Thursday, April 23, 2009

7GEN #3: On torture, Electric motorcycles, Earth day, and more

Torture, by the U.S. Government

It saddens me the recent revelations of torture committed in our name by the Bush Administration. It also saddens me the reluctance to make a serious stand against that torture. But first a bit of context..

It is now understood that beginning in early 2002 the Bush Administration's fight against terrorism included the use of torture supposedly to extract information not otherwise available. Remember that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said clearly that the war against this terrorist threat will include dealings with dark people. Apparently some of those dark people were himself, Cheney and others in leadership positions in the U.S. Administration. In that period we were told those terrorists were dangerous people and essentially everybody was made to be scared out of their minds, and in the name of salving that terror atrocities were committed.

Stories were coming out all along about the torture as well as the illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens. In terms of torture my earlier coverage included:-

Waterboarding = Drowning = Torture = Illegal = Immoral,

Redefining torture, or "The Constitution is just a piece of paper",

Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary about Torture,

The U.S. and torture,

Jeremy Scahill: On CNN The Real Abu Ghraib Scandal is The Photos, Not the Torture | The Huffington Post,

"extraordinary rendition" - Outsourced torture?,

Sinking to our enemies' level,

Secret CIA Prisons in Your Backyard ...

However only the barest inkling of the story had been told. Much of the story was kept under the cover of being labeled Top Secret. Yes, U.S. forces were using illegal interrogation tactics, torture, and using Top Secret clearances to hide the fact. The torture tactics were ones the U.S. has several times convicted & sentenced others for war crimes. By international legal standard the tactics used are illegal as war crimes. The choice of prosecuting war crimes is not optional. Political expediency doesn't let you say "we should be looking forward and not backwards" as Pres. Obama recently said. These war crimes rise to the highest level of requirement to prosecute just as the world prosecuted war crimes committed by Nazi Germany, and others such as the leaders of various factions in the former Yugoslavia.

Some Bush Administration memos were recently released which confirmed my deepest fears. That the conduct of torture by the Bush Administration went beyond all legal standards, went beyond reason, and is a dark stain on America's reputation. The ACLU has published copies of The Bush Administration's Secret Legal Memos along with a call to action.

In addition to Pres Obama's "looking forward" statement I'm completely irked at the call from Cheney and others to release other memos, the ones that show that the torture worked and produced useful information. Uhm.. gosh. This sounds like a repeat of "The ends justify the means" so Cheney do you want to be lumped with the evils of the U.S.S.R.?? To hide behind "it provided useful evidence" is to claim that it doesn't matter how illegal this is, the tactic "worked". Just because it may have produced useful information at one time or another does not justify its use.

What's most shocking is there seems to be very little in the avalanche of news coverage that explores this very obvious connection. I'm dumfounded at news presenters who are simply repeating Cheney's assertion that the torture worked and because it worked it is okay to have done it. No, as I said that is backwards. It is an illegal tactic labeled by international law as a war crime. Period.

I understand that in regular prosecution of regular crimes one way a conviction can be overturned is to show prosecutorial misconduct. A famous recent case was Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens who was convicted for gross corruption, but the conviction was overturned when it was shown the prosecutors witheld some evidence. Similarly police torture is widely recognized as a reason to overturn convictions, therefore any information the U.S. interrogators learned through their use of torture should have itself been tossed out. Such as: Decision in Manisa Children Torture Case: Teenagers in Turkey had been convicted of membership in leftist organizations, their sentences later overturned because of police torture.

In Harpers Magazine, Scott Horton laid it out very well in Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration. The issue is much bigger than the use of torture, it is:-

This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups and political protesters, and it also introduced a sweeping surveillance program that was so clearly illegal that virtually the entire senior echelon of the Justice Department threatened to (but did not in fact) tender their resignations over it. It waged an illegal and disastrous war, and it did so by falsely representing to Congress and to the American public nearly every piece of intelligence it had on Iraq. And through it all, as if to underscore its contempt for any authority but its own, the administration issued more than a hundred carefully crafted “signing statements” that raised pervasive doubt about whether the president would even accede to bills that he himself had signed into law.

... There can be no doubt that torture is illegal. There is no wartime exception for torture, nor is there an exception for prisoners or “enemy combatants,” nor is there an exception for “enhanced” methods. ...

The question I was asking all through the Bush II years was: Is this the kind of governance we want? Clearly in many ways the Obama administration was an answer to that collective yearning for just governance. Now I am asking what do we do about the sins of the Bush II Administration? Do we simply look forward and move forward and that's it? That's what Obama is suggesting.

It seems to me that if the Bush II Administration people are left to go free the wrong lesson will be engraven in history. Some of the leaders of the Bush II Administration, Rumsfeld and Cheney in particular, were present in earlier Administrations where misconduct had happened for which there was little legal effect. They learned it's possible to break the law and get away with it, and that's what they've done. These acts by the Bush II Administration cannot be left unpunished, because future leaders may look back on these years and decide they can do even more heinous acts in our names.

Electric motorcycles

After that I want to cover something more pleasant.

In early April 2009 I had the privilege to attend an electric motorcycle endurance race. The race was sponsored by Zero Motorcycles, and conducted at a dirt bike track in south San Jose. It lasted for 24 hours and as a long time electric vehicle advocate I found it totally awesome that their motorcycle could do this. I've been to other electric vehicle races which had to be kept short because, well, the range issue. Some electric vehicle advocates say that if an electric vehicle can't go far it might as well go fast. But at the Electricross race they were able to do both, go far and go fast, because of quick change battery packs.

The following is over 30 minutes of video going over the event.

Technosanity #25: 24 Hours of Electricross - Interview with Neal Saiki

Technosanity #26: Interview w/ Don Amador at 24 Hours of Electricross

Technosanity #27: Zero X Motorcycle demo ride

Earth day

It came around again this week. For me it's like any other day because I basically live that ideal every day of the year. It's nice that there is an effort to raise awareness as to the need for a better environment, but it strikes me as being akin to new years resolutions. Every year people make promises on Jan 1 only to forget those promises after a few days.

What keeps the environmentally unsound practices going is habit. One day each year isn't enough to break or change habits. Changing ones habits takes much more effort than setting aside one day to change a few lightbulbs. It takes continual practice, awareness, and patience with the process of change.

The social environment around us does not support environmentally sound living. Especially in the U.S. where the cities have been built to the convenience of cars, it is very difficult to live a low impact lifestyle. Hence just as it's difficult to break a smoking habit when you hang out with smokers, it's difficult in modern U.S. society to practice environmentally sound living when there are so many environmentally unsound opportunities around us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama wants to normalize Cuba relationships.. why? Is it the Oil?

The following is wild assed guessing but it strikes me as curious. Cuba recently announced possible oil reserves within their territorial waters, and around the same time Pres. Obama made suggestions to normalize relationships with Cuba. The relationship with Cuba of course has long been problematic, with a long and sordid history that's a strange relic of the war on Communism. There is a kind of sadness related to the poor relationship, that's connected to the families who are torn asunder on the altar of America's forgotten war on Communism.

Following are some links to selected articles related to the discovery of Oil in Cuba as well as the easing of some sanctions against Cuba. The eased restrictions make for a nice story, especially as it gives Cubans in America and Cuba better connection. However it's well understood that with any public action by a government there is an agenda behind the scenes. The public face of the action is rarely the whole story, and there's no reason to assume this action for easing restrictions against Cuba is the entire story.

The articles about Cuba's oil discovery are very troubling. Just because a source of Oil has been found in America's backyard, why is it a given that the Oil will be sold to America? Isn't it Cuba's decision who is the customer of their oil? Isn't it Cuba's decision whether to exploit that oil?

Why should the discovery of oil automatically mean a change in America's embargo of Cuba? The discovery of oil in Cuba isn't going to cause a change in the leadership or government of Cuba. Therefore if the embargo of Cuba has any legitimacy, shouldn't the embargo continue? Yet these articles are plainly saying the discovery of oil in Cuba will be followed by ending America's embargo of Cuba, and the articles say that oil in Cuba will obviously be sold to America.

On the other hand, maybe it has to do with keeping campaign promises: Will Obama's Stance on Cuba Hurt? (By Tim Padgett/Miami Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007, Time Magazine)

How Cuba's Oil Find Could Change the US Embargo (By Tim Padgett Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Time Magazine) ...geologists estimated that between 5 billion bbl. and 10 billion bbl. of oil lie beneath the waters off Cuba's northwest coast....Washington's own Cuba time warp got a jolt as well. The oil discovery has renewed debate over whether a crude-thirsty U.S. should loosen its 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba and let yanqui firms join the drilling, which is taking place fewer than 100 miles off U.S. shores....

Cuba claims massive oil reserves (BBC News Friday, 17 October 2008)

Why Cuba's Dreams of Major Oil Discoveries Might Come True (By Thomas Omestad Posted March 3, 2009, US News) There is a place tantalizingly close to American shores that—but for reasons of politics and foreign policy—could emerge as a welcome new source of oil for U.S. consumers....Cuba...Cuba is one of the biggest wild cards in the Western Hemisphere's energy outlook. It is also the most politically sensitive. The nearly half-century-old U.S. embargo against the Communist country means that American energy companies and consumers cannot partake in Cuba's oil business....A major oil find in Cuban waters could subvert the old logic behind the U.S. embargo of Cuba, a policy that endures in part because it imposes only minor economic costs while meeting the political demands of hard-line Cuban-Americans.


Today, the Obama administration announced a series of changes in U.S. policy to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future. In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and promote the freer flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office.

All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects basic human, political and economic rights of all its citizens. President Obama believes these measures will help make that goal a reality.

Cuban American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island. There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans. Accordingly, President Obama will direct the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to support the Cuban people’s desire for freedom and self-determination by lifting all restrictions on family visits and remittances as well as taking steps that will facilitate greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of information and humanitarian resources directly to the Cuban people. The President is also calling on the Cuban government to reduce the charges it levies on cash remittances sent to the island so family members can be assured they are receiving the support sent to them.

Specifically, the President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to take the needed steps to:

  • Lift all restrictions on transactions related to the travel of family members to Cuba.
  • Remove restrictions on remittances to family members in Cuba.
  • Authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.
  • License U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuba’s telecommunications service providers.
  • License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in Cuba.
  • License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to activate and pay U.S. and third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite television services provided to individuals in Cuba.
  • Authorize the donation of certain consumer telecommunication devices without a license.
  • Add certain humanitarian items to the list of items eligible for export through licensing exceptions.


Supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their future and that of their country is in the national interest of the United States. The Obama administration is taking steps to promote greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people.

Lift All Restrictions on Family Visits to Cuba

We will lift all restrictions on family visits to Cuba by authorizing such transactions by a general license, which will strengthen contacts and promote American good will. We will ensure the positive reach of this effort by:

  • Defining family members who may be visited to be persons within three degrees of family relationship (e.g., second cousins) and to allow individuals who share a common dwelling as a family with an authorized traveler to accompany them;
  • Removing limitations on the frequency of visits;
  • Removing limitations on the duration of a visit;
  • Authorizing expenditure amounts that are the same as non-family travel; and
  • Removing the 44-pound limitation on accompanied baggage.

Remove Restrictions on Remittances

We will remove restrictions on remittances to a person’s family member in Cuba to increase Cubans’ access to resources to help create opportunities for them by:

  • Authorizing remittances to individuals within three degrees of family relationship (e.g., second cousins) provided that no remittances shall be authorized to currently prohibited members of the Government of Cuba or currently prohibited members of the Cuban Communist Party;
  • Removing limits on frequency of remittances;
  • Removing limits on the amount of remittances;
  • Authorizing travelers to carry up to $3,000 in remittances; and
  • Establishing general license for banks and other depository institutions to forward remittances.

Authorize Greater Telecommunications Links with Cuba

We will authorize greater telecommunications links with Cuba to advance people-to-people interaction at no cost to the U.S. government. This will increase the means through which Cubans on the island can communicate with each other and with persons outside of Cuba.

  • Authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.
  • License U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into and operate under roaming service agreements with Cuba's telecommunications service providers.
  • License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in Cuba.
  • License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to activate and pay U.S. and third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite television services provided to individuals in Cuba, except certain senior Communist Party and Cuban government officials.
  • Authorize, consistent with national security concerns, the export or re-export to Cuba of donated personal communications devices such as mobile phone systems, computers and software, and satellite receivers through a license exception.

Revise Gift Parcel Regulations

We will expand the scope of humanitarian donations eligible for export through license exceptions by:

  • Restoring clothing, personal hygiene items, seeds, veterinary medicines and supplies, fishing equipment and supplies, and soap-making equipment to the list of items eligible to be included in gift parcel donations;
  • Restoring items normally exchanged as gifts by individuals in "usual and reasonable" quantities to the list of items eligible to be included in gift parcel donations;
  • Expanding the scope of eligible gift parcel donors to include any individual;
  • Expanding the scope of eligible gift parcel donees to include individuals other than Cuban Communist Party officials or Cuban government officials already prohibited from receiving gift parcels, or charitable, educational or religious organizations not administered or controlled by the Cuban government; and
  • Increasing the value limit on non-food items to $800.

External Media

Friday, April 17, 2009

Offshore drilling on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, an Interior Department hearing, held in San Francisco, April 16, 2009

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In the waning days of the Bush Administration they released a draft Continental Shelf 5-year program meant to cover 2010-2015. The current program runs from 2007-2012 and it's curious that there's an overlap. The overlap means that the Bush Administration sped up the 5-year planning process by a couple years. Under the normal schedule the next 5-year plan would have covered the years 2012-2017. To support putting the new plan together the Department of the Interior is holding a series of public hearings, and the following is based on the San Francisco hearing on April 16, 2009.

At stake is oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. You may recall a slogan in the 2008 Presidential Election was "Drill Baby Drill, Drill Here, Drill Now" as if drilling for more oil is what will solve the energy woes faced by the U.S. The U.S. is importing nearly 70% of the oil we use and of course the money spent on that oil undermines the U.S. economy (balance of trade), and is a national security matter (the oil rich countries have power over the U.S.). The Conservative Republican answer is to drill for oil. However anybody who's looked at the data realizes there is very little oil involved, and that it will take decades before the oil can come to market.

It's clear the attendees were overwhelmingly taking a different attitude about the problem. Over and over the presenters and question askers gave a different strategy than "Drill Now, Drill Here". Instead they overwhelmingly opposed drilling for new oil, and advocated instead use of renewable energy. Rather than spend the money on oil drilling rigs etc, spend the money on new technologies.

It's clear that a big event in their mind is the Santa Barbara oil spill in the 1960's. That oil spill put an image in everybody's mind of spoiled beaches, dead birds, etc. FWIW The attendees were overwhelmingly Californians.

The NIMBY aspect of this strikes me. California cities are overwhelmingly designed around the use of CARS and TRUCKS to move around the cities. Overwhelmingly those vehicles require fossil fuels to move around. Hence that oil has to come from somewhere and to deny the possibility of drilling for oil off the California coast means pushing the oil infrastructure fueling California's cars is conducted in someone else's back yard.

At least most of them advocated tying a shift to renewable energy resources combined with a ban on further oil drilling. Tying the two together is more honest than simply denying further oil drilling. However for the most part renewable energy resources are not in the forum of liquid fuels, but in the form of electricity. To continue supporting transportation systems through a renewable fuel is going to mean electrically driven transportation.

Some data presented.. while big oil spills are thankfully rare, there are small spills all the time. It's estimated there are 2 million gallons per year of small oil spills.

Offshore drilling comes with higher risk of disasters. The further offshore the bigger the risk. Off the Pacific coast the oil fields thought to exist are in deep water, and there are doubts over the possibility to safely drill in those deep waters. Further oil drilling causes the release of mercury and other contaminants, simply from the drilling platform.

One of the proposed locations is in an ocean upwelling zone off the Northern California Coast. Upwelling zones are vital places of abundant sea life where upward ocean currents carry nutrients to the surface feeding an abundant array of life. Allowing oil drilling to occur in that upwelling zone would convert it into a dead zone.

A draft proposal has been produced by the government outlining the plan: Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2010–2015

Offshore drilling on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, an Interior Department hearing, held in San Francisco, April 16, 2009

External Media