Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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Six days to Free Aung San Suu Kyi

Dear Friends,

After 13 years of detention, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been jailed again on trumped up charges by the brutal Burmese regime. Call on UN Secretary General to secure her and all political prisoners' release:

Click here to sign the petition
Burma's democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been locked up on new trumped up charges, just days before her 13 years of detention was due to expire. She and thousands of fellow monks and students have been imprisoned for bravely challenging the brutal military regime with peaceful calls for democracy.

Risking danger to speak out for their jailed friends, Burmese activists are demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and calling on the world to help. We have just six days to get a flood of petition signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon calling on him to make their release a top priority -- he can make this a condition of any renewed international engagement. Follow the link to sign the petition, and forward this email on to friends to ensure Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are freed. Burmese activists will present the global petition to the media on May 26th:

On May 14th, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and sent to jail, charged in connection with an American man who allegedly sneaked uninvited into the compound where she is being held in Yangon. The charges are absurd -- it is the Burmese military, now accusing her of breach of house arrest, that are responsible for the security of the compound. It is a pretext to keep her detained until after elections which are set for 2010.

The Burmese regime is renown for its vicious repression of any threat to full military control - thousands are in jail in inhumane conditions and denied any medical care, there are ongoing abuses of human rights, there is violent repression of ethnic groups, and over a million have been forced into refuge across the border.

Aung San Suu Kyi's is the greatest threat to the junta's hold on power. Her moral leadership of the democracy movement and the legacy of her landslide victory in 1990 elections means that she is the only figure who could face down the military in elections next year. She has been detained over and over again since 1988 -- under house arrest and allowed no contact with the outside world. But this scandalous new detention in the notorious Insein Prison without medical care could be very dangerous because she is seriously ill.

Sources say that the military regime is fearful of this unified and massive online call to the UN -- over 160 Burma exile and solidarity groups in 24 countries are participating in the campaign. And the Secretary General and key regional players that are looking to re-engage with the Burmese regime, can influence the fate of these prisoners. Last week Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: 'Aung San Suu Kyi and all those that have a contribution to make to the future of their country must be free'. Let's overwhelm him with a global call to urgently act on his words and stop the arrests and brutality:

As with the release of Nelson Mandela from years of prison in South Africa, the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi from years of unjust detention, will bring a new beginning to Burma and hope for democracy. This week could be that historical time for change - let's stand united behind Suu Kyi and these brave men and women and demand their release now!

With hope,

Alice, Brett, Ricken, Pascal, Graziela, Paula and the rest of the Avaaz team


For more about Aung San Suu Kyi visit:

For more about the Global Free Political Prisoners Campaign visit:

A Letter from former Presidents for the release of political prisoners:

For the West and Asian countries reactions to Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest:

For the full statement from the UN Sectretary General on Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest:

Several Bush officials work in areas related to former jobs

By Fredreka Schouten

Michael Chertoff, who served as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until January, launched a consulting business two months ago to provide "risk-management advice" to private companies and governments. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, also is a security and crisis-management consultant.

Former attorney general John Ashcroft has registered as a lobbyist and runs a firm whose clients include software giant Oracle, which was the subject of a Justice Department anti-trust case during Ashcroft's tenure.

In all, 10 of the 34 former Cabinet secretaries who served during Bush's eight years in office have registered as lobbyists or joined consulting or lobbying firms, the analysis shows. Others sit on the boards or work for industries they regulated. For instance, Gale Norton, who once oversaw 500 million acres of public land as Interior secretary, now is a lawyer in a Shell Oil division for oil exploration.

It's not unusual for former executive branch officials to find employment related to their government work. A 2003 study of 100 top Clinton administration officials by the Center for Public Integrity found that two years after leaving office, more than half represented or worked for entities they had regulated. Nearly one in five had worked as lobbyists — who can directly lobby members of Congress and the administration.

Two-year lobbying ban

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said the movement of top officials to consulting and lobbying jobs shows "they are cashing in on their public service."

"No one is saying they shouldn't go into the private sector," she said, "but they shouldn't take advantage of the relationships they created while in government."

Federal law imposes limits on the contacts that former top executive branch officials can have with their former colleagues, including a two-year ban on lobbying on any issue that they worked on during their final year in government. But there are no restrictions on them serving as consultants and advising clients on the inner workings of their former departments and agencies, including how to secure government contracts.

In interviews, former Cabinet members defended their post-government employment.

"I can't go back to DHS and lobby ... but we can share the benefit of our experience in terms of helping people understand how government works," said Chertoff, whose recent hires include former CIA director Michael Hayden.

Chertoff would not release a list of clients.

Arabs see Israel - not Iran - as nuclear threat

'The vast majority of Arabs do not see Iran as the main issue'

Arab League chief says Israel's nuclear bombs arsenal poses 'real danger' in troubled Middle East.

SHUNEH, - Israel's nuclear bombs arsenal poses "the real danger" in the Middle East and not Iran's civilian nuclear programme, Arab League chief Amr Musa said on Sunday.

"The real danger as far as nuclear military programmes are concerned is posed by Israel and not Iran," Musa said during a panel discussion on the future of Middle East peacemaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

"We don't see Iran as the main issue. The vast majority of Arabs does not see Iran as the main issue. Why should we engage with Iran and with Israel?"

"However, we don't need another nuclear programme in the Middle East," the Arab League chief said.

Jordanian Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, his Palestinian counterpart Salam Fayyad, Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Russian special envoy to the Middle East Alexander Sultanov took part in the discussion on the shores of the Dead Sea.

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, aimed at generating energy for its growing population, and that it has the right to technology already in the hands of many other nations.

Israel is the only country in the Middle Ease that actually has nuclear weapons, and refuses to submit to international inspections.

Secret memo reveals Bush was given humane, legal alternative to harsh interrogation

By John Byrne

The Bush administration was given clear and unequivocal advice encouraging a detainee interrogation system that followed humane practices that adhered to US and international law, a previously secret memo reveals.

A detailed memorandum authored by a counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005 also reveals that the Bush Administration was offered a comprehensive alternative to its use of torture techniques. The author, Rice deputy Philip Zelikow (along with then-acting deputy secretary of defense Gordon England), asserted that the adoption of a clear and humane approach to interrogation would pay dividends for the US in the years to come.

The memo was published Thursday at Secrecy News, a blog written by secrecy expert Steven Aftergood. It can be read here in PDF form.

Zelikow acknowledged an argument frequently promulgated by former Vice President Dick Cheney — that the interrogation of detainees could save thousands of lives. But he argued that humane treatment was the only right course for the United States.

"Some [terrorist suspects] have information that may save lives, perhaps even thousands of lives," Zelikow wrote. "They do not fit readily into any existing system of criminal or military justice. And, while balancing the danger these individuals may present, they must be treated humanely, consistent with our values and the values of the free world."

Zelikow and England argued — conscious of the techniques that the Bush administration had already adopted and in an apparent snipe at then-approved standards endorsing torture — that such a program must "pass muster for years to come under American law and relevant standards of international law," and "give workable clear and unambiguous guidelines for the professional and humane conduct expected from those who will operate the system."

And, they said, whether a prisoner was caught in any number of countries abroad, "the treatment of a prisoner should be built on a foundation of common values and basic standards - a system that is reasonably interoperable."

Up and At 'Em for National Penis Day

I recently received an email with the following photos attached to it and wondered "How could I have missed this important date??" 

March 15 saw National Penis Day come and go in Japan - pardon the pun. Carrying on from old Shinto religious ceremonies with fertility theme it is supposed to tie in with the start of spring and aimed at agricultural fertility.  Still fertility and penises are of course taken very seriously in Japan and this day, called the Hounen Matsuri, is celebrated annually at the Tagata Shrine in Komaki, Central Japan.  Though is probably more visually phallic now than it was in days of yore...


Oh the hilarity.  Although I am not sure how comfortable I feel with the little girl being held up to stroke the penis, nor about the woman wearing a "glasses and penis" disguise, angrily clutching her dick in her hand.  Grown men the world over will cry at that.

Diary of a UK journalist being hassled by goons at the Bilderberg conference

Alan sez, "Charlie Skelton, reporting for the Guardian from outside the apparent location of this year's Bilderberg Conference [ed: s33kr1t high-powered meeting of financial leaders and politicos], has been intimidated out of the area and is still being hassled on the Athens subway - series of reports and photos of the goons, who are by turns terrifying and comically incompetent."

In comes the chief. Bossios Hoggios. "What the problem?" I tell him that I am being followed by the police, and that I would like it to stop, or be told the reason. "Why you here?" he barks. I tell him I am here for the Bilderberg conference at the Astir Palace. "Well, that is the reason! That is why! We are finished!" And he washes his hands of me, dismissing me with a gesture, striding back to his office. "Idiot," I mutter, unheard.

Back to the photograph.

"How you know he is a policeman?"

"I know that he is, I've seen him talking to your colleagues at the checkpoint."

"You are not allowed to take photos of policemen."

"So I am being followed by policemen?"

He gestures out of the window.

"Where is he now, this man you say following you? Show me him."

I'm standing in a police station. I don't know what to say. They tell me to ring the police if I see them again. To ring the police if I see the police following me.

Charlie Skelton's Bilderberg files (Thanks, Alan!)

Official story of 9/11 "almost entirely untrue"

by Inky99

Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, this is about a new book, titled "The Ground Truth: The Story Behind America's Defense on 9/11".

And before you get all outraged (The FAQ! The FAQ!), here is the author of the book, John Farmer:

John Farmer served as Senior Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, where his areas of responsibility included assessing the national response to the terrorist attacks and evaluating the current state of national preparedness for terrorist attacks and natural disasters, he also served as attorney general of New Jersey (1999-2002), as chief counsel to Governor Whitman, and as a federal prosecutor. He recently served as a subject matter/rule of law expert on security to the special envoy for Middle East regional security. He is currently a partner of a New Jersey law form and an adjunct professor of national security law at Rutgers University Law School. His editorials and articles have appeared in "The New York Times" and elsewhere

And my diary title are the words of Farmer's publisher, Houghton Mifflin.  

I wrote a couple of nights ago, here -- '9/11 Commission Report -- Info Obtained Through Torture" -- as to how much of what was published in the 9/11 Commission report was obtained through torture, and is therefore completely without credibility.  

Scandalous enough, right?

Well, it gets worse.

The above described James Farmer has just come out with his new book.  It was released April 14.  I have not read it (I just heard about it maybe ten minutes ago) and it is difficult to find any reviews of it by any mainstream book reviewers (gee, what a surprise!).

But according to the publisher, it's quite a bombshell:

As of the 9/11 Commission's one of the primary authors report, John Farmer is proud of his and his colleagues' work. Yet he came away from the experience convinced that there was a further story to be told, one he was uniquely qualified to write.

Now that story can be told. Tape recordings, transcripts, and contemporaneous records that had been classified have since been declassified, and the inspector general's investigations of government conduct have been completed. Drawing on his knowledge of those sources, as well as his years as an attorney in public and private practice, Farmer reconstructs the truth of what happened on that fateful day and the disastrous circumstances that allowed it: the institutionalized disconnect between what those on the ground knew and what those in power did. He reveals — terrifyingly and illuminatingly — the key moments in the years, months, weeks, and days that preceded the attacks, then descends almost in real time through the attacks themselves, revealing them as they have never before been seen.

Ultimately Farmer builds the inescapably convincing case that the official version not only is almost entirely untrue but serves to create a false impression of order and security. The ground truth that Farmer captures tells a very different story — a story that is doomed to be repeated unless the systemic failures he reveals are confronted and remedied.

So let me just repeat that to let it sink in .... The official story is "almost entirely untrue."   So what IS true?  Hell if I know.  

And check this out:

Farmer himself states that "at some level of the government, at some point in time ... there was an agreement not to tell the truth about what happened."

So let's let that sink in .... there was an agreement not to tell the truth about what happened.

Auto-Tune the News 2

And today's TRL most requested song is...

"Conflict in the Middle East," by MSNBC.

Mystery surrounds prison death of terrorist whose testimony was key to Iraq invasion

INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATION: Islamist dies in Tripoli shortly after human rights group visit
From Fred Bridgland in Libya

THE ISLAMIST terrorist who was the key source of the false intelligence used to trigger the US and UK 2003 military invasion of Iraq has been found dead in a Libyan prison cell.

Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi allegedly commited suicide by hanging in the prison where he was being held in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. His death followed a visit by a team from Human Rights Watch, one of the world's leading independent organisations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.

The al-Libi affair opens a window on an extraordinarily close espionage link that existed between the government of the former US president, George Bush, and the authoritarian Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Al-Libi was the unnamed source that Bush, his former secretary of state, Colin Powell, and other administration officials relied upon prior to the Iraq invasion to assert that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was helping a terrorist organisation run by al-Qaeda. Al-Libi was known to Powell and Bush by the codename "Curveball".

Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 was largely based on al-Libi's coerced testimony - which was extracted from him in Egyptian torture chambers - even though many US intelligence officials questioned it at the time and later dismissed it completely. In his address, aimed at drumming up support for the invasion, Powell said he could "trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda".

He added: "Fortunately, this operative is now detained." Powell did not identify "Curveball" by name, but CIA officials - and a Senate Intelligence Committee report - later confirmed he was referring to al-Libi.

The Bush administration argued that the invasion of Iraq was necessary because the country was concealing weapons of mass destruction from international inspectors and could have shared those weapons with terrorists. No such stockpiles were found after the invasion.

Do we want ISPs to penalise our fans?

The record industry wants ISPs to take action against unauthorised downloaders – but fans are the wrong target

by Billy Bragg

Billy BraggHaving failed miserably in previous attempts to stamp out illicit filesharing, the record industry has now joined forces with other entertainment lobby groups to demand that the government takes action to protect their business model.

Speaking at a joint meeting of the Federation of Entertainment Unions, UK Film Council and Bafta on the future of the creative industries last week, the chairman of the British Phonographic Industry called on the government to take seriously the argument that, in the face of illicit file-sharing, a "write and sue" policy will not be effective, to introduce legislation requiring ISPs to act against persistent unauthorised downloaders and to recognise that the music industry has already transformed its business models online.

Not for the first time, we at the Featured Artist Coalition are forced to question whether the record industry is representing the best interests of artists in calling for such measures.

Stating that a "write and sue" policy will not work is an admission that the current copyright law is no longer fit for purpose in a digital age. The government has pointed out to the BPI that if it wants to crack down on unauthorised file-sharing, the law is already on its side. Fearful of the prospect of dragging their customers though the courts, with all the attendant costs and bad publicity, members of the record industry have come up with a simple, cost-free solution to their problem: get the ISPs to do their dirty work for them. They are asking the government to force the ISPs to cut off the broadband connection of customers who persistently download unauthorised material, without any recourse to appeal in the courts.

Never mind that this is a shameful attempt to pass responsibility on to another sector of industry, the question remains whether or not such measures will have the desired effect. Technology has so far stayed ahead of enforcement. Any unauthorised filesharers who fear being caught out can simply encrypt their exchanges.

Even if this proposal should become law, as recording artists we question the wisdom of pursuing and penalising our potential audience. The people who are doing the most damage to our industry are not the music fans swapping files for no commercial gain – it's the sites that are making money without paying for content that are really ripping us off.

12 of the World's Most Fascinating Ruins

Babylon (Iraq)

Some 90 kilometres south of modern Bagdhad lies the ruins of ancient Babylon, the original name of which, "bab-ili", may be translated as "the Gate of the Gods". For the world at large, Babylon ranks as one of the most famous cities of antiquity, renowned alike for its refinement, beauty and magnificence. In classical times, the city walls of Babylon were spoken of with admiration and astonishment, while her "Hanging Gardens" were accounted one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

As a centre of culture and government, it flourished for about fifteen centuries, from the arrival of the Amorites ca. 1850 B.C. down to Alexander the Great, who died there in 322 B.C. One of the best known of the city's early rulers was the great law-giver, Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.). (Source | Photo)

Palenque (Mexico)

The ruins of Palenque are among the most important Mayan archaeological sites in all of Mexico and Central America. Set on a ledge overlooking the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico, Palenque recedes into the dense tropical forest of the foothills of the Tumbala mountains of Chiapas, Mexico.

Although analysis of pottery shards demonstrates that the area was occupied by 100 B.C., most of the buildings we see today were constructed between the 6th to 10th centuries A.D.

The greatest ruler of this city-state was Pacal, who took power in 603 A.D. and commenced a construction boom of architecturally innovative buildings that lasted through and beyond his 68-year reign. One of the most impressive projects was the Palace. Its walls and roofs are covered with stucco carvings depicting the ceremonies and activities of rulers and gods, giving modern observers insight into the lives and beliefs of the Mayans. Another magnificent structure, the Temple of the Inscriptions, contains tablets of glyphs recounting the ancestral history of long ago rulers.

The true reward of a trip to Palenque is to revel in the mystery of the unanswerable questions that arise as he meanders through the ruins in morning mists that swirl around the ancient structures. Only 34 of perhaps 500 buildings have been excavated. (Source 1 | Source 2 | Photo)

Ruins of Ayutthaya (Thailand)

Ayutthaya, whose name means "undefeatable" in Sanskrit, may not be as popular as Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket but it's one of the many places in Thailand that's frequented by tourists who want to see its world-renowned ruins.

In its heyday, Ayutthaya was a bustling metropolis of international repute, whose progress, according to historians, rivaled even Europe's capitals at the time. So prosperous was the kingdom that her neighbor Burma (now Myanmar) coveted her, so the Burmese army succeeded burned and sacked the city. Today, only the debris of the empire's glory remains, forming part of what is now known as the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Source | Photo)

Jesuitical Ruins of Trinidad (Paraguay)

Located about 25 km away from Encarnacion, on the route to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, is one of the most interesting and suggestive ruins of the 8 missions in Paraguay.

Trinidad was founded by natives that came from the mission of San Carlos. Its main architects were fathers Juan Bautista PrĂ­moli of Milan and the Catalan Jose Grimau. Uncompleted, this mission had one of the larges and prettiest churches of all missions, according to descriptions by travelers of that period.

After crossing the nave of the old church, you can see an impressive view of the frieze high on the altar wall, entirely decorated on the very stone, with a sequence of angels in baroque postures and their instruments. The two doors giving access to the sacristies are worth mentioning: the columns with disproportionate capitals and a triple row of leaves supporting the frieze with two lateral pillars and a sculptural motif in the center.

On the west side are the ruins of the tower and a long chapel. The tower, with a square base, reminds us of a fort tower and it is not known whether it was a belfry, an observation tower, or both at the same time. The chapel was probably used while the main church was being built. One of the sacristies also holds a small museum with local items (in original colors) and a scale model of the mission. Declared Patrimony of Humanity in 1993 by UNESCO. (Source | Photo 1 | Photo 2)

Copan Ruins (Honduras)

A Maya capital from the 400s to the 800s, Copan is one of the largest and most impressive of all the Maya centers discovered so far. It consists of pyramids, temples and 21 stone pillars, or stelae, with exquisite carved likenesses of ancient Copan kings. Although Tikal in Guatemala is the largest known Maya site and is easier to get to, Copan shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in the Mayan civilization. (Source)

Palmyra Ruins (Syria)

In the heart of Syrian Desert it is hidden Palmyra, often described as the bride of the desert. Its magnificent remains tell of a heroic history during the reign of Queen Zenobia. The Oasis, as it is sometimes called, is located near a hot-water spring called Afqa, which make it an ideal halt for caravans moving between Iraq and Al-Sham (present day Syria, Lebanon, Holy Land and Jordan), trading in silk from China to the Mediterranean.

Palmyra's strategic location and prosperity attracted the interest of the Romans, who took control of the city in the first century A.D. The destiny of the great kingdom of Palmyra was no better than that of its queen: Zenobia was defeated and taken captive to Rome, fettered in chains of gold where she poisoned herself, while the city fell prey to looting and destruction. Archaeologists are still working on excavations there in order to uncover queen's palace, which was destroyed by Romans and replaced by a military camp. (Source | Photo)

Talisay City (Philippines)

Talisay City in the Philippines features a mansion built by a sugar magnate at the turn of the last century that not once, but twice, was destroyed in the Second World War in order to prevent Japanese forces from using it. Once on their way out of the Philippines, the USAAF bombed and strafed the home, and Philippines rebels burned it down to keep it from falling into Japanese hands. (Source)

Exploiting The Credit Card Law Loophole

Card Issuers May Hike Charges And Interest Rates Before New Regulations Take Effect; Borrowers Who Pay In Full Targeted

CBS)  The Senate passed a major reform of the credit card industry Tuesday that clamps down on arbitrary fee and interest rate increases. But even after President Barack Obama signs the bill, the law won't fully take effect for nine months.

That's a nine-month loophole, and as CBS News business correspondent Anthony Mason reports, consumer groups are concerned the credit card companies will use the time to hike up interest rates and fees while they can.

At a credit counseling center in Dallas, calls for help are up 40 percent over a year ago. Many come from borrowers buried in credit card debt.

"It's amazing how much of the debt is actually fees and interest instead of principal," said Todd Mark of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas.

Comedians may joke about the banks - Stephen Colbert said this week that the card companies "simply change their rules and interest rates based on what the credit rule monkey spins on his rule randomizing wheel" - but they're not laughing on Capitol Hill anymore.

"They will go kicking and screaming into the night on this one," said Adam Levin of

Levin warns that lenders will use the nine months before the law in enacted to raise interest rates and hike fees.

During that time, he said, "We could face the continuing reign of terror."

Right-to-Repair Law Proposed ... for Cars

Legislative Analysis by Fred von Lohmann

It's not often that you get former presidential candidates from the Green Party and the Libertarian Party to agree on legislation, but Bob Barr and Ralph Nader have done just that -- jointly supporting the Right-To-Repair Act of 2009 (H.R. 2057):

This aptly named bill would allow independent repair shops to compete for the business now guaranteed only to dealer-controlled establishments. This is important because car manufacturers now severely limit the number of repair shops that are allowed to have the tools, diagnostic codes and updated repair information essential to being able to repair late-model cars (which are heavily dependent on computers for performance and repair).

By thus unfairly limiting the universe of repair shops able to diagnose and repair late-model cars to only those repair shops that are connected with their dealers, the manufacturers dramatically limit consumer choice and significantly increase the costs to those car owners (by some 34 percent, according to a study preformed for the Automotive After Market Industry Association by Lang Research).

We're all for promoting competition and consumer choice. But this bill points to a much bigger consumer issue. The problem that this law attempts to fix is the direct result of the use of computers in cars, accompanied by proprietary diagnostic tools and "lock-out codes." Sound familiar? It should, as it's the very sort of thing that can also make it difficult to repair computer systems, sell replacement garage door openers, and refill printer toner cartridges. One underlying legal problem here is the DMCA, which prohibits bypassing or circumventing "technological protection measures."

So while the Right-to-Repair Act of 2009 is legislation that deserves our support, it doesn't help those who repair things other than cars. For example, it won't help Joe Montero, who treks to the Copyright Office every three years to argue for a DMCA exemption to permit the repair and replacement of obsolete and malfunctioning software "dongles," those little hardware devices purportedly intended to prevent software piracy, but which often end up frustrating perfectly legitimate customers.

Believe it or Nada!