Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush says "Absurd", the torture allegations

Bush blasts Amnesty report on Guantanamo President says document is an ‘absurd report’ (The Associated Press, Updated: 2:17 p.m. ET May 31, 2005)

“It’s absurd. It’s an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world,

The U.S. and torture

I think one thing we can agree on as an American Principle is to abhor the use of torture. Yet, here we are having fairly clear evidence that American Military and Intelligence people are torturing, or at least outsourcing the torture to places like Egypt and Uzbekistan.

Cheney offended by Amnesty criticism Rights group accuses U.S. of violations at Guantanamo Bay (Tuesday, May 31, 2005 Posted: 5:13 AM EDT (0913 GMT) CNN.COM)

ice President Dick Cheney said Monday he was offended by Amnesty International's condemnation of the United States for what it called "serious human rights violations" at Guantanamo Bay.

"For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously," he said in an interview that aired Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Amnesty International was scathing last week in its criticism of the way the United States has run the detention center at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Last week Amnesty International released their annual report, with a scathing section on U.S. actions.

Stripping Rumsfeld and Bush of Impunity (By Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive. Posted May 31, 2005.)

Rothschild's article offers an alternative view to Cheney's defense. Namely, to quote a series of statements by Military leaders such as General Sanchez, and to show that they were in fact lying, perjuring is the $20 word, to congress.

When Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last year, he was asked whether he "ordered or approved the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, excessive noise, and inducing fear as an interrogation method for a prisoner in Abu Ghraib prison."

Sanchez, who was head of the Pentagon's Combined Joint Task Force-7 in Iraq, swore the answer was no. Under oath, he told the Senators he "never approved any of those measures to be used."

But a document the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained from the Pentagon flat out contradicts Sanchez's testimony. It's a memorandum entitled "CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy," dated September 14, 2003. In it, Sanchez approved several methods designed for "significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee." These included "sleep management"; "yelling, loud music, and light control: used to create fear, disorient detainee, and prolong capture shock"; and "presence of military working dogs: exploits Arab fear of dogs."

... The New York Times article backs up Ratner's claim. It says "a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the September 11 attacks" gave the CIA broad authority to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogations. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimate that the United States has transferred between 100 and 150 detainees to countries notorious for torture.

... But going after Sanchez or Gonzales for perjury is the least of it. Sanchez may be personally culpable for war crimes and torture, according to Human Rights Watch. And Gonzales himself was one of the legal architects of the torture policies. As such, he may have been involved in "a conspiracy to immunize U.S. agents from criminal liability for torture and war crimes under U.S. law," according to Amnesty International's recent report: "Guantánamo and Beyond: The Continuing Pursuit of Unchecked Executive Power."

And then there is the concept of outsourcing torture. Perhaps by a strict narrow definition U.S. military are not directly doing this, but they are transferring some prisoners to countries which are known to commit torture.

See my earlier writing: "extraordinary rendition" - Outsourced torture?

This is why filibustering judicial appointments is important

AP: White House narrowing high court list Preparing for possible Supreme Court vacancy (Monday, May 30, 2005 Posted: 11:22 AM EDT (1522 GMT) CNN.COM)

This is kind of sickening. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist is sick, with thyroid cancer. The Administration isn't waiting for him to step down, they're already making a list of candidates to nominate for the Supreme Court.

Given the Administration's track record, they're going to find the most vile of right wingers, because that's what their agenda is. To veer the country hard to the right, even though that's far outside of mainstream American ideals.

Coming draft?

Something that may be a "third rail" of this war on terror is Military staffing levels.

Paul Krugman: Too few, yet too many (By Paul Krugman The New York Times, TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2005)

It's clear that if more U.S. troops were in Iraq, the Military would have an easier time controlling the situation and suppressing dissent. That is, killing anybody who rises up in opposition to the U.S. presence.

The Krugman article goes into some of the details. The Military, to have a volunteer army, had set things up to allow the troops enough time at home to keep their family lives going fine. e.g. only 1/3rd of the time in war zone, etc. This limits the number of troops on the ground.

But the Bush administration, which was ready neither to look for a way out of Iraq nor to admit that staying there would require a much bigger army, simply threw out the rulebook. Regular soldiers are spending a lot more than a third of their time overseas, and many reservists are finding their civilian lives destroyed by repeated, long-term call-ups.

Two things make the burden of repeated deployments even harder to bear. One is the intensity of the conflict. In the online magazine Slate, Phillip Carter and Owen West, who adjusted casualty figures to take account of force size and improvements in battlefield medicine (which allow more of the severely wounded to survive), concluded that "infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966."

The other is the way in which the administration cuts corners when it comes to supporting the troops. From their foot-dragging on armoring Humvees to their apparent policy of denying long-term disability payments to as many of the wounded as possible, officials seem almost pathologically determined to nickel-and-dime those who put their lives on the line for their country.

Now, predictably, the supply of volunteers is drying up.

Which leads me to wonder ... how long before The Draft is instituted?

And.... what will be the response of the apathetic Youth to The Draft?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Defending commercial aircraft against MANPAD's

MANPAD's are one of the gravest proliferation concerns. The acronym means man-portable air defense systems and are the shoulder launched missiles that can be sucessfully used in bringing down aircraft.

For example, in Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror Richard Clarke (the former anti-terrorism "czar" in the U.S. government) described how, in the 1980's, the U.S. funneled the MANPAD weapons to the Mujahadeen fighting in Afghanistan against the Russian invastion. (Side note: those Mujahadeen and their leader, Osama bin Laden, went on to continue the anti-imperial fight against other "enemies", as you might recall) The Mujahadeen was able to turn a desparate fight against the Russians into a rout.

U.S. Set to Test Missile Defenses Aboard Airlines (By ERIC LIPTON, Published: May 29, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

In an airplane hangar north of Fort Worth, technicians are preparing to mount a fire-hydrant-shaped device onto the belly of an American Airlines Boeing 767. It is an effort that could soon turn into a more than $10 billion project to install a high-tech missile defense system on the nation's commercial planes.

The Boeing 767 - the same type of plane that terrorists flew into the World Trade Center - is one of three planes that, by the end of this year, will be used to test the infrared laser-based systems designed to find and disable shoulder-fired missiles. The missiles have long been popular among terrorists and rebel groups in war zones around the world; the concern now is that they could become a domestic threat.

The tests are being financed by the Department of Homeland Security, which has been directed by Congress to move rapidly to take technology designed for military aircraft and adapt it so it can protect the nation's 6,800 commercial jets. It has so far invested $120 million in the testing effort, which is expected to last through next year.

Yet even before the tests begin, some members of Congress, and several prominent aviation and terrorism experts, are questioning whether the rush to deploy this expensive new antiterrorism system makes sense.

Homeland Security officials have repeatedly cautioned that no credible evidence exists of a planned missile attack in the United States. But there is near unanimity among national security experts and lawmakers that because of the relatively low price and small size of the missiles, as well as the large number available on the black market, they represent a legitimate domestic threat.


The project is to attach an anti-missile defense system against civilian commercial aircraft. Presumably a terrorist group might deploy some MANPAD equipment against that kind of target. After all, there were at least two such attacks in the 1990's targeting Israeli planes returning vacationers from Africa to Israel.

In any case, there's no credible evidence of such an attack being planned in the U.S. and yet the DHS has spent over $120 million studying this?

In a recent study by Rand, which examined security threats at Los Angeles International Airport, a shoulder-mounted missile was characterized as a "lesser threat" in terms of potential deaths than a truck bomb or a luggage bomb. In fact, the study suggested that the threat posed by a shoulder-fired missile was not much greater than that of a sniper who might fire a .50-caliber rifle at a plane from outside the airport.

And on the flipside we have the makers of the devices doing this:

Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems have briefed members of Congress, urging them to invest in the systems, and Northrop has commissioned a poll in an effort to demonstrate public support for the program. One Northrop briefing featured photographs of men in long, loose robes taking a missile launcher out of a car and firing a round into the air.

Who are you going to believe? The snake oil salesmen?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Nuclear option averted, filibustering of judicial nominees is still possible

Late last week Senator Frist began the clock on the invoking of the nuclear option. Namely, upending 200 years of precedent that the Senate could filibuster a judicial nominee.

Today, a deal was just reached that preserves the filibuster option.

Senators compromise on filibusters Bipartisan group agrees to vote to end debate on 3 nominees (Tuesday, May 24, 2005 Posted: 12:20 AM EDT (0420 GMT) CNN.COM)

Under the agreement, three nominees for appellate courts stalled by Democratic filibusters will go forward and two others will remain subject to filibuster.

The group's members also agreed that they would oppose attempts to filibuster future judicial nominees except under "extraordinary circumstances."

Fourteen senators -- seven Democrats and seven Republicans -- signed on to the deal.

That bloc is large enough to derail both Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees and any GOP attempt to employ the so-called "nuclear option" to change Senate rules through procedural maneuvers to prevent the tactic from being used.

..."This is really good news for every American," the Nevada Democrat told reporters. "Checks and balances have been protected."

Reid said the agreement sent President Bush, Vice President Cheney and what he called the "radical arm of the Republican base" the "undeniable" message that "abuse of power will not be tolerated."

Frist was less enthusiastic, saying the agreement "falls short" of the principle that all judicial nominees should receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

"extraordinary rendition" - Outsourced torture?

I've seen articles about this for some time .. the idea is that the CIA has leased a few private jets, and is using them to ferry prisoners to countries that have fewer compunctions about torture than does the U.S. We apparently then get that other country to torture the prisoners, and get the information that's desired, while supposedly keeping our hands clean.

New Swedish Documents Illuminate CIA Action Probe Finds 'Rendition' Of Terror Suspects Illegal (By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post Foreign Service, Saturday, May 21, 2005; Page A01)

STOCKHOLM -- The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.

Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners' clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men's mouths and ears and examined their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.

So began an operation the CIA calls an "extraordinary rendition," the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections.

The CIA's Kidnapping Ring U.S. ally Uzbekistan teaches interrogators how to boil suspected terrorists to death (by Nat Hentoff, April 15th, 2005 1:13 PM, THE VILLAGE VOICE)

During a White House press conference on March 16, George W. Bush was asked: "Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and expanded the practice of what's called 'rendition'—of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?"

The president: "[In] the post-9-11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. . . . One way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture."

Question: "As commander in chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating an individual that the United States can't?"

George W. Bush repeated his talking point: "We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured."

That's the official denial ...

In a segment of CBS's 60 Minutes on these CIA torture missions (March 5), former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told of the range of advanced techniques used by Uzbek interrogators:

"drowning and suffocation, rape was used . . . and also immersion of limbs in boiling liquid."

Two nights later on ABC's World News Tonight, Craig Murray told of photos he received of an Uzbek interrogation that ended with the prisoner actually being boiled to death!

... On the BBC (October 15), Steve Crawshaw, director of the London office of Human Rights Watch, spoke plainly about George W. Bush's continual, ardent assurances that this country would never engage in torture:

"You can't wash your hands and say we didn't torture, but we will use what comes out of torture."

CIA director Porter Goss also engages in what George Orwell called doublespeak. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 17, Porter Goss said, "The United States does not engage in or condone torture."

These are the kind of things the bad-guy countries do. The U.S. isn't supposed to do this kinda thing, we're the good guys, we do things with high moral standards. Right?

I guess the NEOCON Agenda isn't moving fast enough?

U.S. to transform the way it deals with Middle East (By Reuters, in Haaretz)

The U.S. government intends to transform the way it deals with the Middle East, introducing an interventionist foreign policy that focuses on political and economic reform, Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, said Friday.

The new policy will replace traditional diplomacy conducted through U.S. embassies, Zoellick said, with pressure to adopt the Bush Administration's ideals of free trade and democracy in the Middle East.

... "The old days of a foreign policy characterized only by the meetings and machinations of diplomatic statecraft are past," Zoellick said during a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum conference at this Dead Sea resort.

The article goes on to say the U.S. will provide economic funding widely, and that it will be tied to demands for political and economic reforms.

In other words, they want to go full steam ahead, and steamroll the neocon agenda to reshape the middle east.

Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle

US tells Syria: stop meddling in Lebanon, Iraq (Fri May 20, 1:01 PM ET, AFP)

SHUNEH, Jordan (AFP) - The United States said Syria must stop supporting the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and meddling in Iraq, as Washington kept up diplomatic pressure on Damascus.

"Our prime role, having a united front (with Europe), is to insist that the Syrians apply (UN Security Council Resolution) 1559," US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told reporters.

"If Syria wants good ties with the United States, it can't be supporting Hezbollah and undermining the situation in Iraq," Zoellick said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting here.

The US official also said that the outcome of elections in Lebanon, due to start at the end of the month, will likely apply pressure on Hezbollah on whether to "remain an armed militia or (become) a political party."

Hah, who are we to tell others not to meddle in the affairs of other countries?

In particular ...

U.S. Moves to Reassert Itself in Iraq AffairsAs insurgent attacks grow, American officials are returning to a more active role to improve services and foster an inclusive government. (By Paul Richter and Ashraf Khalil, Times Staff Writers, May 20, 2005)

WASHINGTON — Facing an intensifying insurgency and a frail government in Baghdad, the Bush administration has reluctantly changed course to deepen its involvement in the process of running Iraq.

U.S. officials are taking a more central and visible role in mediating among political factions, pushing for the government to be more inclusive and helping resuscitate public services. At the same time, Washington is maintaining pressure on Iraqi officials to upgrade the nation's fledgling security forces.

The change comes at a time when confidence in the leaders elected in January has been falling and U.S. officials have grown more pessimistic about how soon Iraqi security forces will be able to take charge of the counterinsurgency effort.

Afghanistan wrangling

Harmid Karzai is coming to Washington DC to visit. It seems there's a major disagreement brewing.

Just prior a news report was leaked through Newsweek of desecration of the Koran by U.S. Soldiers at Guantanamo who are guarding the prisoners captured in Afghanistan. (Hmm... it's now 2005, these prisoners were captured in 2001, transferred to Cuba in 2002, so just how long are they going to be kept without trial?) The news has sparked rioting all through the Islamic world, most especially in Afghanistan.

Karzai is hopping mad: Karzai shock at US Afghan 'abuse' (Saturday, 21 May, 2005, BBC.CO.UK)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded action from the US after new details emerged of alleged abuse of prisoners by US troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai said he was shocked and would raise the issue with President George W Bush when he meets him next week.

This isn't just about the Koran desecration, but also abuse of prisoners at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Unlike the previous prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, this time the senior officials are being implicated. At Abu Ghraib the senior officials were likely involved, but somehow escaped from being accused.

Report implicates top brass in Bagram scandal
(Julian Borger in Washington, Saturday May 21, 2005, The Guardian )

A leaked report on a military investigation into two killings of detainees at a US prison in Afghanistan has produced new evidence of connivance of senior officers in systematic prisoner abuse.

The investigation shows the military intelligence officers in charge of the detention centre at Bagram airport were redeployed to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, while still under investigation for the deaths of two detainees months earlier. Despite military prosecutors' recommendations, the officers involved have yet to be charged.

Afghan prisoners were 'tortured to death' by American guards
(By Justin Huggler, Asia Correspondent, 21 May 2005, The Independant of London)

A 2,000-page report on an internal investigation by the US military leaked to The New York Times and published yesterday provides exhaustive detail on how the two were kept chained in excruciating positions and kicked to death.

The harrowing stories of the deaths of Habibullah and Dilawar told in the report could prove as damaging to the US as the photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

The report reveals that Dilawar, a taxi driver, died despite the fact that most of the interrogators were convinced he was innocent.

US abuse of Afghan prisoners 'widespread' (Sarah Left and agencies, Friday May 20, 2005 )

US soldiers carried out widespread abuse of detainees at the US-run Bagram prison camp in Afghanistan, according to a confidential US army report revealed today in the New York Times.

Seven soldiers have been charged in connection with abuse at Bagram, where the paper reports that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine, prisoners were shackled in painful fixed positions, and guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity.

The army document highlights the deaths in detention of Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver who most interrogators had believed to be innocent, and another inmate, Habibullah. The two men died within six days of each other in December 2002.

Interesting the U.S. government is throwing some accusations at Karzai. Apparently he hasn't been showing enough "leadership" at Opium eradication. War on Drugs, meet War on Terror, Terror, meet Drugs.

Report: Karzai faulted over Afghan heroin Ties tested ahead of Afghan leader’s visit to Washington (MSNBC News Services, Updated: 5:34 a.m. ET May 22, 2005)

U.S. officials said in a memo to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this month that a poppy eradication program aimed at Afghanistan’s heroin trade was ineffective partly because of President Hamid Karzai’s leadership, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

The May 13 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to Rice, shown to the Times by an official said to be alarmed at the slow pace of poppy eradication, said provincial officials and village elders impeded destruction of poppy acreage. It also said top Afghan officials, including Karzai, had done little to counter that.

... “Karzai has been well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication program, (but) he has been unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar,

Who's been keeping interest rates low? The Chinese.

Interest rates have been at historic lows for several years. This began around the time Bush stole his first election, and despite a couple modest increases by the Federal Reserve, the interest rates have remained very low.

One effect has been a bubble of house buying. The real estate market is hopping and has been the whole time. People are on a binge of buying houses because of the low rates. The idea floating around has been that it's insane to not get into the market, because you'll never see rates this low ever again. And at the same time house prices have been skyrocketing.

The Chinese Connection ( By PAUL KRUGMAN, Published: May 20, 2005, NY TIMES.COM)

In the article Paul Krugman explains how it is the Chinese who are keeping interest rates low.

Here's how the U.S.-China economic relationship currently works:

Money is pouring into China, both because of its rapidly rising trade surplus and because of investments by Western and Japanese companies. Normally, this inflow of funds would be self-correcting: both China's trade surplus and the foreign investment pouring in would push up the value of the yuan, China's currency, making China's exports less competitive and shrinking its trade surplus.

But the Chinese government, unwilling to let that happen, has kept the yuan down by shipping the incoming funds right back out again, buying huge quantities of dollar assets - about $200 billion worth in 2004, and possibly as much as $300 billion worth this year. This is economically perverse: China, a poor country where capital is still scarce by Western standards, is lending vast sums at low interest rates to the United States.

And ...

Here's what I think will happen if and when China changes its currency policy, and those cheap loans are no longer available. U.S. interest rates will rise; the housing bubble will probably burst; construction employment and consumer spending will both fall; falling home prices may lead to a wave of bankruptcies. And we'll suddenly wonder why anyone thought financing the budget deficit was easy.

In other words, we've developed an addiction to Chinese dollar purchases, and will suffer painful withdrawal symptoms when they come to an end.

al Qaeda and the Anthrax

Qaeda Letters Are Said to Show Pre-9/11 Anthrax Plans ( By ERIC LIPTON, Published: May 21, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

The article in question discusses plans that had been made by al Qaeda, in Afghanistan, to construct a biological laboratory for the purpose of culturing Anthrax and making a weapon out of it. The information discussed was released under the Freedom of Information act, and was captured at a camp in Afghanistan.

It discusses the equipment requirements (centrifuges, incubators, etc), and describes a rudimentary lab layout. It discusses visits and other attempts by the lab director aimed to acquire Anthrax samples. But it also says the lab director was in the end frustrated in acquiring suitable samples to work with.

The letters appear to be the same documents referred to in the report of a special presidential commission on intelligence failures and unconventional weapons led by former Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia and Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the federal appeals court.

The report, released in March, describes a biological weapons program that "was extensive, well organized and operated two years before the Sept. 11."

But the article goes on to quote someone else saying:

Two biological weapons experts who have read the letters said in interviews Friday that the letters suggested that the laboratory construction was at an early stage and that it would have most likely been at least two to three years, if not more, before the Qaeda team would have been able to produce enough anthrax to use as a weapon.

"They were moving to try to get the right stuff," said D. A. Henderson, an expert on biological weapons who is a former top scientific adviser to the Health and Human Services Department. "But not in a very sophisticated way."


"It is not likely that anything is going on right now," said Dr. Leitenberg, author of "The Problem of Biological Weapons" (2004). "And in the three years they were working on this, as best as is known, they did not succeed in obtaining a pathogen or reach the stage of growing the pathogen in the laboratory."

So, on the one hand a government report says there was a huge problem, and on the other hand some experts say they were at very early stages. Who to believe? The government we've seen hand us lie after lie after manufactured evidence?

Oh, and there's still the unsolved mystery of the Anthrax attacks in September and October of 2001. My understanding is the Anthrax used then appeared to be of American manufacture, that it came from a strain produced by the U.S. Government. Hmmm???

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Expanding the "PATRIOT" act

EFF Obtains Draft PATRIOT Bill Bill Gives Justice Department More Power to Demand Private Records

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a watchdog agency guarding privacy and freedom in the computerized age. They've obtained a draft of a bill that extends the USA PATRIOT act.

Some provisions in the PATRIOT act were set to expire soon (there was a "sunset clause") and this new act extends the expirey time of those provisions.

Some provisions in this new act clarify what the phrase "Terrorist" applies to. This might be a good thing, in that it's always been worrisome that Big Brother might be there labeling us all terrorists so that Big Brother can spy on everybody. What I see in the new act is a clarification that Terrorist applies to those who are committing or planning sabotage or "international terrorism".

The most worrisome of the provisions of this new act is establishing a procedure whereby the FBI can, in a terrorist investigation, can record what they call "mail covers". A "mail cover" is the outside of the envelope of mail being handled by the U.S. Postal Service. It also contains a provision to open "unsealed" mail, and record the contents, but one need not "worry" because "First Class" mail falls under the definition and protections of sealed mail. Unsealed mail includes second class, third class, fourth class, and international parcel post.

Follow the above link for more information.

Plan to Let F.B.I. Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries ( By ERIC LICHTBLAU, Published: May 21, 2005, NY TIMES)

The proposal, to be considered next week in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would allow the bureau to direct postal inspectors to turn over the names, addresses and all other material appearing on the outside of letters sent to or from people connected to foreign intelligence investigations.

The plan would effectively eliminate the postal inspectors' discretion in deciding when so-called mail covers are needed and give sole authority to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if it determines that the material is "relevant to an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence," according to a draft of the bill.

...The proposals reflect efforts by the administration and Senate Republicans to bolster and, in some ways, broaden the power of the bureau to fight terrorism, even as critics are seeking to scale back its authority under the law known as the USA Patriot Act.

...The F.B.I. has conducted mail covers for decades in criminal and national security investigations. But the prospect of expanding its authority to monitor mailings alarmed some privacy and civil rights advocates and caused concerns among postal officials, as well. They said the proposal caught them off guard.

..."Prison wardens may be able to monitor their prisoners' mail," said Lisa Graves, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, "but ordinary Americans shouldn't be treated as prisoners in their own country."

More on proposal to allow the FBI to spy on U.S. citizens

Senate committee to mull expanded police powers (Wed May 18, 2005 09:50 PM ET, REUTERS)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican leadership of the Senate intelligence committee will propose giving the Bush administration broad new subpoena powers as part of legislative efforts to reauthorize the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act, officials said on Wednesday.

A bill due to be put forward by the panel's Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, would allow the FBI to subpoena materials ranging from health and library records to tax documents without a judge's initial approval, as part of federal terrorism and intelligence probes, committee aides said.

The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the change would provide counterterrorism officials with the same subpoena powers wielded by criminal investigators.

"The discussion that led to drafting the provision was, if it's a tool that's available in hundreds of criminal contacts then why not provide that same tool to national security investigators as well," said one committee aide.

I dunno about you, but the thought that the police can look at various of our records without judicial review is scarey. I don't care under what circumstances it is, without judicial review there's the opportunity for rampant misuse.

Is this the death of the republic? Cloture motion filed!

On the SALON.COM blog: [14:39 EDT, May 20, 2005]

The nuclear countdown has officially begun

On behalf of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Republican Sen. John Cornyn just filed a cloture motion on the confirmation of Priscilla Owen -- the procedural step required to set up a vote on whether debate must end and a floor vote be taken.

Under the Senate's rules, the cloture motion will ripen on Tuesday, at which time senators will vote whether or not to cut off debate on Owen's nomination. Presuming that Democrats remain united, they'll have the votes to defeat that motion, which requires 60 votes to pass. Once that happens, Frist will be in the position to trigger the nuclear option.

-- Tim Grieve

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Review: The Mystery of King Arthur

The Mystery of King Arthur

King Arthur, the Round Table, Camelot, Lancelot, Gwinivere, Mordred, Excalibur, Merlin, etc ... you know the story, probably. But, did it really happen? And if so, where? And can we find any evidence in the historical records?

The King Arthur story comes to us as fables from the mists of history. The thing is, it's tantalizingly true, yet there isn't much in the way of historical proof any of it happened.

That's what this book sets out to explore. As it does, the book touches on quite a bit of the ancient history of England.

The only factual evidence of a King named Arthur is from the "Easter Annals", that's stored in the British Museum. There are two entries naming Arthur, one of which named Mordred. The dates are from approximately 500 AD.

However, the mythical evidence is far-ranging. Authors throughout the ages have written about the Arthurian legend, and the legend has grown with each one.

For example, Camelot, Arthurs capital city, was first mentioned by the 12th century author Chretien de Troyes. This book explains it is most likely a French corruption of Camalodunum, the Roman name for Colchester.

Mabinogion, The (Penguin Classics)One thing that's always been clear to me is the story must stem from Wales. This has to do with the etymology of Guinevere, because it is really an anglicization of the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar. This is also something the book goes into, especially as the Mabinogion contains a couple stories mentioning a great warrior named Arthur along with a few elements of the legend.

This is an excellent book in which to explore the Arthurian Legend.

Massive death in Uzbekistan - applauded by U.S. Government

Let's start with the bloodshed:

Massacre in Uzbekistan Up to 500 protesters feared dead. Ex-ambassador accuses UK of failing democracy movement (By Stephen Khan and Francis Elliott in London and Peter Boehm in Tashkent, 15 May 2005, The Independant of London)

Hundreds of protesters are reported to have been gunned down in bloody clashes with government forces that have ravaged eastern Uzbekistan.

One human rights observer in the eastern city of Andizhan said that up to 500 people may have perished in the shootings and the gun battles that followed. A doctor spoke of "many, many dead", witnesses said 200 to 300 people were shot dead, and an AP reporter saw at least 30 bodies in Andijan. As night fell, tension was high, with armoured vehicles positioned at crossroads and trucks blocking main thoroughfares. Terrified demonstrators tried to flee the country, seen as a key ally by Britain and the US in the war on terror.

...In a severe rebuke to London and Washington's approach to the region, Britain's former ambassador to the country yesterday said the countries had swallowed Uzbek propaganda that sought to portray the democracy movement as a brand of Islamic extremism.

... "The Americans and British wouldn't do anything to help democracy in Uzbekistan," he said. Uzbekistan provides a base for US forces engaged in anti-terrorism operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mr Murray added: "We didn't provide support for those who were trying to develop democratic opposition, and that includes these people in Andizhan. People are turning to violence because we ... gave them no support."

Instead, "we" (the U.S. and Britain) have been supporting the government in Uzbekistan, because that governmnet has been providing "us" with bases from which to launch the "war on terror".

Actually, I think this isn't because of any "war on terror". And it's clearly not about promoting democracy, because otherwise "we" would have supported the democratic movement there. Instead it is geopolitics and the grabbing of resources that's important. Uzbekistan is, after all, part of the proposed pipeline route to get Oil out of the land which used to be central Soviet-Union. The rest of the proposed route was Afghanistan and Pakistan, neither of which are achieving much democracy, but both of which are getting U.S. support because of their cooperation.

In the Guardian of London: Anger as US backs brutal regime Human rights concerns as troops put down uprising in Uzbekistan (Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Paul Harris in New York, Sunday May 15, 2005)

Heated criticism was growing last night over 'double standards' by Washington over human rights, democracy and 'freedom' as fresh evidence emerged of just how brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the 'war on terror', put down Friday's unrest in the east of the country.

Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by the White House on Friday that appeared designed to justify the violence of the regime of President Islam Karimov, claiming - as Karimov has - that 'terrorist groups' may have been involved in the uprising.

... Witnesses and analysts familiar with the region said most protesters were complaining about government corruption and poverty, not espousing Islamic extremism.

... Uzbekistan is believed to be one of the destination countries for the highly secretive 'renditions programme', whereby the CIA ships terrorist suspects to third-party countries where torture is used that cannot be employed in the US. Newspaper reports in America say dozens of suspects have been transferred to Uzbek jails.

The CIA has never officially commented on the programme. But flight logs obtained by the New York Times earlier this month show CIA-linked planes landing in Tashkent with the same serial numbers as jets used to transfer prisoners around the world. The logs show at least seven flights from 2002 to late 2003, originating from destinations in the Middle East and Europe.

... Critics say the US double standards are evident on the State Department website, which accuses Uzbek police and security services of using 'torture as a routine investigation technique' while giving the same law enforcement services $79 million in aid in 2002. The department says officers who receive training are vetted to ensure they have not tortured anyone.

More Real ID

Identity crisis
Congress just passed an act requiring Americans to carry a national I.D. card. Forget the Big Brother concerns -- security experts say terrorists will figure out how to get them, and warn that your DMV experience will become even more hellish. (By Farhad Manjoo, SALON.COM, May 13, 2005)

The article is an overview of the Real ID act, and the various protestations against it. The Schneier bit is just one of the interviewees quoted in the article.

To recap - the Real ID act calls for the formation of a national identification card that's machine readable. It will piggyback on drivers licenses, hence the implementation requirement will be passed on to individual states.

Farhad's article is very interesting, even with a couple innacuracies. For example he claims the U.S. Passports already have RFID in them, while linking to this article. But if he had bothered to read the article, as well as the background material linked from the article, he'd know there was a proposal to add RFID to U.S. passports, but that the proposal was recently rejected.

The key concern is the RFID chip, and Farhad seems to position that chip as nothing short of the Mark Of The Beast in the Book of Revelations.

Hundreds of immigration rights and civil-liberties groups have criticized the bill. They argue that the national I.D. card will allow cops and corporations to spy on citizens and worry that new databases of personal information will aid identity thieves.

The most potent argument he makes is demanding solid identity cards is like looking in the rear view mirror and fixing the problem that just occurred. It's like this nonsense we go through at the airports, just because one guy made a half-assed attempt to blow up an airplane with bomb material in his shoes, we now all have to take off our shoes in the airport.

the "failure of imagination," to borrow the 9/11 Commission's phrase. Depending on whom you ask, the act will cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to implement. By focusing our resources on a plan to prevent a repeat of 9/11, we may be failing to anticipate and prevent a different attack -- one in which the attackers aren't foreigners but American citizens, whose weapons aren't airplanes but buses, and whose target isn't an office building but a shopping mall.

The act is not worth the trade-off ... We get no additional security while expending enormous costs to institute the national I.D. system. The cost is measured not only in money but also in the loss of privacy.

The big thing we should worry about with this is the ways it can be misused. For example passive RFID can be read from a distance, using a powerful enough reader. For example an argument could be made for installing readers in every doorway leading in and out of public buildings, or perhaps all buildings. In order for the Real ID card to work, the RFID reader has to query a central database to determine the identity associated with the card, and hence the owners of that central database then would be able to track every Real ID holder and most of their movements. An argument could be made to require Real ID for any purchase in any store, just as today we're asked to show a "picture ID" when we buy something with a credit card or check. And, again, the owners of the central identity database would be able to track where we purchase items.

The Real I.D. Act will result in the creation of a nationwide database of personal information that would be a juicy target for attackers. "There isn't a database on the planet that isn't vulnerable to attack," says Schneier, an expert on database security. "Maybe they'll manage to create the first safe database -- but that isn't the way to bet."

Yup ... I've been working in computer software for over 20 years, and I have to totally agree with this. It's not just the database, though, but the whole system. With RFID scanners installed ubiquitously some of them will fall into mischevious hands, be reverse engineered, and they'll find a way to get into the system.

They might insert false identities into the system .. might tamper with things .. or it could end up being a huge leak of private information.

Plus, if you've ever looked at your own credit report, you know how completely innacurate those are. The credit reporting companies have a big incentive for accurate reports, and they still get them wrong.

On Dec. 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam, a 28-year-old Algerian man who had obtained a legitimate Canadian passport under the name Benni Noris, attempted to cross from Victoria, B.C., to Port Angeles, Wash. Customs agents ran his passport -- an old-style passport that wasn't machine readable -- through the computer and found nothing odd. But something about Ressam's demeanor didn't sit well with the agents in Port Angeles, so they began searching his car. They found 100 pounds of nitroglycerin explosives stashed in his trunk. He had planned to blow up LAX.

This system could lull us with a false sense of security that could allow people like that to slip buy security guards who aren't being alert because the machines tell them who everybody is.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Just what do they tell GW Bush?

Last week an air-born threat approached the White House. Specifically, an airplane penetrated the restricted airspace over Washington DC, all the way to the White House. Fighter jets and Blackhawk helicopters were scrambled even, to ward off this "threat". Both the White House and the Capitol building were evacuated.

Fortunately President Bush was not in the area.

Fortunately the airplane turned out to be a Cessna flown by a couple private pilots who accidentally strayed over Washington DC while on their way to a fishing trip or something like that. No real danger ...

But, still ... here's the interesting thing.

More on Bush's bike ride (11:44 EDT, May 13, 2005 SALON.COM)

This salon.com blog entry says that President Bush was not notified of the incident until well after it was all over.

So, hey, what's up with that? A major security incident, that caused an evacuation to begin in downtown Washington DC, and the President wasn't notified?

See, he was riding his bicycle in Maryland. I suppose that was more important than being notified of a major security incident.

... Leon Panetta, chief of staff to president Clinton, said there is no reason to leave a president out of the loop, no matter how short-lived the situation. "I don't think there is a legitimate excuse for not telling the president of the United States about that kind of potential emergency," he said. "It was serious that it happened and it could have been even more serious…. That is something that just simply cannot happen again."

We're to believe from the blog entry that the defense thrown up by the administration is that the system is on automatic pilot. That the threat was automatically handled by the defense team in place, and that the system doesn't need the President's intervention for it to work.

Hmmm....???? Clearly judging by results, the incident was handled very well without the President's intervention.

But, this recalls to mind the 1/2 hour or so the President spent sitting in front of a classroom listening to children read a story about a Pet Goat, while at the same time the country is under attack in the worst incident in decades. I guess this is a President who is comfortable being out of the loop, and that's scary.

Why scary? Well, because if the President is out of the loop, then what are the people actually doing with their authority? Are they doing things in integrity? Or are they abusing their power? The President's job includes overseeing the operation of the country and ensuring that what happens is the best for the people, and that must include overseeing the beaurocracy and administration to ensure the people in positions of power aren't abusing the power.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The "nuclear option" ... trying to ramrod judicial nominations

Everything you wanted to know about the "nuclear option"
If the Republicans are as good as their word, it's going to be much uglier than you think. (By Tim Grieve, May 12, 2005, SALON.COM)

This is an examination by SALON.COM on the "nuclear option".

Basically, what's up is that the Republican majority in Congress is upset at the Democratic party using the fillibuster option to block certain of the judicial nominations.

On the Democratic side they're saying those judges are part of the radical right (a.k.a. "right wing nutjobs"), and that they're using the fillibuster to block only a small portion of the nominations. Further, the Republican party used the same tactic when the shoe was on the other foot, during Clinton's years he also had a backlog of judicial nominations that couldn't get through Congress.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bush administration energy agenda

This is a White House press release from April 27, 2005, giving a speech GW made giving the energy agenda: President Discusses Energy at National Small Business Conference

We're doing everything we can to make sure our consumers are treated fairly, that there is no price gouging. Yet, the most important thing we can do today is to address the fundamental problem of our energy situation. That's the most important thing we can do. And the fundamental problem is this: Our supply of energy is not growing fast enough to meet the demands of our growing economy.

Over the past decade our energy consumption has increased by more than 12 percent, while our domestic production has increased by less than one-half of 1 percent. A growing economy causes us to consume more energy. And, yet, we're not producing energy here at home, which means we're reliant upon foreign nations. And at the same time we've become more reliant upon foreign nations, the global demand for energy is growing faster than the growing supply. Other people are using more energy, as well. And that's contributed to a rise in prices.

Because of our foreign energy dependence, our ability to take actions at home that will lower prices for American families is diminishing. Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people. It's a tax our citizens pay every day in higher gasoline prices and higher costs to heat and cool their homes. It's a tax on jobs and it's a tax that is increasing every year.

The problem is clear. This problem did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight. But it's now time to fix it. See, we got a fundamental question we got to face here in America: Do we want to continue to grow more dependent on other nations to meet our energy needs, or do we want to do what is necessary to achieve greater control of our economic destiny?

He's got the right viewpoint, and the right question. It's great that he's making the public aware that the foreign energy dependance is a "tax" on the U.S. and that it puts the country further and further under the control of foreign powers.

The first essential step toward greater energy independence is to apply technology to increase domestic production from existing energy resources. And one of the most promising sources of energy is nuclear power. (Applause.) Today's technology has made nuclear power safer, cleaner, and more efficient than ever before. Nuclear power is now providing about 20 percent of America's electricity, with no air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power is one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, and we need more of it here in America.

Unfortunately, America has not ordered a new nuclear power plant since the 1970s. France, by contrast, has built 58 plants in the same period. And today, France gets more than 78 percent of its electricity from safe, clean nuclear power.

Hmm, I thought France was the traitor state, and now he wants to emulate them?

Anyway ... Obviously anything that's done is going to require increasing domestically owned sources of power. Yes? The question is, where will the emphasis be placed. There's a whole range of power sources we could choose from, so why choose nuclear power? Who knows.

I've already examined the nuclear angle here: Examining nukes to replace oil

Since the 1970s, more than 35 plants were stopped at various stages of planning and construction because of bureaucratic obstacles. No wonder -- no wonder -- the industry is hesitant to start building again. We must provide greater certainty to those who risk capital if we want to expand a safe, clean source of energy that will make us less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

One of those plants is in California, and was discovered to be on top of a previously undiscovered fault zone. This is California, and the ground has cracks all over the place. Obviously, even someone as dense as GW ought to be able to figure this out, a fault zone is the last place you want a nuclear power plant. Yes? That's hardly a bureaucratic obstacle is it? I wonder what reason the other plants were stopped for?

Somehow I think that a company that's willing to invest the $billions to build a nuclear plant isn't going to be stopped by a little paperwork.

Further, that something as serious as a nuclear power plant had better be qualified for safety a zillion different ways.

If it takes a bureaurocracy to do that, then so be it. Nuclear power is so dangerous that the "we" the people, for whom GW works, need this level of assurance.

A secure energy future for America also means building and expanding American oil refineries. Technology has allowed us to better control emissions and improve the efficiency and environmental performance of our existing refineries. Yet there have been no new oil refineries built in the United States since 1976. And existing refineries are running at nearly full capacity. Our demand for gasoline grows, which means we're relying more on foreign imports of refined product.

Uhm, if the oil supply has peaked, then why build new refineries? Won't the new refineries just be boondoggles to the cost of $billions?

To encourage the expansion of existing facilities, the EPA is simplifying rules and regulations. I will direct federal agencies to work with states to encourage the building of new refineries -- on closed military facilities, for example -- and to simplify the permitting process for such construction. By easing the regulatory burden, we can refine more gasoline for our citizens here at home. That will help assure supply and reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Meaning, we can expect to see even more ecological disasters such as the huge cancer rates in Richmond CA (which is bracketed by two major oil refineries).

But, oh, that presumes the oil will be available to send to these new refineries.

...Arctic National Wildlife Refuge....Technology now makes it possible to reach ANWR's hydrocarbons by drilling on just 2,000 acres of the 19 million acres of land. That's just one-tenth of 1 percent of ANWR's total area. Because of the advances in technology, we can reach the oil deposits with almost no impact on land or local wildlife. ... Developing this tiny section of ANWR could eventually yield up to a million barrels of oil per day.

Sigh. What part of "Wildlife Refuge" does he not understand? Also, 1 million barrels per day is less than 5% of the daily oil needs, hence would contribute little to the problem. Also I've seen claimed that the reserves there are minor in size, hence would run out pretty quickly.

Technology is allowing us to make better use of natural gas. Natural gas is an important source of energy for industries like agriculture or manufacturing or power production. The United States is the sixth-largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world, and we'll do more to develop this vital resource. That's why I signed into law a tax credit to encourage a new pipeline to bring Alaskan natural gas to the rest of the United States. (Applause.)

Technology is also helping us to get at reserves of natural gas that cannot be reached -- easily reached by pipelines. Today, we're able to super cool natural gas into liquid form so it can be transported on tankers and stored more easily. Thanks to this technology, our imports of liquefied natural gas nearly doubled in 2003. Last year, imports rose another 29 percent. But our ability to expand our use of liquefied natural gas is limited, because today we have just five receiving terminals and storage facilities around the United States.

To take advantage of this new -- this technology, federal agencies must expedite the review of the 32 proposed new projects that will either expand or build new liquefied natural gas terminals. In other words, there's projects on the books, and we're going to get after the review process. Congress should make it clear to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission its authority to choose sites for new terminals, so we can expand our use of liquefied natural gas.

Okay, I've seen a few news articles going by about reducing regulatory burden for building LNG terminals. Of course that probably will mean a commensurate increase in environmental disasters.

Fortunately Natural Gas is not on the same oil peak scenario as Oil has. Natural Gas's peak is after 2100. Natural gas is cleaner, etc. Perhaps this is a decent idea?

America as enough coal to last for 250 years. But coal presents an environmental challenge. To make cleaner use of this resource, I have asked Congress for more than $2 billion over 10 years for my coal research initiative. It's a program that will encourage new technologies that remove virtually all pollutants from coal-fired power plants. My Clear Skies initiative will result in more than $52 billion in investment in clean coal technologies by the private sector. To achieve greater energy dependence, we must put technology to work so we can harness the power of clean coal.

Yup, dirty old Coal. Sigh. It will be an interesting trick to make it clean.

Oh, and the more work you do to these fuels, the less gain you derive from using them. For example to liquify natural gas you spend a lot of energy cooling it until it turns from gas to liquid. Then you spend more energy keeping it cool during transport.

To clean up coal would require spending some energy on some process that does something to it.

The second essential step toward greater energy independence is to harness technology to create new sources of energy. Hydrogen is one of the most promising of these new sources of energy. Two years ago my administration launched a crash program called the Hydrogen Fuel initiative. We've already dedicated $1.2 billion over five years to this effort to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells. We know that when hydrogen is used in the fuel cell it has the power to -- potential to power anything from a cell phone to a computer to an automobile; that it emits pure water, instead of exhaust fumes.

I've asked Congress for an additional $500 million over five years to help move advanced technology vehicles from the research lab to the dealership lot. See, I want the children here in America to be able to take your driver's test in a completely pollution-free car that will make us less dependent on foreign sources of energy. To help produce fuel for these cars, my administration has also launched a Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, an effort to develop advanced nuclear technologies that can produce hydrogen fuels for cars and trucks. My budgets have dedicated $35 million over the past three years and will continue this effort.

In other words, we're developing new technologies that will change the way we drive. See, I know what we're going to need to do for a generation to come. We need to get on a path away from the fossil fuel economy. If we want to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy, we must develop new ways to power automobiles. My administration is committed to finding those news ways, and we're working with industry to do so.

Hydrogen is not a source of energy, it is a way to store energy.

What "crash program" did they launch?

We could have pollution free cars today, without hydrogen. We can have electrically driven cars today, all that's required is to increase the investment in lithium battery development. Lithium batteries in an EV car can give it the speed and range desired for daily use, even for long-range trips, and can be quickly recharged. All that's required is to R&D our way to having the batteries be safer and cheaper.

Ethanol is another promising source of energy. I like the idea of people growing corn that gets converted into fuel for cars and trucks. Our farmers can help us become less dependent on foreign oil. Technology is now under development that may one day allow us to get ethanol from agricultural and industrial waste.

Why ethanol? Why not biodiesel? Is it the corn lobby at work? Either fuel would assist in the way he describes, plus either fuel would decrease the ecological problem.

The way that works is that by decreasing the use of fossil fuels, it would decrease the amount of carbon being added to the ecosphere. Every time we use fossil fuels that is reintroducing carbon sequestered millions of years ago, putting it back into the atmosphere. On the flip side, deriving a fuel from a modern plant is carbon that is presently in use in the ecosphere. For either ethanol or biodiesel there is no new carbon introduced, the carbon that's involved is already present in the ecosphere.

We can produce another renewable fuel, bodies, from leftover fats and vegetable oils. I mean, we're exploring a lot of alternatives. Ethanol and biodiesel have got great potential. And that's why I've supported a flexible, cost-effective renewable fuel standard as part of the energy bill. This proposal would require fuel producers to include a certain percentage of ethanol and biodiesel in their fuel and would increase the amount of these renewables in our nation's fuel supply. Listen, more corn means more ethanol, which means less imported oil.

Oh, well, okay, he did give the B-word an airing.

Technology can also help us tap into a vital source that flows around us all the time and that is wind. That's why I've asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion over 10 years for tax incentives for renewable energy technologies like wind, as well as residential solar heating systems and energy produced from landfill gas and biomass.

Why is wind mentioned last, and in the same breath as passive solar or biomass? Why are solar panels ignored? Wind energy is a big bright promising technology, and should have been mentioned first, before nuclear power, just as in various European countries wind energy is getting prominent attention.

A third essential step toward greater energy independence is to harness the power of technology so we can continue to become better conservers of energy. Already, technology is helping us grow our economy while using less energy. For example, in 1997, the U.S. steel industry used 45 percent less energy to produce a ton of steel than it did in 1975. The forest and paper industry used 21 percent less energy to produce a ton of paper. In other words, we're making advances in conservation. And in the years ahead, if we're smart about what we do, we can become even more productive while conserving even more energy.

Technological advances are helping develop new products that give our consumers the same and even better performance at lower cost by using less energy. Think about this, you can buy a refrigerator that uses the same amount of power as a 75-watt light bulb. It's a remarkable advance when it comes to helping consumers save money on energy. Advances in energy-efficient windows keep hot and cold air in and prevent your dollars from flowing out. High efficiency light bulbs last longer than traditional ones, while requiring less electricity.

Good, he's mentioning the negawatt idea.

However, during the California energy crisis in 2001, Cheney derided California for conserving their way out of the problem. We launched a comprehensive conservation education program and got a lot of peoples attention, gaining some power capacity back through the negawatt idea. And California made it through that crisis with little problem, well, other than the loss of Governor Davis to getting the Gropenator as governor.

We're encouraging automakers to produce a new generation of modern, clean diesel cars and trucks. My administration has issued new rules that will remove more than 90 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel by 2010. Clean diesel technology will allow consumers to travel much farther on each gallon of fuel, without the smoke and pollution of past diesel engines. We've proposed $2.5 billion over 10 years in tax credits that will encourage consumers to buy energy-efficient hybrid cars and trucks, and we need to expand these incentives to include clean diesel vehicles, as well.

This diesel, clean or not, is still coming from fossil sources, and is hence going to come from other countries. On the one hand he earlier decried how that's a foreign tax on America, and now he wants to enshrine diesel as a solution? That's preposterous.

What would work along these lines is biodiesel. Biodiesel doesn't have the sulfur problem fossil diesel has, doesn't introduce new carbon into the atmosphere, and doesn't represent a foreign tax on America.

New technologies such as superconducting power lines can help us bring our electrical grid into the 21st century, and protect American families and businesses from damaging power outages. Some of you who live in the Midwest and on the East Coast know what I'm talking about -- damaging power outages. We have modern interstate grids for our phone lines and our highways. It's time for America to build a modern electricity grid. The electricity title is an important part of the energy bill. As a matter of fact, a lot of which I've discussed so far is an important part of the energy bill that needs to get passed by the United States Congress before August of this year.

Uhm, okay, superconductors? I suppose such a technology would decrease transmission losses. I don't know enough about that technology to say more.

This does smack of trying to enable the energy trading idea that his buddy Ken Lay wanted. And look where that led Ken Lay, to the fraudulent fiasco that is Enron.

And it's interesting that he left out the West Coast in talking about power outages. It was the West Coast, California anyway, that was subject to the illegal manipulation by his buddy Ken Lay that led to the power crisis we had here.

The fourth essential step toward greater energy independence is to make sure other nations can take advantage in advances -- take advantage of the advances in technology to reduce their own demand. Listen, we need to remember that the market for energy is a global one, and we're not the only large consumer. Much of the current projected rise in energy prices is due to rising energy consumption in Asia. As Asian economies grow, their demand for energy is growing. And the demand for energy is growing faster than the supply of energy is increasing. ...Our costs -- our prices are going up. It is in our interest to help these countries become more energy self-sufficient; that will help reduce demand, which will help take pressure off price, and at the same time help protect the environment.

Interesting view ... that it's a global market. In talking this way he's obviously equating "energy" with "oil" or "natural gas" because that's the only energy source that's a global market in the way he describes.

As well, we will explore ways we can work with like-minded countries to develop advance nuclear technologies that are safe, clean and protect against proliferation. With these technologies, with the expansion of nuclear power, we can relieve stress on the environment and reduce global demand for fossil fuels. That would be good for the world, and that would be good for American consumers, as well.

I've seen some information on this. The project is SSTAR, the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor. It's a sealed reactor that's designed to be safe enough to even deploy into hostile terroritory and "know" the people won't be able to tamper with it.

Bush asked to explain UK war memo

Bush asked to explain UK war memo (Wednesday, May 11, 2005 CNN.COM)

Okay, some CNN.COM visibility on the Bush/Blair planned Iraq invasion in July 2002 issue is great.

Eighty-nine Democratic members of the U.S. Congress last week sent President George W. Bush a letter asking for explanation of a secret British memo that said "intelligence and facts were being fixed" to support the Iraq war in mid-2002 -- well before the president brought the issue to Congress for approval.

But, uh, the Congressmen asked for the explanation last week, and CNN is only now getting around to reporting it?

C'mon, this is big news. Hey there News Media, this is your chance to bring down a really big target! You up to it?

Well, I guess not. The article has already disappeared off the article listings on CNN's website.

Article Reference: 

Molly Ivans on a "smoking gun"

Earlier (Bush/Blair planned Iraq invasion in July 2002) I noted a leaked British memo released during Britains election cycle that just ended.

They Lied to Us (By Molly Ivins, AlterNet. Posted May 10, 2005.)

Molly Ivans studied the same document and calls it a "smoking gun". Proof of the theory we've all fallen into about the formation of the Iraq war, that the administration purposely lied us into the war knowing they had a thin case.

It's certainly a very damaging document.

One wonders, where's the rage? Why isn't this being covered in the U.S.?

Monday, May 9, 2005

If it ain't broke, don't privatize it. Social Security, that is

If you haven't noticed, President Bush decided to touch the "third rail" of American Politics. He's been talking about privatizing Social Security. Except he's using every term but "privatizing", preferring the term "private accounts". But what it boils down to is to toss our retirement dollars into the stock market and gamble, but if the last four years hasn't taught us to be careful about the stock market, then what else would?

Recycled rhetoric Bush's huge gamble on dismantling the cornerstone of the New Deal will fail. And if the Democrats remain disciplined, his defeat will be profound. (By Sidney Blumenthal, SALON.COM, March 3, 2005)

First we have a history lesson. It seems that the "Social Security is unworkable and fundamentally flawed" claim is not new at all. Instead the claim has been circling around the Republican Party since 1936, and has been repeated by several Republican Party figures through the years. It's no doubt the failure of those prior claims that has led us to regard Social Security as the third rail of American Politics, because several generations of Republican leaders have killed their political careers over this issue.

But when Reagan became president he jettisoned his denunciation of Social Security. In 1983, he signed a bipartisan tax and benefits bill extending its solvency until 2060. The ultimate conservative had used anti-Social Security rhetoric to galvanize his conservative base to gain office, but as president he joined his Republican predecessors in supporting the system. With that, he took the issue off the table for years. In 1996, Sen. Bob Dole never mentioned a word against Social Security, proud of having been a co-sponsor of the 1983 bill Reagan had signed.

...Bush's impending defeat on Social Security is no minor affair. He has made this the centerpiece of domestic policy of his second term. It is the decades-long culmination of the conservative wing's hostility against Social Security and the Democratic Party. Projecting images of Roosevelt and Kennedy cannot distract from Bush's intent to undermine the accomplishments of Democratic presidents. The repudiation of Bush on Social Security will be fundamental and profound and will shake the foundations of conservative Republicanism. Bush's agony is only beginning, if the Democrats in the Senate can maintain their discipline.

While it's delicious to consider Bush dying in a self-made immolation ...

Let us turn to ten myths about Social Security. It's published by The Social Security Network, an informational resource about the Social Security program operated by The Century Fund.

What they've done is collect all the Republican claims that the Social Security system is due to collapse, and refuted every one.

They've also published a list of 12 reasons why privatizing Social Security is a bad idea.

We also have to consider how accurate are the claims made by the Bush administration. Apparently to justify the claim that the system will fall apart in 2042, they have to assume horrible U.S. economic performance in terms of GDP growth rate. How bad? It would be the worst economic performance since the 1930's, that is how bad. So, if our economy were to be that bad wouldn't a privatized account whose growth depends on the stock market also perform badly?

I gathered all this from a Flash animation titled "If it ain't broke, don't privatize it!", which won MoveOn's contest to make an animation explaining why the Social Security proposals are just plain bad.

The most interesting point from the animation is the cap. Social Security is taxed at a fixed rate on your income, for up to $90,000 of your income. If you make more than $90,000 income, you pay a maximum of around $5800 in Social Security. Even if you make $zillions per year, all you are taxed for Social Security is the $5800.

The simplest way to "fix" Social Security is to simply raise the cap.

Examining nukes to replace oil

I haven't caught up with President Bush's proposals last week in energy policy. I was traveling and didn't have time to read it as it happened.

When It Comes to Replacing Oil Imports, Nuclear Is No Easy Option, Experts Say (By MATTHEW L. WALD, Published: May 9, 2005 NYTIMES.COM)

Apparently one proposal was to promote the building of more nuclear power plants, as a way to balance energy needs.

Hmmm... The article above says this is using peculiar reasoning:

There is a problem, though: reactors make electricity, not oil. And oil does not make much electricity.

The problem facing us is oil. In the NOW, there is a high price for oil (in the $50-60 range, up from the $25-30 prevalent since 2000, and up from the $10-15 range it had been through most of the 90's). And we see in the near-term future an impact from the "Oil Peak" effect where it will become impossible to increase production of oil products, even in the face of rising demand.

Oil is used largely for fuel for vehicles (cars, trucks, airplanes, etc), which are largely not electrically driven.

Which just means that by proposing nuclear power to balance a problem with oil supplies is a ruse. Another lie from the Bush administration, this time intended to get more nuke plants out there for some reason.

The article does go into some useful figures:

According to the Energy Department, last year the electric utilities used about 207 million barrels of oil, or less than 600,000 barrels a day. (Total American consumption of oil is about 20.5 million barrels a day.)

This says that a mere 2% of the oil used in this country goes to electricity production. Hmmm, not much.

The article goes on to describe a sideways process that could improve the existing oil supply to be more suitable for vehicle use. It's a little complex, so let's take this one step at a time:

Gasoline is made of molecules with a certain ratio of carbon to hydrogen. Part of each barrel of oil consists of molecules with too much carbon to be useful in gasoline; instead, those molecules are used only in low-value products like asphalt and tar.

The technology exists for refineries to break up those molecules and add hydrogen, until the hydrogen-carbon ratio is suitable for making gasoline or diesel.

They go on to explain that heavy oil has a higher ratio of carbon, while light oil has a higher ratio of hydrogen. It is the light oil that we put into vehicles.

Hence, the idea is to convert heavy oil into light oil by adding hydrogen.

For example:

Canada has vast reserves of shale oil, now being converted to ingredients of motor fuel by using natural gas. The gas is used to heat the shale to make its oil flow more easily, and hydrogen, also obtained from the natural gas, is incorporated into the oil to make it suitable for use in gasoline. But a nuclear reactor could do those jobs, delivering both hydrogen and steam for cooking the oil out of the rock, Mr. Herring said.

Another strategy, he said, would be to break down coal, shale oil or other hydrogen fuels into a gas comprising hydrogen and carbon monoxide. At high pressure, these materials could form molecules suitable for making gasoline or diesel. A reactor could provide the energy required.

The "reactor" in question is not the current design of nuclear reactor, but is in the process of being designed and will take another 20+ years to get ready.

The Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, which is owned by the Department of Energy, is working on ways to take very hot steam from a nuclear reactor, then run a small electric current through it to separate the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. If that can be done more cheaply than the current method of producing hydrogen, which uses natural gas, the hydrogen could be used at refineries to make components of gasoline.

Yup, use a nuclear reactor to make heat and with that heat optimize the electrolysis process used to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen. That gives you some hydrogen you can then use to improve the heavy oil to create light oil.

This sounds like a lot of work, and a very circuitous process, all just to preserve the hold the oil industry has over the U.S.A. It will take a lot of R&D dollars to go this route, and I wonder "why".

Why not use those dollars to improve funding for alternatives like wind, solar, etc..?


Friday, May 6, 2005

Bush/Blair planned Iraq invasion in July 2002

It was obvious to me all through 2002 that Bush had already made up his mind to invade Iraq. He kept claiming no plan was set, and that merely he was doing hardball negotiations with Saddam Hussein. But it always looked to me as if he was predetermined to invade, and was simply building a case to the public. It became especially obvious once materials, equipment, and troops started being moved into the area.

Yet, Bush has so far gotten away with this and the other lies that were told to justify the war.

Iraq leak puts pressure on Blair (Sunday, May 1, 2005 CNN.COM)

The secret Downing Street memo (The Sunday Times - Britain, May 01, 2005)

At issue is a British document leaked during the recent elections in the U.K. The document concerns IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

...The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

To decode this a little ...

"C" is most likely Sir Richard Dearlove, Britain's "spy chief" who had just returned from visiting the U.S. for talks.

We have him clearly reporting that the U.S. leadership, in July 2002, was already planning to invade Iraq. While the evidence was recognized to be slim, they were planning a public relations campaign to cause the public to ignore the slim evidence and support the war anyway.

Britains Attorney General pointed out the only legal route to launching an invasion of Iraq is to get UN Security Council approval. And that using the UN Security Council Resolution number 1205 provided slim grounds. But that the U.S. leadership was unwilling to go to the UN Security Council.

See here for resolution 1205: http://www.un.org/Docs/scres/1998/scres98.htm

Related blog posts:

The British Election and the Iraq War

Proof: How America was deceived.

Proof Bush Fixed The Facts


Iraq: The Fix was on in July, 2002

Real ID ... another step to "Big Brother"

Since the "secret government" has been meeting since September 11, 2001 we have to examine some of the acts of government in the light of "is this bringing on 'Big Brother'"? The "secret government" in question was triggered on September 11, 2001 when Richard Clarke declared a certain governmnet response (whose name I've forgotten), the effect of which was to disperse government leaders and beaurocrats to secret bunkers so that they can operate the reins of government in relative safety from attack.

Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on TerrorThe triggering of that secret government was described by Richard Clarke in his book Against All Enemies.

Another cause for concern is the Total Information Awareness system, later renamed to Terrorist Information Awareness system, before being canned when public uproar became too great. This gem was lead by Admiral Poindexter, who had previously been convicted of lying to Congress. Its purpose was establishing a widespread and highly invasive system of violating our individual rights to privacy.

FAQ: How Real ID will affect you (Published: May 6, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT, By Declan McCullagh, Staff Writer, CNET News.com) The Real ID system is a proposal that's been attached to a bill providing more funding for this stupid illegal war we're fighting in Iraq. I suppose the idea is that, by attaching it to a sure-bet bill, nobody is going to vote against it, the President surely isn't going to veto it, and therefore it's certain to sail through Congress and become law. Regardless of whether we, the people, whom those people are supposed to be working for, want this or not.
What does that mean for me?
Starting three years from now, if you live or work in the United States, you'll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service. Practically speaking, your driver's license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards.
Actually this isn't different from today, because we need to show identification to do all the above named things. The difference here is the type of ID card it is.
What's going to be stored on this ID card?
At a minimum: name, birth date, sex, ID number, a digital photograph, address, and a "common machine-readable technology" that Homeland Security will decide on. The card must also sport "physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes."
Homeland Security is permitted to add additional requirements--such as a fingerprint or retinal scan--on top of those. We won't know for a while what these additional requirements will be.
The physical implementation will likely be a "smart card". What's a smart card? Well, if you have visited a Kinko's copy center recently you will have had an opportunity to use a smart card to operate the copy machines. Or if you have an American Express "Blue" card, that's a smart card. My employer, Sun Microsystems, makes a smart card we call the "Java Card", and we use them for employee badges. The U.S. Military uses Java cards as the identification card as well.

The smart card is the same shape and size as a regular credit card. Embedded in it is a computer, with some contacts on the outside of the card. It also includes an RFID chip, just to add to the spooky big brother aspects no doubt. When you insert a smart card into a reader, the contacts take in power, start the CPU running, and the smart card reader interacts with the smart card exchanging data and instructions.
What's the justification for this legislation anyway?
Its supporters say that the Real ID Act is necessary to hinder terrorists, and to follow the ID card recommendations that the 9/11 Commission made last year.

It will "hamper the ability of terrorist and criminal aliens to move freely throughout our society by requiring that all states require proof of lawful presence in the U.S. for their drivers' licenses to be accepted as identification for federal purposes such as boarding a commercial airplane, entering a federal building, or a nuclear power plant," Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said during the debate Thursday.
Uh, huh... It could also end up hampering our ability to move freely within our own society, and enjoy the freedoms we have fought hard to maintain over the two and a half centuries this country has existed.

Visit the Total Information Awareness system page, written originally in February 2002. The DoD pages referenced have since went away, because DARPA canceled the project as an official entity. However some of the sub-projects have continued to exist and move forward. It's instructive to study the picture those projects create.

Specifically, the intent clearly was to establish a surveillance system to track our every economic activity, our every travel, etc, all in the name of looking for patterns that indicate an impending attack or illegal activity.

Having an ID card of this sort, and requiring it for pretty much any activity, would be a required step towards establishing such a surveillance system. Namely ... Such an ID card, to be useful, would require sending some data to computers operated by the Department of Homeland Defense. The ID card won't be able to establish validity on its own. Instead it will have to be verified with DHD computers. Hence, the DHD computers will, as a side effect, know everywhere you take your card.
The credit card companies already know this, in that they already know every place you use your credit cards to buy anything. But the Real ID card would be used in more places than your credit card.


Thursday, May 5, 2005

Prudes vs. Texas Cheerleaders

In a proposed Texas law, Cheerleaders are to be prohibited from using sexually suggestive routines.

Texas House to cheerleaders: Don't shake it (Thursday, May 5, 2005 CNN.COM)

"People are calling and telling me how disgusting it is to see sexually suggestive routines on the part of marching units or cheerleaders," said State Rep. Al Edwards, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the bill.

...Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, also of Houston, said the bill was a waste of valuable time.

"I think the Texas Education Agency has enough to do making sure our kids are better educated, and we are wasting our time with 'one two three four, we can't shake it any more?"' Thompson told legislators.