Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Saddam Hussein had accepted US demands before the invasion???

Oh, my, oh, my. Saddam Accepted the American Ultimatum Before the US Invasion, According to Rights and Freedom International discusses a claim by Hossam Shaltout, a Canadian aerospace engineer, former American pilot, and founder of the peace organization Rights and Freedom International (http://www.rightsandfreedom.com) that Saddam Hussein had agreed to all the Bush Administration demands before the invasion of Iraq, but that the Bush Administration took several steps that hindered that agreement from being broadcast. He was in Amman Jordan and his flight was changed based on Bush Administration orders, causing him to miss the flight. Then he took a car by road to Baghdad, tried to get a statement broadcast on CNN, but the CNN Baghdad office was closed, and he went to al Jazeera instead but halfway through that broadcast the transmission was cut by US forces.

His web site is here: http://www.rightsandfreedom.com/

But the web site doesn't have any documentation of this story. The article linked above is a Press Release through PR Newswire, so it hasn't gone through journalistic scrutiny.

If true this is really astonishing and totally changes the picture of this war. The war is illegal anyway (Kofi Annan himself said so), but to think that the Bush Administration actively prevented a settlement which would have avoided the war is unconscionable.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group)


The state PIRGs created U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) in 1983 to act as watchdog for the public interest in our nation's capital, much as PIRGs have worked to safeguard the public interest in state capitals since 1971. Our organization's roots at the state level, and U.S. PIRG members across the country, give us a unique "outside the beltway" perspective and provide the grassroots power necessary to influence the national policy debate.

U.S. PIRG is an advocate for the public interest. When consumers are cheated, or our natural environment is threatened, or the voices of ordinary citizens are drowned out by special interest lobbyists, U.S. PIRG speaks up and takes action. We uncover threats to public health and well-being and fight to end them, using the time-tested tools of investigative research, media exposés, grassroots organizing, advocacy and litigation. U.S. PIRG's mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects our environment, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters responsive, democratic government.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Olbermann Exclusive: Dissecting new Book: Tempting Faith

Olbermann Exclusive: Dissecting new Book: Tempting Faith

"We have written a blank check on drawn our liberties"

This is Olbermann commenting on the recent law, the Military Commissions Act, which suspended Habeas Corpus. George W Bush and others lied to us a string of claims, lies, that led to the recent signing of this law which suspends Habeas Corpus and other guarantees. It was sold to us as a way to protect freedoms, but are we free if the government can just lock us up with no just cause, not required to show proof of our existence, etc? This has happened in the past, in the United States, when Habeas Corpus was suspended. At times Newspaper journalists and editors have been imprisoned, by the government, for the things they wrote in their newspapers. And more famously during World War II the Japanese descendants living in the U.S. were imprisoned, not because of anything they did, but because they were Japanese. We have entered a new era where the government is now free to do this again.

Here's another video talking about what Habeas Corpus is. It's pointed out the U.S. says, about Habeas Corpus, that it cannot be suspended unless the country finds itself in grave danger such as invasion or rebellion. Now, is the U.S. in actual danger of any invasion?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ours is not to question, ours is to do or die

A few days ago the lead General of the UK's army said that "we" weren't invited into Iraq, that "our" presence in Iraq was making the situation worse, as an uninvited presence in Iraq "we" are the ones responsible for it being worse, and "we" should withdraw. He was talking about the UK's military forces but I think his comments apply to the U.S. and other foreign armies as well.

Since those statements the General in question has done a little backpedaling, and on Prime Minister Tony Blair's part he has stated complete agreement with the backpedaled statements.

In a Times (of London) opinion piece titled I agree with every word that Dannatt said. But he has got to be sacked Matthew Paris invokes a precedent from American History. After World War II general MacArthur saw an opening in the power structure of the Pacific region and ...

MacArthur’s desire was to press the military advantage, take up arms alongside Taiwan, and attack Communist China with nuclear weapons. President Truman disagreed. MacArthur started issuing statements to the press. Truman relieved him of his command. And that was the end of General MacArthur.

Many then thought the President’s policy was wrong and General MacArthur’s right; fewer argued that any general had the right to undermine the authority of a democratically elected president. MacArthur was way out of order, and had to go.

Truman fired MacArthur rather than follow the plan he proposed. Why? Because as Mr. Paris goes on to explain

The Armed Forces are not in charge of government policy; ministers are — democratically elected ministers. The Armed Forces are there to implement policy, not attack it. They can and must offer advice, of course, but the advice that Service chiefs offer ministers must be absolutely private. It is not their job to try to influence public debate by making statements to the news media.

Hmm.... This raises some interesting quandries.

A General, especially the top General, has a position of power. If the General sees something that could be done, perhaps the General should use that power to have that action take place. What Mr. Paris suggests is that General instead only use that power in private conversations with other government leaders.

The flip-side of the General determining government policy is that it can lead to a military dictatorship. We can think of zillions of examples in history where the Generals seized power. The most recent is in Thailand where the Prime Minister was on a state visit to the U.N. and while there the Generals seized power, supposedly with the blessing of the King.

Supposedly the Political leaders are answerable to the people, while the Military leaders are answerable to the Political leaders.

In Ministers say general was out of order - then concede his job is safe it's reported that many in the Military have stepped up to defend this General. In short, this makes it a battle of willpower between the political and military leadership. Is the political branch willing to go against a popular General and defend the political branch priority in determining policy?

You can see here the possibility of a military Coup. Suppose the battle of wills goes further and neither side backs down, one side saying it's ridiculous to stay in Iraq, the other demanding the Military must follow civilian and political Authority. What then?

For the record, here is Time Magazine quoting General Dannatt:

"It's an absolute fact that in some parts of the country, the fact that we are there causes people to attack us, and in that sense, our presence exacerbates violence," he said. The original hope of installing a liberal democratic government is out of reach and might have been "naïve." "We should aim for a lower ambition," he argued — just keeping Iraq a unitary state. He has "much more optimism we can get it right in Afghanistan" than in Iraq. Though the British army "doesn't do surrender," he said he wanted its 7,000 troops out "sometime soon" because "time is not our friend -- we can't be here forever at this level. I have an army to look after, which is going to be successful in current operations, but I want an army in five years' time, ten years' time; I don't want to break it on this one."

Friday, October 13, 2006

The "No Plane timeline"

In the "no plane timeline" the author of oilempire.us examines the claim that there was a conspiracy attached to the September 11, 2001 attack because it seems there was no plane that hit the Pentagon. There's some curious aspects to the Pentagon attack, that's for sure, but I doubt those curiousities indicate that there was no airplane.

These people want us to believe that someone arranged for an airliner to be taken surreptitiously to Cleveland and that instead a missile was fired at the Pentagon.

It is curious that the early pictures of the Pentagon damage show only a small hole in the outer wall. How can a Boeing 757 leave a small hole in a building?

The root of this story comes from French political activist Thierry Meyssan who constructs this theory and it spreads from there. The timeline linked above attempts to show that the spread of this story is based on some misinterpretation of the evidence.

For me the key point countering that theory is ... what happened to the people on that airplane? If they were flown to Cleveland and instead a missile was shot at the Pentagon, then why didn't the people on that airplane return to their families? Were they instead taken elsewhere and killed separately? If so, then why?

This theory seems to violate Occam's Razor by introducing extra complication.

9/11 Debate: Loose Change vs. Popular Mechanics

Loose Change is a documentary depicting some serious questions about the veracity of the claims around the September 11, 2001 attacks. There's huge doubt that the 9/11 Commission came even close to the truth, just as there are huge doubts that the Warren Commission came up with anything close to the truth regarding the Kennedy Assassination. It seems to me that a whole new industry of conspiracists are going to be debating September 11, 2001 for the next 40 years.

On Democracy Now, Amy Goodman hosted the makers of the Loose Change movie in a debate with editors from Popular Mechanics who had written a book debunking many of the claims of September 11, 2001 theorists.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Crisis in our Nations Pants

Okaaaay... we have recently had a revelation of a Congressman trying to have sex with the Pages who come to the Capital as youngsters to work in Politics. But this Congressman was hooked on having sex, and being a homosexual Congressman wanted sex with young men. This scandal has been grabbing a whole lotta attention in Washington DC and in the news media. As creepy a story this is, should we be distracted by it from other stories of more importance such as nuclear proliferation?

Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) has a funny bit here on this crisis. And a very illustrative look, through satire, on the real issues facing the country.

Such as the destruction of our liberties and American way of life by the Bush Administration.

I previously wrote a shocked and horrified post about this sex scandal. Today I'm seeing this in a larger perspective. Every so often a bit of news comes along which crashes the real news off the front page, and instead causes a mania about whatever fake news event is being promoted that week.

The real news right now? Congress destroyed Habeas Corpus! The NSA and other government agencies are illegally spying on Americans! The war in Iraq is illegal, was launched under false pretenses, has been continued under false pretenses, and is totally failing! The Taliban are regaining Afghanistan! Pakistan (our supposed ally) was involved with proliferating nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran, both of which countries we are threatening with military action!

All that going on, those extreme failures of the Bush Administration, and we have a sex scandal rocking the boat instead??????

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The dark side of hiring contractors for war services

In Iraq For Sale, a movie about war profiteering, one of the scenes is an explanation of water purification facilities provided to U.S. troops. The person explains he worked for a contracting company installing water purification equipment for the troops, and he dutifully tested water samples once the system was installed, and found the water was off the charts for bacterial etc infestation. Bad water means sick troops, and sick troops can't fight so well, and the diseases they catch might be long lasting.

Mess hall boss arrested for sickening Iraqi troops describes a recent incident of food poisoning by a military contractor. The food poisoning sickened a bunch of troops. These weren't U.S. troops but Iraqi. No doubt it's the same contractors that serve U.S. troops, however.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend"

It's clear that if Hillary Clinton won the Presidency in 2008, then nothing would change in terms of this illegal war in the middle east. This video is former President Clinton explaining his view of the war.

Smoking gun on Bush's failure to catch Osama bin Laden?

In February 2001 in a White House press briefing someone asked: Ari, according to India Globe, the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have offered that they are ready to hand over Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia if the United States would drop its sanctions, and they have a kind of deal that they want to make with the United States. Do you have any comments? What was Ari's answer? MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that and get back to you on that. There's no record of an answer.

At cooperativeresearch.org they have this listing, which shows that the offer wasn't very strongly securious. However that video clip is being promoted around on the Internet as if it is a smoking gun indicating Bush Administration in their malfeasance.

March 2001: US and Taliban Discuss Handing over bin Laden

Taliban envoy Rahmatullah Hashimi meets with reporters, middle-ranking State Department bureaucrats, and private Afghanistan experts in Washington. He carries a gift carpet and a letter from Afghan leader Mullah Omar for President Bush. He discusses turning bin Laden over, but the US wants to be handed bin Laden and the Taliban want to turn him over to some third country. A CIA official later says, “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, ‘Give up bin Laden.’ They were saying, ‘Do something to help us give him up.’ ... I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.” Others claim the Taliban were never sincere. About 20 more meetings on giving up bin Laden take place up until 9/11, all fruitless. [Washington Post, 10/29/2001] Allegedly, Hashimi also proposes that the Taliban would hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the US to locate and kill him. However, this offer is refused. This report, however, comes from Laila Helms, daughter of former CIA director Richard Helms. While it’s interesting that this information came out before 9/11, one must be skeptical, since Helms’ job was public relations for the Taliban. [Village Voice, 6/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Rahmatullah Hashimi, Laila Helms, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Taliban, Mullah Omar

Dropping gasoline prices, and the mid-term elections

It's the Fall of 2006, and we're about 30 days away from the elections. The Bush team and the Republicans overall are in a hurt. And curiously the price for gasoline has fallen dramatically in the last few weeks. I've seen some chatter that perhaps the Republicans, and especially the Neocons/Bush camp, have asked the oil companies to help by lowering the gas prices for the duration. Since some of the voter angst is the high price for gasoline, maybe a lower price would diminish it?

Hey, it's a theory anyway. I haven't seen any credible claim of this. But it is curious that just a month or two ago the price for gasoline in the SF Bay Area was well over $3 per gallon, and yesterday I saw a station selling it for $2.40 per gallon and others in the $2.50 to $2.60 range. That's a $.60 per gallon drop (20%) or thereabouts. What could have caused such a steep decrease?

This article in Slate: The Oil Conspiracy: Is the Bush administration manipulating oil prices to win elections? is going over this issue.

The conclusion seems to be that, no, political leaders are generally unable to affect commodity pricing in the first place. But there are some leverage points, especially for an administration like GW Bush's that is so heavily in bed with the Oil industry and the Saudi Royalty.

The Slate article relates that in Bob Woodward's book State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III Prince Bandar told Bush that they could increase oil production, which would lower the oil price, and do that to help the election results. The article doesn't say whether oil production actually rose in 2004, and it doesn't say whether it rose now.

The Slate article does mention this: Bush takes aim at rising gasoline prices ... this details an announcement made in August 2006 to attack high gasoline prices. The main effect was to order the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stop making its purchases "until the fall" (conveniently after the election). By doing so that will leave a little more gasoline in the market, reducing some of the supply/demand pressures, hopefully leading to lower prices.

The other idea mentioned in the Slate article is pretty tricky to understand. It has to do with trading of commodity futures contracts. Goldman Sachs, a company formerly led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, recently adjusted the mix of commodities in an index it controls. Changing that mix of commodities then would have caused commodities traders to suddenly dump oil on the market, lowering the price.

What I was able to gather is the price for gasoline falls every year at the end of the summer. In the summer there is a lot of driving as people go on vacation trips driving around the country. The law of supply/demand says that when demand is high, such as the summer driving season, either the supply has to rise also or the price will rise.

Here's an interesting chart

It shows the gas prices over the last three years in Seattle, San Jose and Atlanta. You'll see that generally the price has been upward over the last three years. But there's some interesting ideas you can draw from it.

The first, and the reason for including this chart, is the cyclic price changes. At least for 2005 and 2006 the cycle is much the same. There's a price increase in the late Spring and during the Summer, with a dropoff in the Fall. In 2005 the price increase was extended because of the disruption due to Hurricane Katrina. In 2004 that cycle didn't happen for some reason, with a late price peak just before the election.

The other things I see are: The price for gasoline largely is determined for the crude oil price. And some parts of the country, represented by Atlanta in this picture, curiously pay a lot less for oil than do other parts of the country. Here is a chart of gas prices per county that demonstrates the price differential.

test.gaschart.png25.99 KB

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Taxpayers for Common Sense


Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is an independent voice for American taxpayers. TCS is dedicated to cutting wasteful government spending and subsidies in order to achieve a responsible and efficient government that lives within its means.

Our vision is for a federal government that costs less and lives within its means. We seek to transcend ideological and partisan differences to build support for common sense reforms. How do we do it?
We work with Congress. TCS works extensively with elected officials from both political parties. TCS positions are often cited during floor debates and TCS testifies frequently before congressional committees.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development


Established in 1964, UNCTAD promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy. UNCTAD has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Re: Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of U.S.

Four and a half years ago I wrote about: DARPA's Information Awareness Office, The Total Information Awareness System; Or, Big Brother in-carnate. The Total Information Awareness (TIA) project had just been revealed, and this was before the harumphing that later drove the program underground. The goal of the TIA was to bring together a variety of technologies such as datamining, language translation, sparse data analysis, and use those technologies to drastically increase the ability of U.S. Government spooks to know what's going on. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks "they" claimed to want better ability to predict and prevent the next terrorist attack. But at the same time the whole program just seemed like the reincarnation of Big Brother.

In Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of U.S. the NY Times is publicising a research program that smacks of the TIA. If you follow the above link you'll see the list of programs that was publicised on the TIA web site in early 2002. This NY Times article discusses a research effort to track news articles, these are said to be foreign news articles, and automatically detect statements which might help the spooks figure out terror threats. Looking at the list of TIA projects you can easily identify several that apply to this project.

Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization (TIDES): covers automatic translation of crucial information from foreign languages to English.

Wargaming the Asymmetric Environment (WAE): Involves detecting patterns indicating terroristical actions.

Genisys: Covers a different effort to track terroristical actions, involving identification of people and groups.

There's several considerations at play with this. First it is clearly a priority of government officials to protect their citizens. That means the U.S. Intelligence agencies clearly have a role to detect and prevent threats to the U.S. Clearly there are groups who would use terror or geurilla tactics to attack the U.S. Clearly modern technology gives the spooks a lot of capabilities along the lines of tracking information and making sense of widely scattered information.

An example of that technology when placed in the hands of average people is the cooperative research website. That website's primary purpose is to construct detailed timelines and connections between people and the actions they're taking in the world. It's well understood that a lot of data is published in the "public record" such as newspapers, but the snippets of information are widely spread from one story to the next. Only by drawing together dozens of threads spread over many news reports can you begin to get the whole picture.

That's what the U.S. Government research described in the NY Times article is meaning to do. But presumably the goal is to do this at a larger scale, and use automatic language translation and natural language processing to more rapidly tie together the pieces.

Where one begins to call this Big Brother is the fact that the technology doesn't know anything about morals. You can just as easily program those computers to track U.S. news media as it can foreign news media. And it is against U.S. law for the U.S. government agencies to spy on U.S. citizens or organizations.

And of course the software doesn't have to stop with news stories printed in the media. The software can just as easily be spidering the whole of the Internet just as Google and the other search engines are doing so. If the search engines can let us "search the Internet" then why couldn't the government set up their own server farm(s) to scoope up the Internet and do a similar analysis of the content?

And of course the software doesn't have to stop with national borders. The software can just as easily scoop up the whole of the Internet as it can to limit itself to foreign web sites.

Therefore when we have a U.S. Government who has been brazenly violating U.S. laws against spying on U.S. citizens, can we trust their assurances that this program will only be trained on foreign news sources?

Monday, October 2, 2006

Congressman Foley, Child Pornography and official hypocracy

GOP Accused Of Covering Up Rep. Foley Scandal It was recently revealed that former Congressman Mark Foley (Republican of Florida) has been engaging in sexually explicit messaging with former pages. These Pages are generally high school juniors, hence around 16 years old, who come to Washington to serve as assistants to politicians. Since these messages have been revealed he has resigned, and reportadly entered into some kind of treatment program, hence he is now a former Congressman.

Especially amusing (shocking really) is that Foley was co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children and that Earlier this year President Bush signed legislation that Foley introduced to bolster penalties against sex offenders and increase efforts to target Internet predators as reported by Democracy Now (at the link above). That makes this another one of those strange twists of politics. He, as a Congressman, was active in legislation that would have penalized people like himself.

Who knew what when? is a blog entry based at the Houston Chronicle going over some of the conflicting claims. As was reported on Democracy Now, and in this blog entry, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert initially said the House/Republican Leadership had not known about this stories. But the truth is that Rep. Tom Reynolds had told Hastert about the complaints. Which leads one to believe the House/Republican Leadership is trying to cover this up.

House speaker asks Gonzales to probe lurid Foley case gives a lot of interesting details. Hastert has written a letter to Attorney General Gonzalez asking for a very thorough investigation that can include members of Congress. However the article quotes an FBI spokesperson saying they'll have to review whether they can conduct an investigation. One should remember that Congresspeople are immune to prosecution over various sorts of crimes, for some reason, and for that matter there is an issue of separation of powers between the branches of government so how can the Administrative branch of government hold an investigation against people in the Legislative branch?

The article contains quotes from several, Democrats primarily, decrying the obvious cover-up. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, also called for an investigation of his party's leadership. "If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership," Shays said Sunday.

Rep. Foley was up for re-election and heavily favored to win. It would have been his seventh term. One possible theory is the Republican Leadership covered this up so they could retain the Republican seat .. e.g. let the news come out after the election so they know the seat is in Republican hands. As it is he has resigned, the Republicans in Florida are scrambling to find a replacement candidate. But a replacement candidate would have to be a write-in (presumably) and the history of write-in candidacies is very poor. So it looks like the Democratic challenger in this race has gotten a windfall.

How long did this coverup go on? The article says Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio Boehner learned about allegations against Foley from Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Republican, in the spring. So, um, that's about six months.

FBI to Examine Foley's E-Mails Covers more details. Along the lines of pondering just how long this cover-up has been going on, this article states most of the emails had been sent in 2003 and that an email sent in 2005 resulted in "a quiet warning to Foley to leave pages alone" and "the speaker did not dispute his colleague, and Hastert's office acknowledged that some aides knew last year that Foley had been ordered to cease contact with the youth". Hurm, since they knew something was up for over a year what's going on?

Especially troubling is it appears the normal procedure is to refer such cases to a three-member panel, but in this case they left it to the Chair of that panel to confront Foley directly.

The article quotes a former House page said that at a 2003 page reunion, he saw sexually suggestive e-mails Foley had sent to another former page who said at the time "If this gets out, it will destroy him". But, why would that person not publicize those emails? Why wait?

Especially creepy is this:

Foley was known as an exceedingly friendly House member to young pages, most of whom are 16- and 17-year-old high school juniors who come to Washington for an intensive, year-long civics lesson. Unlike most House members, he memorized their names and talked politics with them during lulls in late-night sessions. Foley was the only House member to attend the Class of 2002's graduation, according to McDonald, and he wore a tuxedo.

Elsewhere it's stated that Foley was unmarried. So, isn't this the stereotypical naughty man who preys on young boys for sex? Wouldn't such a person go out of their way to do things like memorize their names and show up at a graduation ceremony?

The GOP's State Of Denial starts off by saying that Foley's sexual preferences were an open secret.

The New York Times and every major newspaper in Florida had been writing articles on the congressman's agonizingly inept attempts to remain closeted for years. Indeed, it was the embarrassing manner in which he had attempted to cloak his sexuality that prevented Foley from securing his party's nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and again this year.

But, if his sexual preferences were an open secret, was the open secret inclusive of his fondness for young men?

Foley interest in pages seen in speeches Details excerpts from some of his speeches that illuminates his special interest in the Pages.

Analysis: What did GOP know about Foley?: Is an analysis of the effects of this revelation, including a rundown of the congress races that are probably affected. Factoid: Democrats need to gain 15 House seats and six in the Senate for control after a dozen years of Republican rule.

These are:

  • Mark Foley versus challenger Tim Mahoney: Obviously this is a seat that's very likely to be lost to the Democratic Party. The Republicans have chosen a replacement candidate, state Rep. Joe Negron.
  • Rep. Tom Reynolds versus challenger against Jack Davis: He played a role in the cover-up and he is up for re-election this year. The race has been "close" for months, so obviously this issue could easily tip the race.
  • Rep. Deborah Pryce: Is said to be "facing questions" and is part of the House Leadership.
  • Hastert, Boehner and others in leadership but not in close races, the ramifications could spread beyond November and into House leadership elections should Republicans hold the House

And a bit of history:

Three decades ago, Republican Richard M. Nixon was dogged by the question of what did the president know about the break-in of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate and when did he know it.

In November 1974, Democrats capitalized on the scandal, seizing scores of congressional seats as the Watergate class swept to office.