Monday, March 23, 2009

Barack Alien

Barack Alien

Why Do Pro-Marijuana Groups Exist? Answer -- Charles Lynch

By Marijuana Policy Project , Reforming U.S. Marijuana Laws

Charles_lynchToday, I've been doing a lot of thinking about Charles C. Lynch – a man who you must have already heard about here or in any number of news stories about his case. Charlie is one of the last victims of George Bush's war on medical marijuana.

This is a man who complied with every state and local medical marijuana law and was even told by federal officials that they would leave him alone so long as he complied with these statutes. What Charlie didn't expect was for a rogue county sheriff to call in the DEA to arrest and prosecute him under draconian federal marijuana laws, after being frustrated by California's state law that should have protected him.

On Monday, Charlie faces sentencing on five counts of federal drug crimes in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He is facing up to 20 years in prison for helping sick and dying patients to obtain their medicine in a safe, clean setting.?

Charlie's sentencing comes only five days after U.S. Attorney General Holder confirmed that the nation's policy on medical marijuana has changed for the better.

Envoy damns US Afghan drug effort

Richard Holbrooke - file photo
Mr. Holbrooke pulled no punches with his comments on anti-narcotics efforts

US efforts to eradicate opium poppy crops in Afghanistan have been "wasteful and ineffective", the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan says.

Richard Holbrooke said the $800m (£550m) a year the US was spending on counter-narcotics would be better used in supporting Afghan farmers.

He said the US also wanted to see an increase in the numbers and capacity of Afghan police.

The US is currently conducting a review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation, Mr. Holbrooke told a conference in Belgium - the Brussels Forum - had failed to make an impact on the Taliban insurgents' ability to raise money from the drugs trade.

"It hasn't hurt the Taliban one iota," he said, "because whatever money they're getting from the drugs trade, they get whatever they need whether we reduce the acreage or not."

The US said last month that poppy cultivation had been reduced by 19% last year. Despite the drop, the UN estimates that Afghanistan accounts for 90% of the world's illicit heroin supply.

"The United States alone is spending over $800m a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," he said.

"It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years."

A Judicial Document


THE MOST important sentence written in Israel this week was lost in the general tumult of exciting events.

Really exciting: In a final act of villainy, typical of his whole tenure as Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert abandoned the captive soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Ehud Barak decided that the Labor Party must join the ultra-right government, which includes outright fascists.

And this, too: the former President of Israel was officially indicted for rape.

In this cacophony, who would pay any attention to a sentence written by lawyers in a document submitted to the Supreme Court?

THE JUDICIAL debate concerns one of the most revolting laws ever enacted in Israel.

It says that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories or in a "hostile" Arab country.

The Arab citizens of Israel belong to Hamulas (clans) which extend beyond the borders of the state. Arabs generally marry within the Hamula. This is an ancient custom, deeply rooted in their culture, probably originating in the desire to keep the family property together. In the Bible, Isaac married his cousin, Rebecca.

The "Green Line", which was fixed arbitrarily by the events of the 1948 war, divides families. One village found itself in Israel, the next remained outside the new state, the Hamula lives in both. The Nakba also created a large Palestinian Diaspora.

A male Arab citizen in Israel who desires to marry a woman of his Hamula will often find her in the West Bank or in a refugee camp in Lebanon or Syria. The woman will generally join her husband and be taken in by his family. In theory, her husband could join her in Ramallah, but the standard of living there is much lower, and all his life – family, work, studies – is centered in Israel. Because of the large difference in the standard of living, a man in the occupied territories who marries a woman in Israel will also usually join her and receive Israeli citizenship, leaving behind his former life.

It is hard to know how many Palestinians, male and female, have come to Israel during the 41 years of occupation and become Israeli citizens this way. One government office speaks of twenty thousand, another of more than a hundred thousand. Whatever the number, the Knesset has enacted an (officially "temporary") law to put an end to this movement.

As usual with us, the pretext was security. After all, the Arabs who are naturalized in Israel could be "terrorists". True, no statistics have ever been published about such cases – if there are any – but since when did a "security" assertion need evidence to prove it?

Wall Street's Economic Crimes Against Humanity

By refusing to consider the consequences of their actions, those who created the financial crisis exemplify the banality of evil, writes Shoshana Zuboff

Most experts now blame a lack of regulation and oversight for this madness. Or they point to misguided incentive programs associated with the push for shareholder value that tied executive rewards to a firm's share price. These factors are surely important, but they ignore the terrifying human breakdown at the heart of this crisis.

Each day's economic news leaves me haunted by Hannah Arendt's ruminations on Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann as she reported on his trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker 45 years ago. Arendt pondered "the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil" and sought to capture it with her famous formulation "the banality of evil." Arendt found Eichmann neither "perverted nor sadistic," but "terribly and terrifyingly normal."

Remoteness from Reality

He was a new type of criminal, a participant in "administrative massacre" who committed his crimes "under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong." Eichmann had no motives other than what Arendt described as "an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement…he never realized what he was doing.That such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together," she concluded, "…was, in fact, the lesson one could learn in Jerusalem."

The economic crisis is not the Holocaust but, I would argue, it derives from a business model that routinely produced a similar kind of remoteness and thoughtlessness, compounded by a widespread abrogation of individual moral judgment. As we learn more about the behavior within our financial institutions, we see that just about everyone accepted a reckless system that rewards transactions but rejects responsibility for the consequences of those transactions. Bankers, brokers, and financial specialists were all willing participants in a self-centered business model that celebrates what's good for organization insiders while dehumanizing and distancing everyone else—the outsiders.

What's shame?

The Real AIG Scandal, Continued!

The transfer of $12.9 billion from AIG to Goldman looks fishier and fishier.

The AIG scandal is getting ever-more disturbing. Goldman Sachs' public conference call explaining its trading relationship and exposure with AIG established, once again, that Goldman knows how to protect itself. According to Goldman, even if AIG had failed, Goldman's losses would have been minimal.

How did Goldman protect itself? Sensing AIG's weakening capital position through 2006 and 2007, Goldman demanded more collateral from AIG and covered outstanding risk with instruments from other firms.

But this raises two critical questions. The first is why $12.9 billion of taxpayer money went from AIG to Goldman. What risk—systemic or otherwise—was being covered? If Goldman wasn't going to suffer severe losses, why are taxpayers paying them off at 100 cents on the dollar? As I wrote earlier in the week, the real AIG scandal is that the company's trading partners are getting fully paid rather than taking a haircut.

Goldman's answer is that it was merely taking a commercial position—trying to avoid any losses at all on its AIG positions. I suppose we can hardly expect Goldman to reject government assistance in the form of pure cash that seems to have had no strings attached.

But what were the government officials possibly thinking? The only rationale for what we should call the "hidden conduit bailout" to AIG's trading partners is that the cascading effect of AIG's inability to pay would have been devastating. But Goldman has now said very clearly there would have been no cascade. Not even a ripple.

The Big Takeover

The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution


The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial — we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. When Geithner announced the new $30 billion bailout, the party line was that poor AIG was just a victim of a lot of shitty luck — bad year for business, you know, what with the financial crisis and all. Edward Liddy, the company's CEO, actually compared it to catching a cold: "The marketplace is a pretty crummy place to be right now," he said. "When the world catches pneumonia, we get it too." In a pathetic attempt at name-dropping, he even whined that AIG was being "consumed by the same issues that are driving house prices down and 401K statements down and Warren Buffet's investment portfolio down."

"Take me to your leader...Oh, never mind."

Diebold Admits Audit Logs in ALL Versions of Their Software Fail to Record Ballot Deletions

Startling admission made during public hearing in CA to consider decertification of the company's voting and tabulation software...

Guest Blogged by Mitch Trachtenberg, with Brad Friedman

Even the audit log system on current versions of Premier Election Solutions' (formerly Diebold's) electronic voting and tabulating systems --- used in some 34 states across the nation --- fail to record the wholesale deletion of ballots. Even when ballots are deleted on the same day as an election. That's the shocking admission heard today from Justin Bales, Premier's Western Region manager, at a State of California public hearing on the possible decertification of Diebold/Premier's tabulator system, GEMS v. 1.18.19.

An election system's audit logs are meant to record all activity during the system's actual counting of ballots, so that later examiners may determine, with certainty, whether any fraudulent or mistaken activity had occurred during the count. Diebold's software fails to do that, as has recently been discovered by Election Integrity advocates in Humboldt County, CA, and then confirmed by the CA Secretary of State. The flaws, built into the system for more than a decade, are in serious violation of federal voting system certification standards.

The problems may lead to decertification of the company's voting systems, as well as an examination of voting systems made by other companies to determine if they too may have been able to sneak such violations past both federal and state testers...

Two Tibetans arrested amid ongoing media restrictions

Chinese public security officials in northwest Gansu province should release two Tibetan journalists detained in the past month or charge them with an offense, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

The public security bureau in Gannan, an area in the south of Gansu designated a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, arrested Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang on February 26, according to overseas Tibetan rights groups. Kunchok Tsephel, an online writer, runs the Tibetan cultural issues Web site Chomei, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Kate Saunders, UK communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet, told CPJ by telephone from New Delhi that she learned of Kunchok Tsephel's arrest from two sources. She has spent the past two weeks in Dharamsala and Kathmandu.

In an unrelated case, officials from the same bureau rearrested formerly imprisoned filmmaker Jigme Gyatso, according to the Tibetan Center and Saunders. The exact date of the arrest is not clear, but it is believed to have occurred around March 10, the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising. Jigme Gyatso, a Buddhist monk, had been held from March to October 2008 before being freed on probation, Saunders said.

The reasons for the two detentions were not clear.

"These arrests are a disturbing indication that heavy punitive measures await Tibetans who publicize their version of life under Chinese rule. They are happening even though the international community widely condemned official handling of the media during last year's rioting," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Public security officials in Tibet should disclose the circumstances and reasons behind the arrests of Kunchok Tsephel and Jigme Gyatso or release them at once."

The 1959 uprising preceded the Dalai Lama's departure from Tibet; its anniversary provoked ethnic rioting in Tibetan areas just months before the Olympics last year. Foreign reporters remain officially barred from the region, and information is strictly controlled within China. Some journalists and overseas Tibetan groups have defied those restrictions to publicize a strong Chinese military presence and higher-than-usual restrictions on Internet access in Tibetan regions. CPJ's Madeline Earp explored China's media policies regarding Tibet in a March 12 post on the organization's blog.

Saunders said Kunchok Tsephel was taken from his home. "There is serious concern for his welfare," she said. Kunchok Tsephel was detained for two months in 1995, according to the Tibetan Center's statement. It did not report the grounds for that arrest.

A cyber-cafe unlike any other

Bill in Texas would allow creationists to grant Masters of Science degrees

by Joe Byrne

If a private college doesn't receive funds from any governmental organization, should they have to be held to any standards or requirements when they award degrees? No, one Texan lawmaker is insisting.

Texas State Representative Leo Berman has proposed House Bill 2800, which would exempt any private non-profit institution that requires students to complete "substantive course work" from having to acquire a certificate of authority from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board(THECB). "If you don't take any federal funds, if you don't take any state funds, you can do a lot more than some business that does take state funding or federal funding," Berman says. "Why should you be regulated if you don't take any state or federal funding?"

Because creationism isn't science, critics argue.

Berman admits that his 'inspiration' for the bill was the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School, a Young Earth Creationism institution that has been trying to achieve certification in Texas for two years. Young Earth Creationism, much more popular than the recent Intelligent Design Creationism, is essentially Biblical literalism – Earth is 10,000 years old, Noah's Flood occurred, Adam and Eve were real people. ICRGS insists that they teach more than just "Biblical Creationism," which is based only on the word of the Bible; they also have incorporated tenets of "Scientific Creationism" into their bylaws. Most of these relate to origins of Earth and the evolution of species. Originally the creationist research branch of Christian Heritage College in San Diego, the ICRGS was forced to split from that college when California regulators threatened to take away its certification. Now, the ICRGS operates mostly online, and its Masters of Science Degree is recognized by California and federal law. According to its website, however, Texas residents cannot receive a degree.

Degree-granting colleges and universities in Texas currently must be issued a certificate of authority by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The certificate allows the holder to grant a degree that a graduate would need to apply for a teaching position in a Texas public school. If House Bill 2800 was made into law, only state-funded colleges and universities would have to report to THECB; everyone else would be free to design their curriculums without any regulation.

Critics of Berman's bill are enraged, claiming that it will de-legitimize any degree coming out of Texas.

Vermont Senate panel approves gay marriage bill


Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, receives congratulations from Kathy Stickel ofLeft: Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, receives congratulations from Kathy Stickel of South Royalton, Vt. …
  • MONTPELIER, Vt. – A state Senate committee unanimously approved a gay marriage bill on Friday, moving Vermont one step closer to allowing same-sex couples to legally wed.

"It provides ... gay and lesbian couples the same rights that I have as a married heterosexual," said Sen. John Campbell, vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief sponsor of the bill.

The measure would replace Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil unions law with one that allows marriage of same-sex partners beginning Sept. 1.

The committee's vote ended an intense week highlighted by a public hearing Wednesday night in which more than 500 people swarmed the Statehouse to speak for and against allowing same-sex marriages.

If approved, Vermont would join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only U.S. states that allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Civil unions, which confer some rights similar to marriage, would still be recognized but no longer granted after Sept. 1.

Campbell said marriage is an improvement over civil unions both substantively and as a matter of wording.

On the first score, he said, marriage is more widely legally recognized than civil unions. If a couple from Vermont got into an accident in Kansas, a spouse likely would have a stronger claim to hospital visitation rights if they were married than if they were in a civil union, he said.;_ylt=AgqeJok55yJOD8v9pK2nMYuyFz4D

And when I snap my fingers you will all fall asleep