Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Illegal Wire Taps we can believe in


Father-of-three branded a 'pervert' - for photographing his own children in public park

By David Wilkes

When Gary Crutchley started taking pictures of his children playing on an inflatable slide he thought they would be happy reminders of a family day out.

But the innocent snaps of seven-year-old Cory, and Miles, five, led to him being called a 'pervert'.

The woman running the slide at Wolverhampton Show asked him what he was doing and other families waiting in the queue demanded that he stop.

Gary Crutchley pic of sons Cory and Miles

Picture of innocence: The photograph Gary Crutchley took of his sons Cory and Miles

One even accused him of photographing youngsters to put the pictures on the internet.

Mr Crutchley, 39, who had taken pictures only of his own children, was so enraged that he found two policemen who confirmed he had done nothing wrong.

Yesterday he said: 'What is the world coming to when anybody seen with a camera is assumed to be doing things that they should not?

'This parental paranoia is getting completely out of hand. I was so shocked. One of the police officers told me that it was just the way society-is these days. He agreed with me that it was madness.'

Father- of-three Mr Crutchley, a consultant for a rubber manufacturer from Walsall, West Midlands, was with his wife Tracey and their sons when the pleasant Sunday afternoon out turned sour.

He said: 'The children wanted to go on an inflatable slide and I started taking photos of them having a good time. Moments later the woman running the slide told me to stop.

'When I asked why, she told me I could not take pictures of other people's children. I explained I was only interested in taking photos of my own children and pointed out that this was taking place in a public park.

'I showed her the photos I had taken to prove my point. Then another woman joined in and said her child was also on the slide and did not want me taking pictures of the youngster.


The Wedding Crashers


A Short Till-Death-Do-Us-Part History of Bush's Wars
By Tom Engelhardt

It was a tribal affair. Against a picture-perfect sunset, before a beige-colored cross and an altar made of the very Texas limestone that was also used to build her family's "ranch," veil-less in an Oscar de la Renta gown, the 26 year-old bride said her vows. More than 200 members of her extended family and friends were on hand, as well as the 14 women in her "house party," who were dressed "in seven different styles of knee-length dresses in seven different colors that match[ed] the palette of… wildflowers -- blues, greens, lavenders and pinky reds." Afterwards, in a white tent set in a grove of trees and illuminated by strings of lights, the father of the bride, George W. Bush, danced with his daughter to the strains of "You Are So Beautiful." The media was kept at arm's length and the vows were private, but undoubtedly they included the phrase "till death do us part."

That was early May of this year. Less than two months later, halfway across the world, another tribal affair was underway. The age of the bride involved is unknown to us, as is her name. No reporters were clamoring to get to her section of the mountainous backcountry of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know almost nothing about her circumstances, except that she was on her way to a nearby village, evidently early in the morning, among a party 70-90 strong, mostly women, "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates."

It was then that the American plane (or planes) arrived, ensuring that she would never say her vows. "They stopped in a narrow location for rest," said one witness about her house party, according to the BBC. "The plane came and bombed the area." The district governor, Haji Amishah Gul, told the British Times, "So far there are 27 people, including women and children, who have been buried. Another 10 have been wounded. The attack happened at 6.30AM. Just two of the dead are men, the rest are women and children. The bride is among the dead."

U.S. military spokespeople flatly denied the story. They claimed that Taliban insurgents had been "clearly identified" among the group. "[T]his may just be normal, typical militant propaganda," said 1st Lieutenant Nathan Perry. Despite accounts of the wounded, including women and children, being brought to a local hospital, Captain Christian Patterson, coalition media officer, insisted: "It was not a wedding party, there were no women or children present. We have no reports of civilian casualties." The members of an Afghan inquiry, appointed by President Hamid Karzai, later found that, in all, 47 civilians had died, including 39 women and children, and nine others were wounded.

Here's another American take on what happened: "The US military has denied allegations that its forces… killed dozens of people celebrating a marriage… 'We took hostile fire and we returned fire,' said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations… He said there were no indications that the victims of the attack were part of a wedding party."

Oh, my mistake.



Mission Accomplished


Will the Antiwar Movement Strangle the State?

by Karen Kwiatkowski

This is the text of a talk given at the sixth annual Pigstock, held at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, Wisconsin and sponsored by Veterans For Peace, Chapter 115 in Red Wing, Minnesota on July 12, 2008.

I want to start out today with something written by an early American revolutionary. This man was key to the armed revolution we fought against the King of England beginning in 1776, and more than that, was key to the revolution of ideas that had begun to grip the American colonies for several generations. This man was born poor, remained poor throughout his life, and he died in a tenement house. Yet, he was also a key American statesmen, publisher, orator, and held a number of government positions. He was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, and he was throughout his life, a self-educated person who valued liberty and justice. He opposed the concentrated power of the hereditary elites, and he believed that imperial wars were immoral.

His name was Thomas Paine. During the winter of the first year of revolution, in what would be the second of a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis, he described what we were fighting. It's a long quote, but I want you to hear what he had to say:

If ever a nation was mad and foolish, blind to its own interest and bent on its own destruction, it is Britain. There are such things as national sins, and though the punishment of individuals may be reserved to another world, national punishment can only be inflicted in this world. Britain, as a nation, is, in my inmost belief, the greatest and most ungrateful offender against God on the face of the whole earth. Blessed with all the commerce she could wish for, and furnished, by a vast extension of dominion, with the means of civilizing both the eastern and western world, she has made no other use of both than proudly to idolize her own "thunder," and rip up the bowels of whole countries for what she could get. Like Alexander, she has made war her sport, and inflicted misery for prodigality's sake. The blood of India is not yet repaid, nor the wretchedness of Africa yet requited. Of late she has enlarged her list of national cruelties by her butcherly destruction of the Caribbs of St. Vincent's, and returning an answer by the sword to the meek prayer for "Peace, liberty and safety." These are serious things, and whatever a foolish tyrant, a debauched court, a trafficking legislature, or a blinded people may think, the national account with heaven must some day or other be settled: all countries have sooner or later been called to their reckoning; the proudest empires have sunk when the balance was struck; and Britain, like an individual penitent, must undergo her day of sorrow, and the sooner it happens to her the better.

Tom Paine was observing the imperial stance of Great Britain, circa 1777. His audience was an army of ragtag revolutionaries who were faced with limited funding, a series of military losses against a great imperial army, and diffidence and doubt of a majority of their friends and neighbors. The revolutionary war depended on the leadership and ideas of the landed and wealthy class in the American colony – yet many of this class were opposed to both independence and to republicanism, seeing it as a threat to their own property and position.


Bush Homeland Security Aide Caught On Tape Offering High-Level Access For Donations To Bush Library


The Sunday Times reports Stephen Payne, a Bush pioneer and a political appointee to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, was caught on tape offering access to key members of the Bush administration inner circle in exchange for "six-figure donations to the private library being set up to commemorate Bush's presidency."

In an undercover video, Payne is seen promising to arrange a meeting for an exiled leader of Krygystan with Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice. (Not President Bush because "he doesn't meet with a lot of former Presidents these days," Payne says. "I don't think he meets with hardly anyone.") All it will take for him to arrange this high-level meeting, says Payne, is "a couple hundred thousand dollars, or something like that":

PAYNE: The exact budget I will come up with. But it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library. […]

200, 250, something like that. That's gonna be a show of "we're interested, we're your friends, we're still friends."

Watch the startling video here.



What Now?!!


US contractor in Iraq accused of electrocution deaths

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The biggest US military contractor in Iraq, KBR, was steeped in another scandal Friday as lawmakers, families and experts accused it of recklessly causing the electrocution deaths of US soldiers.

"While I had always been prepared to hear that one of my sons died by way of a firefight or a roadside bomb, I was dumbstruck to hear that my son was electrocuted while taking a shower in his living quarters," said Cheryl Harris, mother of army Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth, who died in January.

Maseth's "burnt and smoldering" body was found under still-running, electrically charged water by a fellow soldier who kicked down the door of the bathroom at an army base in Baghdad, Harris told a hearing of the Senate Democratic policy committee.

KBR, a former subsidiary of the Halliburton energy firm which was once led by Vice President Dick Cheney, was contracted to maintain facilities at the base and had been informed of electrical problems in the building where Maseth died.

But, said Harris, KBR showed "extreme recklessness and a total disregard for public safety" by failing to fix the problem as well as others that have caused at least 13 electrocution deaths among soldiers and civilian contract workers in Iraq.


US Terrorism Watch List Tops 1 Million

Common Dreams NewsCenter

by Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON - A U.S. watch list of terrorism suspects has passed 1 million records, corresponding to about 400,000 people, and a leading civil rights group said on Monday the number was far too high to be effective.

The Bush administration disagreed and called the list one of the most effective tools implemented after the September 11 hijacked plane attacks — when a federal "no-fly" list contained just 16 people considered threats to aviation.

The American Civil Liberties Union publicized the 1 million milestone with a news conference and release.

It said the watch list was an impediment to millions of travellers and called for changes, including tightening criteria for adding names, giving travellers a right to challenge their inclusion and improving procedures for taking wrongly included names off the list.

"America's new million-record watch list is a perfect symbol for what's wrong with this administration's approach to security: it's unfair, out-of-control, a waste of resources (and) treats the rights of the innocent as an afterthought," ACLU technology director Barry Steinhardt said in a release.


Why Not?

 by Uri Avnery

Anyone who wants to guess whether Israel and/or the United States are going to attack Iran should look at the map of the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

Through this narrow waterway, only 34 km wide, pass the ships that carry between a fifth and a third of the world's oil, including that from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

MOST OF the commentators who talk about the inevitable American and Israeli attack on Iran do not take account of this map.

There is talk about a "sterile", a "surgical" air strike. The mighty air fleet of the United States will take off from the aircraft carriers already stationed in the Persian Gulf and the American air bases dispersed throughout the region and bomb all the nuclear sites of Iran - and on this happy occasion also bomb government institutions, army installations, industrial centers and anything else they might fancy. They will use bombs that can penetrate deep into the ground.

Simple, quick and elegant - one blow and bye-bye Iran, bye-bye ayatollahs, bye-bye Ahmadinejad.

If Israel attacks alone, the blow will be more modest. The most the attackers can hope for is the destruction of the main nuclear sites and a safe return.


McCain's Small-Business Bunk

FactCheck.org Annenberg Political Fact Check

He claims 23 million small-business owners would pay higher tax rates under Obama. He's wrong. The vast majority would see no change, and many would get a cut.


McCain has repeatedly claimed that Obama would raise tax rates for 23 million small-business owners. It's a false and preposterously inflated figure.

We find that the overwhelming majority of those small-business owners would see no increase, because they earn too little to be affected. Obama's tax proposal would raise rates only on couples making more than $250,000 or singles earning more than $200,000.

McCain argues that Obama's proposed increase is a job-killer. He has a point. It's true that increasing taxes on those at the top would leave them less money for other purposes, including investment and hiring in the case of business owners. But the number of business owners who would see their rates go up would be only a small fraction of what McCain says. Many would see their taxes go down.
Sen. John McCain has been making this false claim over and over, starting with a  July 7 speech announcing his "jobs for America" plan:
McCain, July 7: Senator Obama's tax increases will hurt the economy even more, and destroy jobs across this country. If you are one of the 23 million small-business owners in America who files as an individual rate payer, Senator Obama is going to raise your tax rates.
He repeated it in an address to the League of United Latin American Citizens the next day:
McCain, July 8: Keeping individual rates low isn't intended as a favor to wealthy Americans. 23 million small-business owners pay those rates, and taking more money from them deprives them of the capital they need to invest and grow and hire.
He said it again at a campaign event July 9:
McCain, July 9: If you are one of the 23 million small-business owners in America who files as an individual rate payer, Senator Obama is willing to raise your tax rates.
And he repeated it in the first of a planned series of radio addresses July 12:
McCain, July 12: If you are one of the 23 million small-business owners who files as an individual rate payer, watch out – because as your business grows, my opponent proposes to raise your taxes.
But repeating a falsehood doesn't make it true. McCain's 23 million claim is a bogus figure.

Outdated, Inflated, Inapplicable

To justify the 23 million figure, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers referred us to a press release by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which refers to "23 million small business owners" without citing a source. That is actually an outdated count of all the businesses in the United States, produced by the U.S. Census for 2002, when the Economic Census counted a total of 23,343,821 business firms of all sizes. Of those, 16,845 firms employed 500 persons or more, which still leaves just over 23.3 million classified as "small" by the widely accepted definition that we will use here.

That figure is six years out of date.


Blind Faith: How Deregulation and Enron's Influence Over Government Looted Billions from Americans


Sen. Gramm, White House Must Be Investigated for Role in Enron's Fraud of Consumers and Shareholders

December 2001

Public Citizen's

Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program

Summary of Findings

  • The combination of unregulated state wholesale electricity markets and federal deregulation of commodity exchanges has removed accountability and transparency from the energy sector, allowing corporations to manipulate price and supply of electricity and natural gas through the exercise of significant market power. California's recent energy crisis and Enron's bankruptcy would have been impossible under a regulated system.

  • Enron developed mutually beneficial relationships with federal regulators and lawmakers to support policies that significantly curtailed government oversight of their operations.

  • Enron's business model was built entirely on the premise that it could make more money speculating on electricity contracts than it could by actually producing electricity at a power plant. Central to Enron's strategy of turning electricity into a speculative commodity was removing government oversight of its trading practices and exploiting market deficiencies to allow it to manipulate prices and supply.

  • Dr. Wendy Gramm, in her capacity as chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), exempted Enron's trading of futures contracts in response to a request for such an action by Enron in 1992. At the time, Enron was a significant source of campaign financing for Wendy Gramm's husband, U.S. Senator Phil Gramm.

  • Six days after she provided Enron the exemption it wanted, Wendy Gramm resigned her position at the CFTC. Five weeks after her resignation, Enron appointed her to its Board of Directors, where she served on the Board's Audit Committee. Her service on the Audit Committee made her responsible for verifying Enron's accounting procedures and other detailed financial information not available to outside analysts or shareholders.

  • Following Wendy Gramm's appointment to Enron's board, the company became a significant source of personal income for the Gramms. Enron paid her between $915,000 and $1.85 million in salary, attendance fees, stock option sales and dividends from 1993 to 2001. The value of Wendy Gramm's Enron stock options swelled from no more than $15,000 in 1995 to as much as $500,000 by 2000.

  • Phil Gramm is the second largest recipient in Congress of Enron campaign contributions, receiving $97,350 since 1989.

  • Days before her attorneys informed Enron in December 1998 that Wendy Gramm's control of Enron stock might pose a conflict of interest with her husband's work, she sold $276,912 worth of Enron stock.

  • Enron spent $3.45 million in lobbying expenses in 1999 and 2000 to deregulate the trading of energy futures, among other issues.

  • In December 2000, Phil Gramm helped muscle a bill through Congress without a committee hearing that deregulated energy commodity trading. This act allowed Enron to operate an unregulated power auction -- EnronOnline -- that quickly gained control over a significant share of California's electricity and natural gas market.



Homogeneity Threatens Democracy

By David Sirota

Across America, local culture has been supplanted by fast food and sub-par Will Smith movies. No wonder people don't care about hometown issues.
I spent the July 4th weekend in my own Americana cliche: I relaxed in the humid heartland, drank one too many alcoholic beverages (screwdrivers), ate at a chain restaurant (Noodles & Company), played with my dog (a golden retriever mix), and attended Hollywood's latest paean to mediocrity (Will Smith's Hancock). I was in the bucolic suburbs of Lafayette, Ind., but really, I could have been anywhere or everywhere in America -- which is both satisfying and troubling.

In the lead up to my Independence Day respite, I have been through the montage of diners, rental car counters and air mattresses commonly known as a book tour. The nationwide journey has been a blur -- and not because I've been under-rested and over-caffeinated, but because America's newly homogenized culture has made everything seem the same.

As I discovered, the contemporary road trip tells the tale of hegemony better than even shared holiday experiences. Turn on your car radio and your listening experience is standardized. No matter where you are, you find yourself unable to find much other than either Rush Limbaugh rants or Bad Company songs on a dial now owned by a tiny group of conglomerates. The off-ramp pit stop -- once the spicy outpost of local flavor -- today seems mass produced from a Chinese factory, a bustling harbor of franchise commerce astride Jack Kerouac's endless road. Towering signs for Applebee's, Wendy's and Bob Evans are the boat masts on a sea of corporate food below.

Sure, when you drive north to south, the Arbys turn to Shoneys, and when you drive east to west, the Wawas become Circle Ks. And yeah, you'll find differing street sign fonts, varied twangs, and the occasional idiosyncratic landmark. But with the chain store-ification of culture, that's about it -- and today, even our politics is a victim.


God's Venture Capitalist - The strange quest of Sir John Templeton.

Sir John M. Templeton, the renowned investor and spiritually guided philanthropist, died Tuesday at the age of 95. In a 1997 "Assessment," David Plotz called Sir Templeton "the defining philanthropist of our time." The piece is reprinted below.

Andrew Carnegie's libraries embodied the democratic confidence of the Gilded Age. John D. Rockefeller's universities enshrined the scientific meliorism of the Progressive Era. But the defining philanthropist of our time is not a university builder or an art collector or a chair endower. It is Sir John Marks Templeton, religious philanthropist, investment wizard, amateur philosopher, and full-bore crank.

A do-gooder for the end of the millennium, Templeton pays professors to promote conservative values, universities to build character, and researchers to investigate the connections between faith and science. He believes he can reconcile the irreconcilable contradictions of contemporary society: Christian conservatism and New Age loopiness, capitalist greed and sweet charity, old-time religion and modern technology.


going to the Olympics