Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cheney in Hell

Change You Can Parse: Obama Abandons Bush's Talk, Keeps His Walk

You can't blame Dick Cheney for being annoyed at Barack Obama. Obama is closing Guantánamo. He's ordering the CIA to interrogate prisoners according to the rules written in the Army Field Manual, which doesn't allow torture. He's even phasing out such classic Bushian phrases as "enemy combatant" and "war on terror."

But the dark prince of neoconservatism should relax. Obama's inaugural address may have promised to "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," but--in all the ways that matter--he's keeping all of Bush's outrageous policies in place. Sure, he talks a good game about "moving forward." But nothing has really changed. From reading your e-mails to asserting the right to assassinate American citizens to bailing out companies whose executives pay themselves big bonuses, Obama's changes are nothing but toothless rhetoric.

Closing Gitmo, reported The New York Times, was merely "a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies. But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration."

What will happen to the 241 POWs still at Gitmo? They won't be called "enemy combatants" anymore but most won't be going home. "The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new Administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there," wrote the Times. Where will they go after that?

Welcome to Gitmo II--courtesy of Barack Obama.

Countless victims have been tortured by U.S. military personnel at Bagram, the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan where Bush imprisoned 600 people without charges. Some were murdered in the camp's notorious "salt pit." "Even children have not been spared," says Amnesty International.

Now Bagram is being expanded--nearly doubled in size--in order to accommodate 200-plus detainees from Gitmo, as well as future POWs from Obama's expanded war against Afghanistan. As bad as Guantánamo was, conditions at Bagram are worse.


Urgent Appeal for the Obama Administration to fully support and fully participate in the U.N. Durban Review Conference Against Racism

Send a message to President President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Congressional leaders, Durban Review Conference Preparations Committee Chair Ms. Janat Al-Hajjaji, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethem Pillay, U.N. General Assembly President d'Escoto-Brockmann, U.N. Secretary General Ban, members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. member states including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Syria Venezuela, Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Oman, Mozambique, Libya, Miyanmar, Lebanon and others, and Major media representatives including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera, the North Africa Journal, Egypt Today, the Beirut Times, the Jakarta Post, and the Sudan Mail. Let them know that you support this
urgent appeal
  • for the Obama Administration to fully support and participate in the U.N. Durban Review Conference Against Racism in Geneva in April, and
  • for the Preparatory Committee to take all necessary steps for full governmental and Non Governmental Organization (NGO) participation in the conference.

Text of the Appeal:

Urgent Appeal for the Obama Administration to Fully Support and Participate in the U.N. Durban Review Conference Against Racism in April in Geneva

To: President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Congressional leaders, Durban Review Conference Preparations Committee Chair Ms. Janat Al-Hajjaji, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethem Pillay, U.N. General Assembly President d'Escoto-Brockmann, U.N. Secretary General Ban, members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. member states including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Syria Venezuela, Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Oman, Mozambique, Libya, Miyanmar, Lebanon and others, and Major media representatives including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera, the North Africa Journal, Egypt Today, the Beirut Times, the Jakarta Post, and the Sudan Mail.

I strongly support the participation of the United States in the Global UN Conference Against Racism scheduled to be held in Geneva, Switzerland from 20 - 24 April of this year.

It is an embarrassment for the Obama Administration to continue the Bush Administration's practice of refusing dialogue with others. Moreover, given the painful history of racism in the U.S. it is shameful for America to refuse to participate in a conference against racism.

All those who oppose racism and other similar forms of discrimination had hoped and expected that the Obama Administration, a source of great hope for change with a new agenda, would embrace the historic significance of this international gathering against racism.

The 2001 UN Conference on Racism held eight years ago in Durban, South Africa had the overwhelming support of people of the world - both through their governments and through thousands of delegates representing many hundreds of NGOs and organs of civil society.

Midway through that historic gathering the U.S. and Israel walked out because the latter was criticized for its apartheid practices against Palestinians. The Bush Administration also opposed concrete action to redress the history of hundreds of years of slavery and racism. How can we ever resolve these issues without participative dialogue?

In preparing for the April Conference against Racism the majority of countries from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, have shown an extraordinary willingness to operate on principles of open-minded compromise and dialogue with the United States. Rejection of this offer by refusing to even come to the table will be seen as an arrogant assault on the processes of diplomacy and will encourage the international community to brand the United States administration as one obstructing the struggle against racism.

I am shocked that the U.S. has also supported the marginalization of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the Durban Review Conference, seeking to ensure that they are not able to participate or that their freedom of speech is strictly limited, for example, by failing to support an NGO Forum.

NGO participation, often through NGO Forums, has been an indispensable part of every major UN human rights conference. It is therefore essential that the Preparatory Committee and the High Commissioner for Human Rights make every effort possible to provide the resources and logistics for a vigorous public mobilization for the UN Durban Review Conference.

I urge the Preparatory Committee to take immediate steps to carry out their responsibility to facilitate NGO participation, especially the participation of NGOs from developing countries who have suffered the most from racism and other similar forms of discrimination.

I urge the Obama Administration to participate in this international gathering without threats or preconditions and in a spirit of mutual respect for all other nations, especially those whose people have suffered so grievously from racism.

(Your signature will be appended here based on the contact information you enter in the online form at the link below:)

Initiated and signed by
Ramsey Clark, Winner of United Nations Human Rights Award 2008
Conference of Non-GovernmentalOrganizationss in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations,
  CONGO - Kayla Mahoffey
Curtis Doebbler Nord-Sud XXI
Robert Micallef, President International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (ISMUN)
Naji Haraj, Union of Arab Jurists
General Federation of Iraqi Women
Vanessa Ramos, Asociación Americana de Juristas/American Association of Jurists
The Becket Fund, Sadani Maoluaiiuro
International Action Center
Fight Imperialism Stand Together
Aloomi Zambia
M. Hamed Cheidh
Mohamed Aledellabe

Sponsored by:
Nord Sud XXI and International Action Center
c/o Solidarity Center
55 West 17th St 5C
New York, NY 10011
For further information call: (212) 633-6646

The AP, OBAMA & Referencing

20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie

by Greg Palast

"Gail, Please! Stick your hand in it!"
The petite Eskimo-Chugach woman gave me that you-dumb-ass-white-boy look.
She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village's fishing ground. Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez.
It was already two years after the spill and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn't question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon's claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound?
So I convinced the Natives to fly the lazy-ass reporters out to Sleepy Bay on rented float planes to see the oil that Exxon said wasn't there.
The reporters looked, but didn't see it, because it was three inches under their feet, under the shingle rock of the icy beach. Gail pulled out her hand and now the whole place smelled like a gas station. The network crews wanted to puke.
And now, with their eyes open, they saw the oil, the vile feces-colored smear across the glaciated ridge faces, the poisonous "bathtub ring" that ran for miles and miles at the high tide level. And it's still there. Less for sure. But twenty years later, IT'S STILL THERE, GODDAMMIT. And I want YOU, dear reader, to stick your hand in it. I want YOU, President Obama, to stick your hand in it before you blithely fulfill your Palin-esque campaign promise for a little more offshore drilling.
Tuesday marks the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding and the smearing of 1,200 miles of Alaska's coastline with its oil.

Oil still being cleaned up seven years after the spill (James McAlpine) James Macalpine
It also marks the 20th Anniversary of a lie. Lots of lies: catalogued in a four-volume investigation of the disaster; four volumes you'll never see. I wrote that report, with my team of investigators working with the Natives preparing fraud and racketeering charges against Exxon. You'll never see the report because Exxon lawyers threatened the Natives, "Mention the f-word [fraud] and you'll never get a dime" of compensation to clean up the villages. The Natives agreed to drop the fraud charge -- and Exxon stiffed them on the money. You're surprised, right?

The Yacht Club at Retention Basin

Don’t sneer at science -- volcano monitoring saves lives


Thanks to "something called volcano monitoring," to use the denigrating language of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, passenger jets did not fly into ash clouds when Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupted earlier this week.

Volcanic ash creates conditions akin to flying into a sand blaster. A KLM flight lost power in all four engines after it flew into the cloud created by a 1989 eruption of Redoubt.

The plane dropped by more than two vertical miles before its crew could restart the engines and land in Anchorage. No wonder Alaska Airlines canceled 19 in-state flights on Monday week after Redoubt sent an ash plume 60,000 feet into the sky.

The eruptions of Redoubt carry a lesson that Jindal did not learn back when he was a Rhodes Scholar: Don't sneer at science.

The lesson applies equally to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a potential Jindal rival for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. "Sarah Barracuda" spent last fall lampooning federal money spent on fruit fly research, ignoring that it is essential to the study of human genetics.

Jindal's remarks give pause, not only about this would-be president but the Republican Party to which he tossed red meat in response to President Obama's address to Congress. "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.," said the governor.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, tried to talk sense in a letter to Jindal."

Volcano monitoring is a matter of life and death in Alaska," wrote Begich. "The science of volcano monitoring and the money needed to fund it is incredibly important in our state and could affect the economic well-being of other states and countries because of Alaska's key role in international commerce."

Any lawmaker from Washington, Oregon, California or Hawaii -- fellow states in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- could have written the same about their states.

A roll of whose dice?

1_knowing.jpgIs the universe deterministic, or random? Not the first question you'd expect to hear in a thriller, even a great one. But to hear this question posed soon after the opening sequence of "Knowing" gave me a particular thrill. Nicolas Cage plays Koestler, a professor of astrophysics at MIT, and as he toys with a model of the solar system, he asks that question of his students. Deterministic means that if you have a complete understanding of the laws of physics, you can predict with certainty everything that will happen after (for example) the universe is created in the Big Bang. Random means you can't predict anything. "What do you think?" a student asks Koestler, who says, "I think...shit just happens."

He is soon given reason to doubt his confidence. (From this point on, there are spoilers.) "Knowing" begins 50 years ago with a classroom assignment; grade school children are asked to draw pictures of what the world will look like in the future. Most draw rocket ships. Lucinda covers her page with row after row of deeply-etched numbers. All the pages are buried in a time capsule, and when the future comes around, Lucinda's sealed envelope ends in the hands of Caleb, Koestler's young son.

The page seems meaningless, a work of madness. But by chance Koestler notices these numbers in a row: 91120013239. Koestler sees 9/11/2001, and when he googles 9/11 he finds that 2996 people were killed. The numbers were written down in 1959. In a fever, the scientist extracts other numbers and finds the precise dates and fatalities of major catastrophes during the previous five decades.

2_knowing-1.jpgKoestler and the music of the spheres

How can this be? By now Koestler is in the state of mind that Nicolas Cage evokes so perfectly: Profound, heartsick worry. He turns to his MIT colleague, a cosmologist named Beckman (Ben Mendelsohn). Beckman thinks he must be mad, and warns against the superstition of numerology. But when recent numbers turn out to be correct predictions, and when Koestler realizes that some of the numbers are coordinates of latitude and longitude, it is impossible to dismiss the sheet of paper. It poses a threat to our very understanding of the universe. Shit doesn't just happen.

As I watched these scenes, I became aware of synchronicity in my own life. It happens that I am still immersed in the never-ending debate about Evolution vs. Intelligent Design on my Ben Stein blog entry (currently 1,530 comments and counting). Only a day or two earlier, a reader named Randy Masters asked me what, in my mind, would constitute proof of intelligent design. Fair question. I replied: "I wouldn't expect the Big Banger to manifest in the skies like the Four Horsemen or anything. I would expect him to enlighten scientists so they would learn how to find evidence of his working."


Now, in this movie, a secularist scientist is apparently being furnished with such enlightenment--for how else to explain the numbers? There must be a Design. We learn Koestler is long estranged from his father, a clergyman who serenely believes he will be in heaven with his wife. Aren't these numbers evidence of a higher power? More importantly, what do they mean for the lives of Koestler and Caleb? And for Diana (Rose Byrne), the daughter of Lucinda, and Abby, the granddaughter (Lara Robinson)? Koestler has tracked them down with feverish intensity.

"Knowing" is a superbly crafted thriller in any event, but that it brings basic philosophical questions into view was more than I could have hoped for. The film is by Alex Proyas, whose "Dark City" (1998) was also about the hidden nature of the world men think they inhabit. "Knowing," which could not be a more different film, seems to reveal a similar secret.In that film, the hero discovered the occult powers by which an alien race controls the world of men. In Proyas's "I, Robot" (2004), a robot, whose programming is rigidly deterministic, evolves to the point where it is able to ask, "What am I?"--which of course leads to a discovery of the true nature of the world it inhabits.

Of course it isn't that simple. The professor offered a false choice to his class. No one thinks the universe is random, except possibly at a quantum level, and let's not go there. Gravity doesn't randomly switch off. Light doesn't randomly alter its speed. The classical philosophical choice is between determinism and free will. Is the future already predestined, or do we have a role in the outcome? Can lower orders like dogs have degrees of free will? Is it already written when the dog will bark, or is it only strongly suggested by its instincts?

Sorry ... We don't do condoms.

U.S. move to cheaper Chinese condoms threatens American jobs

By Mike McGraw

Call it a condom conundrum.

At a time when the federal government is spending billions of stimulus dollars to stem the tide of U.S. layoffs, should that same government put even more Americans out of work by buying cheaper foreign products?

In this case, Chinese condoms.

That's the dilemma for the folks at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has distributed an estimated 10 billion U.S.-made AIDS-preventing condoms in poor countries around the world.

But not anymore.

In a move expected to cost 300 American jobs, the government is switching to cheaper off-shore condoms, including some made in China.

The switch comes despite implied assurances over the years that the agency would continue to buy American whenever possible.

"Of course, we considered how many U.S. jobs would be affected by this move," said a USAID official who spoke on the condition that he would not be named. But he said the reasons for the change included lower prices (2 cents versus more than 5 cents for U.S.-made condoms) and the fact that Congress dropped "buy American language" in a recent appropriations bill.

Jindal's List

Since taking office last year, Gov. Bobby Jindal has appointed more than 200 of his top contributors to influential boards and commissions, proving that 'ethics' has a limit — and a price.

First in a series of stories on the campaign finances of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

It was almost a threat, but he delivered it with a down-home country smile, the kind that hints of mischief and promises all kinds of hell. Sen. Ben Nevers, with a twang that's distinctly Washington Parish, told members of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee he was going to have his staff produce a list of political appointees and how much money each had contributed to the elected officials responsible for their appointments.

  Like a Cajun doing a two-step, Nevers danced around the issue for a while, but his true intentions eventually became clear. His target was Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who had brought lawmakers together for a special session on ethics reform. It was almost a year ago, on Feb. 15, 2008, when Nevers spoke the truth to power: "I think many people in this state think you get a board or commission seat by buying it. I want to get rid of that perception."

  In the House, Rep. Sam Jones of Franklin, a balding and boisterous Democrat who worked under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, was aiming high as well. He made a principled stand and pushed similar legislation through the House's committee process. But, like Nevers, his bill lost traction when it reached the floor.

  In hindsight, Jones says he should have realized the concept of buying appointments to key boards and commissions was rooted too deeply in the ethos of Louisiana's executive and legislative branches. "These boards and commissions have been for sale for more than 100 years," Jones says. "That's why I filed that bill. I thought there was going to be enough will to change things. I thought, for whatever reason, that we were actually holding a special session just for ethics reforms. I was wrong."

  As for Nevers, his list never materialized, although it would have come in handy for Rep. Neil Abramson of New Orleans. The Democratic freshman pushed the issue a few months later during the 2008 regular session. Abramson's bill would have forced elected officials to publicly report the names of campaign contributors they subsequently hire or appoint.

  During those early days of Jindal's new administration — his political honeymoon — many assumed the governor would support Abramson's bill. Key administration officials kept in contact with him over a five-month period and helped draft the language. Both the House and Senate passed the measure handily.

  Jindal vetoed the bill, however, on July 10, 2008, when the regular session ended. Abramson still remembers it as a "dark day for our efforts at true ethics reform."

Who let those executive bonuses happen?

Tax Advice from the Prestigious Internet

by the Prestigious Internet

With tax season upon us, many people come to me, as an economics major, with questions about tax policy and how it affects them.

Specifically: Can I still write off a child as a deduction if they've been kidnapped?

According to the IRS website, the answer is "yes," if two conditions are met:

  1. The child must be presumed by law enforcement to have been kidnapped by someone who is not a member of your family or a member of the child's family, and
  2. The child had, for the taxable year in which the kidnapping occurred, the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer for more than one-half of the portion of such year before the date of kidnapping.

So, if your child has not been kidnapped by a family member (this excludes most kidnappings, by the way*), and spent more than half of the tax-year, pre-kidnapping, living with you, they are considered for tax purposes a dependent.

As an example, take a hypothetical kidnapping on March 1, 1932. If the missing child had spent 30 or more days of the year leading up to March 1 (1932 being a leap year) in his parents' principle abode, they could write him off for the entire 1932 tax year. Just as a hypothetical.

The IRS also says you can continue to count the missing child as a dependent until they are determined to be dead, or it reaches the year they would have reached 18.

AIG is chump change -- let's find corporate America's hidden billions

It's time to reform offshore banking, and see what untaxed wealth big business is hiding in overseas tax shelters.

By Joe Conason

The popular urge to claw back the bogus bonuses paid by American International Group is irresistible and fully justified, but should the Treasury someday retrieve every single bonus dollar, that total of $165 million will make no difference to anyone except a few disgruntled traders. From the jaded perspective of the financiers, the uproar over the AIG bonuses may provide a welcome distraction from far more important (and lucrative) abuses in the world's offshore tax havens.

So rather than continue arguing over chump change, it is long past time for the United States, with its international friends and allies, to demand accountability from the long list of tiny countries and principalities, from Andorra and the Cayman Islands to Singapore and Switzerland, where corporations, wealthy clients and unrepentant evildoers hide their assets.

The big claw-back will reach into quaint islands and mountainous principalities, because the same banks, hedge funds and private equity firms responsible for the world financial meltdown keep their profits in those "secrecy spaces" -- alongside the ill-gotten gains of numerous drug dealers, dictators and delinquents of every description.

According to the Government Accountability Office, nearly all of America's top 100 corporations maintain subsidiaries in countries identified as tax havens. As the GAO notes, there could be reasons other than avoiding the IRS to set up branches in places such as Singapore, Luxembourg and Switzerland, where taxes are light or nonexistent and keeping clients' illicit secrets is considered a matter of national pride.

But what reason other than evasion could there be for Goldman Sachs Group to set up three subsidiaries in Bermuda, five in Mauritius, and 15 in the Cayman Islands? Why did Countrywide Financial need two subsidiaries in Guernsey? Why did Wachovia need 18 subsidiaries in Bermuda, three in the British Virgin Islands, and 16 in the Caymans? Why did Lehman Brothers need 31 subsidiaries in the Caymans? What do Bank of America's 59 subsidiaries in the Caymans actually do? Why does Citigroup need 427 separate subsidiaries in tax havens, including 12 in the Channel Islands, 21 in Jersey, 91 in Luxembourg, 19 in Bermuda and 90 in the Caymans? What exactly is going on at Morgan Stanley's 19 subs in Jersey, 29 subs in Luxembourg, 14 subs in the Marshall Islands, and its amazing 158 subs in the Caymans? And speaking of AIG, why does it have 18 subs in tax-haven countries? (Don't expect to find out from Fox News Channel or the New York Post, because News Corp. has its own constellation of strange subsidiaries, including 33 in the Caymans alone.)

The future!