Thursday, February 5, 2009

I hear you get a bonus for that...

US threat to withhold intelligence from Britain over Guantanamo evidence

by Richard Ford and Francis Elliott

THE US has threatened to withhold intelligence from Britain if evidence of the alleged torture of a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay is made public.

Details of how the "terrorist" detainee was allegedly tortured - and what British intelligence services knew about it - must remain secret because of the American threats, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones said lawyers for the Foreign Secretary had told them that the threat by the US still applied under President Barack Obama. Oppostion MPs accused the Government of giving in to blackmail.

The disclosure that the US has threatened to re-evaluate sharing intelligence with Britain came just 24 hours after new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavished praise on the special relationship between the two countries.,25197,25010986-2703,00.html

Attorney General suggests he may make secret Bush memos public

by John Byrne

Obama's freshly-confirmed Attorney General, Eric Holder, has opened the door to shedding light on a raft of clandestine legal memoranda issued in the name of the 'War on Terror' under President George W. Bush.

Holder told senators in written responses to questions before his confirmation that he would consider declassifying controversial White House legal memos from the Bush era if no support for their original classification could be found, according to transcripts provided by the Senate. Declassified briefs could then be made public.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment when asked directly about a new report detailing some three dozen secret memoranda issued by officials employed by President Bush. In secret memos, Bush's legal team outlined the defense of myriad controversial practices, such as the indefinite detention of enemy combatants, US policy on torture and the legality of domestic surveillance projects.

A chart created by the nonprofit reporting organization Pro Publica recently found that 40 of these memos remain secret, while just 12 have been made public. The ratio of private to public memos remains unparalleled by the standard of recent US presidents.

Holder, who was confirmed by the Senate 75-21 on Monday, was responding to questions about "Secret Law" raised by civil liberties advocate, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), when he addressed the memos directly.

"I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government," Holder said. "Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law. Public scrutiny also provides an important check against unpersuasive legal reasoning -- reasoning that is biased toward a particular conclusion."

US passports can be read and copied from a moving car using a $250 rig

Meet Chris Paget, a hacker who believes that people shouldn't be tagged with RFIDs. He spent a productive day driving around San Francisco, sniffing and cloning mountains of RFID-equipped US passports and driver's licenses. The equipment to accomplish this feat cost him $250. When we debate the risks associated with RFID-equipped IDs, we usually focus on what happens when the government can follow us around everywhere -- but the real risk may be that crooks, marketing creeps and various unaffiliated snoops will do this instead.

Cloning passport card RFIDs in bulk for under $250

Cash4Gold Will Offer One-Third of the Actual Value for your Gold

Cash4Gold is nice enough to admit when they were trying to rip you off.

Since I saw the first commercial, I had a feeling that Cash4Gold might be a rip-off. They advertise during late-night cable television programming and on sports radio. This time slot is pretty crowded with what I call "red-flag" advertising. Another hint is that their DBA sounds more like a text message than an actual business name.

You are encouraged to send your "scrap" gold in a plastic bag, and to trust they will handle it securely and send a reasonable, near market-rate payment for the precious metal therein. They'll take whatever gold items you have, so maybe it would be too complicated to offer actual prices posted on their website.

So, a little test was in order.

As I've mentioned earlier, I don't have any scrap gold, so I was not really able to determine the strength of their cash offers. You know? How much Cash are we talking about 4 this gold?

Luckily, someone else had gold.

Brent K. was also interested in doing a little Gold kit price evaluation, so he gathered up his family fortune of gold scraps and prepared to do some comparison shopping. He had some 14K gold and some 10 karat gold.

Ok, so he was a pirate.

First, he took the pile of gold to a local pawn shop. The pawn shop prices were as follows:

Apparently precious metal items are measured in "Pennyweight" also known as "DWT". The "D" stands for "Penny", actually "Denarius" from the name of a Roman coin, and WT is short for "Weight". One DWT is approximately 1.555 grams.

The pawn shop weighed Brent's gold and let him know that his scrap was about 11 DWT of 14K and 11 DWT of 10K gold.

How much does this gold look like it is worth to you?


The pawn shop prices were as follows:
$10 per DWT for 14K gold.
$8 per DWT for 10K gold.

With these prices, Brent's booty was worth $198.
He had $110 worth of 14 K gold plus $88 worth of 10 K gold.

Brent had initially noted prices on the Cash4Gold site as:
$15 per DWT for 14K gold.
$13 per DWT for 10K gold.

Better, but all any prices had been removed from the Cash4Gold site by the time he was ready to send in his gold.


What we've learned in 2008

Amanda Leigh Mascarelli looks at how far our understanding of climate change has come in the past twelve months.

1. Other greenhouse gases are also worrying

What we've learned in 2008Scientists have long been aware of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, but CO2 has received most of the scientific and public attention owing to its prevalence in fossil fuel emissions and its long atmospheric life. However, scientific research published this year suggests that other heat-trapping gases also provide cause for concern. In July, scientists led by Michael Prather at the University of California, first proposed that nitrogen trifluoride, a gas produced in the manufacture of gadgets such as MP3 players and flat screen TVs, was likely to become a much greater contributor to climate change than previously assumed, mainly because of the growing demand for such products (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L12810; 2008). Their hypothesis was confirmed in October when Ray Weiss at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California, and colleagues found that the atmospheric concentration of the gas has increased 20-fold over the past three decades (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L20821; 2008). Also this year, several independent research groups reported a surge in emissions of methane (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22805; 2008 and Nature 456, 628–630; 2008), a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than CO2. The exact source of the methane emissions remains a mystery.

2. Arctic summer sea ice is in rapid decline

Arctic sea ice saw some recovery this summer, compared with the record-breaking low set in 2007. However, the 2008 summertime minimum was still the second lowest level recorded since 1979, when the first satellite data of sea ice became available (National Snow and Ice Data Center 16 September 2008; In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that at the current level of emissions, summer sea ice could vanish completely anytime from 2040 to beyond 2100. But the extensive losses during the past two summers have led scientists to speculate that the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in the summertime much sooner than anticipated. In October, scientists reported that the thickness of winter sea ice plummeted after the 2007 minimum, showing that the ice pack is not only shrinking but is decreasing in overall volume (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22502; 2008). This is worrying because thin ice is more vulnerable to melting and creates a feedback effect: as the ice melts, dark, open water soaks up more of the sun's rays and further accelerates melting. Loss of Arctic summer sea ice could have not only regional, but global, effects and is widely regarded as a potential 'tipping element', in which a 'kick' to the system, driven even by natural variability, could lead to rapid, runaway warming.

3. Warming is already having an impact

The effect of human-induced warming on biological and physical systems, such as patterns of species migration and seasonal shifts, came into clear focus this year. An international team of researchers conducted a sweeping analysis of nearly 30,000 biological species and physical phenomena, such as timing of pollen release and bird nesting, and trends in ice melting. For the first time, researchers attributed pronounced, worldwide changes in these systems to human-caused climate change (Nature 453, 353–357; 2008). Spurred on by concerns that species and ecosystems may not survive such shifts, conservationists began to talk seriously about relocating species to help them adapt (Science 321, 345–346; 2008). And threatened by the loss of its icy habitat, the polar bear became the first species to be listed as climate-threatened under the Endangered Species Act, following a protracted legal battle by environmentalists.

Controversial Bestseller Shakes the Foundation of the Israeli State

By Joshua Holland

What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very same "children of Israel" described in the Old Testament?

And what if most modern Israelis aren't descended from the ancient Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans and others who didn't "return" to the scrap of land we now call Israel and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose ancestors had lived there for millennia?
What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora -- the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews' exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh's clutches -- is all wrong?
That's the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year. After 19 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list, the book is being translated into a dozen languages and will be published in the United States this year by Verso.
Its thesis has ramifications that go far beyond some antediluvian academic debate. Few modern conflicts are as attached to ancient history as that decades-long cycle of bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians. Each group lays claim to the same scrap of land -- holy in all three of the world's major Abrahamic religions -- based on long-standing ties to that chunk of earth and national identities formed over long periods of time. There's probably no other place on Earth where the present is as intimately tied to the ancient.

Calvin and Hobbes: Supply and Demand

Renditions Buffoonery

By Scott Horton

In a breathless piece of reporting in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, we are told that Barack Obama "left intact" a "controversial counter-terrorism tool" called renditions. Moreover, the Times states, quoting unnamed "current and former U.S. intelligence figures," Obama may actually be planning to expand the program. The report notes the existence of a European Parliament report condemning the practice, but states "the Obama Administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush Administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard."

The Los Angeles Times just got punked. Its description of the European Parliament's report is not accurate. (Point of disclosure: I served as an expert witness in hearings leading to the report.) But that's the least of its problems. It misses the difference between the renditions program, which has been around since the Bush 41 Administration at least (and arguably in some form even in the Reagan Administration) and the extraordinary renditions program which was introduced by Bush 43 and clearly shut down under an executive order issued by President Obama in his first week.

There are two fundamental distinctions between the programs. The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.

Madoff Whistle-Blower Testifies, Blasts SEC

Independent financial fraud investigator Harry Markopolos testifies on Capitol Hill.

When Bernard Madoff was arrested and charged with running a giant Ponzi scheme many people were shocked — but not Harry Markopolos.

He's the man who looked at Madoff's investment returns a decade ago and figured they didn't add up. Markopolos made several attempts to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate, all for naught. He had no trouble Wednesday getting people to listen. He told a congressional panel in Washington that the SEC is a failed regulator that was unable to protect investors.

'The Key Tip-Off'

Markopolos said it took him just five minutes to figure out that Madoff was running a scam. He only had to look at a performance chart for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

"It was a 45-degree angle without any variation," he said. "It went in only one direction: up. It never had variation like the market does, like this. And that was the key tip-off."

Markopolos and his staff did some more digging and came to the conclusion that Madoff was cheating his investors. As that investigation went on, Markopolos says he feared for his safety and that of his family. So he presented his findings anonymously to the SEC; only a few officials knew his real name. He said he kept returning to the SEC to urge it to take up the case and was repeatedly ignored.

"Unfortunately, as they didn't respond to my written submissions in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008, here we are today," Markopolos said.

Warnings Ignored

Meanwhile, Madoff's operations grew bigger and he attracted more investors, Markopolos said. He made it clear to the congressional panel that he thinks the SEC fell down on the job.

"I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them and somehow they couldn't be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation because they were too busy on matters of higher priority," he said. "If a $50 billion Ponzi scheme doesn't make the SEC's priority list, then I want to know who sets their priorities."

We gots to get us a Negra

The War on Terror is a Hoax

By Paul Craig Roberts

According to US government propaganda, terrorist cells are spread throughout America, making it necessary for the government to spy on all Americans and violate most other constitutional protections. Among President Bush's last words as he left office was the warning that America would soon be struck again by Muslim terrorists. 

If America were infected with terrorists, we would not need the government to tell us. We would know it from events. As there are no events, the US government substitutes warnings in order to keep alive the fear that causes the public to accept pointless wars, the infringement of civil liberty, national ID cards, and inconveniences and harassments when they fly.

The most obvious indication that there are no terrorist cells is that not a single neocon has been assassinated.
I do not approve of assassinations, and am ashamed of my country's government for engaging in political assassination. The US and Israel have set a very bad example for al Qaeda to follow.

The US deals with al Qaeda and Taliban by assassinating their leaders, and Israel deals with Hamas by assassinating its leaders. It is reasonable to assume that al Qaeda would deal with the instigators and leaders of America's wars in the Middle East in the same way. 

Today every al Qaeda member is aware of the complicity of neoconservatives in the death and devastation inflicted on Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza. Moreover, neocons are highly visible and are soft targets compared to Hamas and Hezbollah leaders. Neocons have been identified in the media for years, and as everyone knows, multiple listings of their names are available online. 

Neocons do not have Secret Service protection. Dreadful to contemplate, but it would be child's play for al Qaeda to assassinate any and every neocon. Yet, neocons move around freely, a good indication that the US does not have a terrorist problem.

If, as neocons constantly allege, terrorists can smuggle nuclear weapons or dirty bombs into the US with which to wreak havoc upon our cities, terrorists can acquire weapons with which to assassinate any neocon or former government official.

Yet, the neocons, who are the Americans most hated by Muslims, remain unscathed. 

The "war on terror" is a hoax that fronts for American control of oil pipelines, the profits of the military-security complex, the assault on civil liberty by fomenters of a police state, and Israel's territorial expansion. 

Too big to fail, too big to jail


Karl Rove recently described George W. Bush as a book lover, writing, "There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one." There will be many histories written about the Bush administration. What will they use for source material?

The Bush White House was sued for losing e-mails, and for skirting laws intended to protect public records. A federal judge ordered White House computers scoured for e-mails just days before Bush left office. Three hundred million e-mails reportedly went to the National Archives, but 23 million e-mails remain "lost." Vice President Dick Cheney left office in a wheelchair because of a back injury suffered when moving boxes out of his office. He has not only hobbled a nation in his attempt to sequester information -- he hobbled himself. Cheney also won court approval to decide which of his records remain private.

Barack Obama was questioned by George Stephanopoulos about the possibility of prosecuting Bush administration officials. Obama said: "We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth. ... I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward ... what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

Legal writer Karen Greenberg notes in Mother Jones magazine, "The list of potential legal breaches is, of course, enormous; by one count, the administration has broken 269 laws, both domestic and international."

How should Obama reform health care?

Annals of Public Policy

Getting There from Here

by Atul Gawande

Our jerry-rigged health-care system contains many models that reformers can build on.In every industrialized nation, the movement to reform health care has begun with stories about cruelty. The Canadians had stories like the 1946 Toronto Globe and Mail report of a woman in labor who was refused help by three successive physicians, apparently because of her inability to pay. In Australia, a 1954 letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald sought help for a young woman who had lung disease. She couldn't afford to refill her oxygen tank, and had been forced to ration her intake "to a point where she is on the borderline of death." In Britain, George Bernard Shaw was at a London hospital visiting an eminent physician when an assistant came in to report that a sick man had arrived requesting treatment. "Is he worth it?" the physician asked. It was the normality of the question that shocked Shaw and prompted his scathing and influential 1906 play, "The Doctor's Dilemma." The British health system, he charged, was "a conspiracy to exploit popular credulity and human suffering."

In the United States, our stories are like the one that appeared in the Times before Christmas. Starla Darling, pregnant and due for delivery, had just taken maternity leave from her factory job at Archway & Mother's Cookie Company, in Ashland, Ohio, when she received a letter informing her that the company was going out of business. In three days, the letter said, she and almost three hundred co-workers would be laid off, and would lose their health-insurance coverage. The company was self-insured, so the employees didn't have the option of paying for the insurance themselves—their insurance plan was being terminated.

"When I heard that I was losing my insurance, I was scared," Darling told the Times. Her husband had been laid off from his job, too. "I remember that the bill for my son's delivery in 2005 was about $9,000, and I knew I would never be able to pay that by myself." So she prevailed on her midwife to induce labor while she still had insurance coverage. During labor, Darling began bleeding profusely, and needed a Cesarean section. Mother and baby pulled through. But the insurer denied Darling's claim for coverage. The couple ended up owing more than seventeen thousand dollars.

The stories become unconscionable in any society that purports to serve the needs of ordinary people, and, at some alchemical point, they combine with opportunity and leadership to produce change. Britain reached this point and enacted universal health-care coverage in 1945, Canada in 1966, Australia in 1974. The United States may finally be there now. In 2007, fifty-seven million Americans had difficulty paying their medical bills, up fourteen million from 2003. On average, they had two thousand dollars in medical debt and had been contacted by a collection agency at least once. Because, in part, of underpayment, half of American hospitals operated at a loss in 2007. Today, large numbers of employers are limiting or dropping insurance coverage in order to stay afloat, or simply going under—even hospitals themselves.


Yet wherever the prospect of universal health insurance has been considered, it has been widely attacked as a Bolshevik fantasy—a coercive system to be imposed upon people by benighted socialist master planners. People fear the unintended consequences of drastic change, the blunt force of government. However terrible the system may seem, we all know that it could be worse—especially for those who already have dependable coverage and access to good doctors and hospitals.