee Kun-hee escaped with a slap on the wrist:

When Mr. Kim first approached the news media with his allegations, he said, no one wanted to touch the subject. It took a group of outspoken Catholic priests to publicize his claims, forcing an investigation.

Prosecutors uncovered 4.5 trillion won in accounts that violated a law requiring depositors to use their real names; they determined that the money belonged to Mr. Lee, inherited from his father, Lee Byung-chull, who founded Samsung.

But they concluded that there was no evidence of bribery, which astonished Mr. Kim, since he had provided a list of prosecutors whom he said he had helped Samsung bribe while he was working there. In addition, a lawmaker said she had once been offered a golf bag full of cash from Samsung, and a former presidential aide said he had received and returned a cash gift from the company.

Last year, Mr. Lee was convicted of having evaded 46.5 billion won in taxes on profits generated from the hidden money and of having helped his son buy shares of a Samsung subsidiary at an artificially low price. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but a judge suspended the sentence, saying the crime “was not serious enough to merit an actual prison term.”

This new book has sold over 120,000 copies in a small country with virtually no press coverage or marketing… because news organizations are scared to lose Samsung’s advertising dollars.

Posted by James on Apr 25, 2010