Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Army at War


Are the people who 'really run the world' meeting this weekend?

By Adam Abrams
The Bilderberg group, the topic of many conspiracy theories, is now meeting behind closed doors in Greece.

From today until May 17, approximately 150 of the most influential members of the world's elite will be meeting behind closed doors at a hotel in Greece. They are called the Bilderberg Group or the "Bilderbergers," and you have probably never heard of them.

The group, co-founded by Prince Bernard of the Netherlands, has been meeting in secret every year since 1954. This year, says the British broadsheet The Times, they are meeting at the Nafsika Astir Palace in Vouliagmeni.

The individuals at the meeting come from such power houses as Google and the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Senate and European royalty. Governments, the banking industry, big oil, media and even the world of academia are amongst the Bilderberg ranks.
Those reportedly in attendance at last year's conference in Virginia include former U.S. senator Tom Daschle; Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and his predecessor Henry M. Paulson; former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice; Microsoft executive Craig Mundie; senior Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot; World Bank President Robert Zoellick and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

There is no official list of who's who in Bilderberg and there are no press conferences about the meetings. This is because the group operates under the "Chatham House Rule," and no details of what goes on inside are released to the press.

This secrecy has led to many claims that the Bilderberg Group are the world's real "kingmakers," and, some even suggest, behind the global financial crisis.

There are also rumors concerning Bilderberg's 2008 conference in Virginia, claiming that the recent U.S. presidential election was decided upon in a secret meeting between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, courtesy of Bilderberg.

Those involved in Bilderberg reject such claims outright, arguing that the forum offers a chance for world leaders to discuss international affairs openly and honestly.

Former British cabinet minister, Lord Denis Healey, who was one of the founders of the group, branded assumptions of world domination as "crap!" and said that the group's aims were much purer.

In an interview to journalist Jon Ronson of the Guardian, Healey said: "Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

Veteran Bilderberg-watcher Daniel Estulin says that the big topic on the agenda for this year is the global depression.

Estulin quotes sources connected to the group as saying that the group is looking at two options, "either a prolonged, agonizing depression that dooms the world to decades of stagnation, decline, and poverty... or an intense-but-shorter depression that paves the way for a new sustainable economic world order, with less sovereignty but more efficiency."

As the BBC's Jonathan Duffy noted in 2004, the air of mystery has fueled the increasingly popular conspiracy theory that the Bilderberg meetings are where decisions affecting the entire world are made.

"No reporters are invited in and while confidential minutes of meetings are taken, names are not noted," Duffy wrote. "In the void created by such aloofness, an extraordinary conspiracy theory has grown up around the group that alleges the fate of the world is largely decided by Bilderberg."

You Might Be PunkTorah If...

-You've seriously considered taking speed in order to stay awake on Shavuot

-You only have one-night stands with girls/guys you've met at JCC

-Your rabbi is on your Top 8 on Myspace

-You hosted a bar mitzvah for your black, lesbian neighbor's dog

-You think Whole Foods should sell organic gelt

-You got your "Never Forget" tattoo on Friday night after watching Schindler's List

-You try to match up the rhythm of the Shema with your favorite Sex Pistols song

-You love the High Holidays because you get to wear your Converse high tops to Shul

-You despise bureaucracy but will join every Jewish group on Facebook

-You feel a sense of indie street cred for knowing that Brian Chase from Yeah Yeah Yeahs is also in a band on JDub Records

-You secretly admire Chabadniks because they out-drink everyone on Purim

-You're on a never-ending-quest for a hemp yarmulke with an anarchy symbol

-Your car has "gefilte fish", Obama, and Apple stickers on the bumper

-You like going to Hillel meetings to see "how the other half lives"

-You beat the shit out of everyone at No Limit Texas Dreidel

The Solipsist and the Internet (a review of Helprin's Digital Barbarism)

This is an insanely long review of Mark Helprin's book, Digital Barbarism (HarperCollins 2009) (Note: if you buy from that link, Creative Commons gets the referral fee). You can download a PDF of the review here.

by Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence LessigExactly two years ago today, the New York Times published an op-ed about copyright by a novelist. The piece caused something of a digital riot. As we learn now from his book, Digital Barbarism (HarperCollins 2009), Mark Helprin was at the time completely ignorant about the hornets nest he was about to kick. For him, the op-ed was a professional rapprochement with the New York Times, a chance to make things right once again (though why they were then wrong is a story left mysteriously (and thankfully) out of the book).

Helprin's thesis is simple and familiar to any intelligent sort who first comes to think about the way the law regulates creative work: that there's something fundamentally unjust about the law of copyright. While the law protects ordinary property forever -- your car, or the land on which your house might sit -- the law of copyright protects creative work for a limited time only. At the end of that limited time, the author's "exclusive right" (as the Constitution puts it) expires, and the work passes into the public domain. Anyone is then free to copy the work, publish the work, translate the work, make a film based upon the work, or publicly perform the work without permission from the original copyright owner.

This difference is odd. As the famous copyright scholar Melville Nimmer put it, "If I may own Blackacre in perpetuity, why not also Black Beauty?" But, as Helprin acknowledged, puzzles notwithstanding, the Constitution seems clear enough. The power Congress has is to "secure" this "exclusive right" "for limited Times" only. Perpetual terms were thus ruled out.

But like an overly precocious child who has figured a way around his father's injunction "you may take just one cookie" -- take one cookie, but five times! -- Helprin's op-ed offered a simple solution to this obvious injustice:

The genius of the framers in making this provision is that it allows for infinite adjustment. Congress is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.
To a certain bizarrely diverse community that has developed over the past decade, Helprin's evasion was simple incitement. It was not even five years since the Supreme Court had upheld Congress's power to extend the terms of existing copyrights, so long as each extension was "limited." (A pattern American University Professor Peter Jaszi famously called "perpetual copyright on the installment plan.") And it was just shy of a decade since Congress had last extended the term of existing copyrights -- its 11th such extension in forty years. This was a community that was enormously frustrated by the refusal of Congress to permit the Framers' bargain -- that an author gets an "exclusive right" for some number of years, and then the work enters the public domain -- to be executed. The idea that here again someone was calling for yet another term extension was a red cape in front of a bull.

I first read Helprin's essay while waiting to board a plane from Boston to Frankfurt. At first I wasn't sure whether he was serious (indeed, a colleague and friend, and strong copyright supporter tells me he routinely reads sections of the op-ed to audiences to see if they can tell whether he's serious or not). But after becoming convinced that Helprin had simply tripped into this mine field unawares, I posted a suggestion to my blog. As I wrote:

So I've gotten (literally) scores of emails about this piece by Mark Helprin promoting perpetual copyright terms. "Write a reply!" is the demand. But why don't you write the reply instead. Here's a page on Please write an argument that puts this argument in its proper place.
Eight hours later, a bit bleary eyed from the relatively sleepless flight, I checked my email. At the top of the list was one that said, "Wow! Pretty amazing wiki article." I quickly turned to the wiki, and sat astonished to see just what this community had done. Literally hundreds had contributed to pages and pages in reply to Helprin's op-ed. Some of it was silly. Some of it was great. But in the main, it was a powerful and comprehensive account of the many reasons for this apparent "inequality" at the core of our Constitution.

To be fair to Helprin -- and 99% of Americans if they could be brought to think about the matter -- there really is something apparently weird about the Constitution's design. Given the way we regulate ordinary property, it is completely understandable to be ignorant about the justification behind this weirdness. I spent the first five years as a constitutional law professor with no clue about the justifications for this "obvious inconsistency," as I once described it to my students. "A bit of Karl Marx slipped into an otherwise conservative text," was how it was described to me.

So I could well understand the intuition that drove Helprin to write as he did, and can even empathize with how he must have felt to see his breezy reflection on copyright policy explode on the New York Times website, and elsewhere. Helprin was ignorant. But it was an understandable, and forgivable, ignorance. The sort all of us have about most things save those few things we spend time trying to understand.

What is not understandable, however, and certainly not forgivable, is everything that has happened since. For in the months since triggering his digital riot, Helprin has been busy penning a book about his digital putdown. And while the ignorance of the essay may be forgiven, the ignorance of the book cannot. There is no excuse for the careless and uninformed screed that Digital Barbarism is.

FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts

By Ryan Singel

fcc_badgeYou may not know it, but if you have a wireless router, a cordless phone, remote car-door opener, baby monitor or cellphone in your house, the FCC claims the right to enter your home without a warrant at any time of the day or night in order to inspect it.

That's the upshot of the rules the agency has followed for years to monitor licensed television and radio stations, and to crack down on pirate radio broadcasters. And the commission maintains the same policy applies to any licensed or unlicensed radio-frequency device.

"Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference," says FCC spokesman David Fiske. That includes devices like Wi-Fi routers that use unlicensed spectrum, Fiske says.

The FCC claims it derives its warrantless search power from the Communications Act of 1934, though the constitutionality of the claim has gone untested in the courts. That's largely because the FCC had little to do with average citizens for most of the last 75 years, when home transmitters were largely reserved to ham-radio operators and CB-radio aficionados. But in 2009, nearly every household in the United States has multiple devices that use radio waves and fall under the FCC's purview, making the commission's claimed authority ripe for a court challenge.

"It is a major stretch beyond case law to assert that authority with respect to a private home, which is at the heart of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure," says Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Lee Tien. "When it is a private home and when you are talking about an over-powered Wi-Fi antenna — the idea they could just go in is honestly quite bizarre."

The rules came to attention this month when an FCC agent investigating a pirate radio station in Boulder, Colorado, left a copy of a 2005 FCC inspection policy on the door of a residence hosting the unlicensed 100-watt transmitter. "Whether you operate an amateur station or any other radio device, your authorization from the Commission comes with the obligation to allow inspection," the statement says.

The notice spooked those running "Boulder Free Radio," who thought it was just tough talk intended to scare them into shutting down, according to one of the station's leaders, who spoke to on condition of anonymity. "This is an intimidation thing," he said. "Most people aren't that dedicated to the cause. I'm not going to let them into my house."

But refusing the FCC admittance can carry a harsh financial penalty. In a 2007 case, a Corpus Christi, Texas, man got a visit from the FCC's direction-finders after rebroadcasting an AM radio station through a CB radio in his home. An FCC agent tracked the signal to his house and asked to see the equipment; Donald Winton refused to let him in, but did turn off the radio. Winton was later fined $7,000 for refusing entry to the officer. The fine was reduced to $225 after he proved he had little income.

Administrative search powers are not rare, at least as directed against businesses — fire-safety, food and workplace-safety regulators generally don't need warrants to enter a business. And despite the broad power, the FCC agents aren't cops, says Fiske. "The only right they have is to inspect the equipment," Fiske says. "If they want to seize, they have to work with the U.S. Attorney's office."

But if inspectors should notice evidence of unrelated criminal behavior — say, a marijuana plant or an unregistered gun — a Supreme Court decision suggests the search can be used against the resident. In the 1987 case New York v. Burger, two police officers performed a warrantless, administrative search of one Joseph Burger's automobile junkyard. When he couldn't produce the proper paperwork, the officers searched the grounds and found stolen vehicles, which they used to prosecute him. The Supreme Court held the search to be legal.


USB Conquers The World

Don't Throw That Chip Bag Away! Give It Back to Frito-Lay, and Let Terracycle Turn It Into a Fashion Accessory

BY Ariel Schwartz

frito bag Instead of tossing that bag of Doritos in the trash, consider sending it back to Frito-Lay. It might just get turned into a tote bag.

Frito-Lay has announced that it's opening 1,000 collection sites in the U.S. for used snack product packaging. For every bag donated, the company will give two cents to your charity of choice. The packaging itself will be upcycled by Terracycle into pencil cases, tote bags, and purses that will be sold in chain retailers like Wal-Mart. Eventually, the bags could be used to make green building materials.

Terracycle and Frito Lay hope that their program will divert over five million bags from landfills by the end of 2009. It's an ambitious goal considering the difficulty that electronics companies have getting consumers to send back their products when rebates are offered.  But Frito Lay is making the process as easy as possible, with shipping covered by the program. And unlike with electronics, Frito Lay and Terracycle could see heavy participation from school groups.

Terracycle has worked with a number of companies to upcycle their waste into new products. Most recently, Terracycle teamed up with Mars to turn waste packaging into cell phone holders, laptop sleeves, and messenger bags. The company even has its own reality show called "Garbage Moguls".

Military attorney: Waterboarding is ‘tip of the iceberg’

By David Edwards and Muriel Kane

A military attorney who represented a now-freed Guantanamo detainee told CNN on Wednesday that waterboarding is only "the tip of the iceberg"

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley was the lawyer for Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who was arrested by the Pakistani government in April 2002 on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda. He was then shuffled through a series of CIA "ghost prisons" before being imprisoned at Guantanamo for five years. Last winter, President Obama ordered him released to the United Kingdom, where he had been a legal resident.

Bradley told CNN that when she was first assigned to represent Mohamed, she did not question he was a hardened terrorist, because "my government was saying these were the worst of the worst." However, she now says, "There's no reliable evidence that Mr. Mohamed was going to do anything to the United States."

According to Bradley, when Mohamed was first held at a CIA prison in Morocco, "They started this monthly treatment where they would come in with a scalpel or a razor type of instrument and they would slash his genitals, just with small cuts."

Following that torture, Mohamed confessed that he had attended an al Qaeda training camp and discussed plans to make a dirty bomb. He also answered "No" to the question, "While in U.S. military custody have you been treated in any way that you would consider abusive?"

Now Bradley believes, "This has nothing to do about national security, it has to do with national embarrassment."


Solar-powered 'dragon' stadium is world's first to supply all its power needs from the sun

The horse shoe-shaped structure in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has been built for the World Games which will take place in the city in July.
First solar powered stadium

It is the first stadium to use only solar power technology for all its electricity.
The world's first solar-powered stadium nears completion in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It was built to host the World Games in July.

The gigantic 19 hectare structure which has a seating capacity of 55,000, will be used mostly for athletics and rugby events, including hosting the main events for the 2009 World Games.

After that, the Taiwanese national football team will play home matches there.

Japanese architect Toyo Ito designed the innovative steel rod structure with a roof covered in solar panels.
Toyo Ito's steel rod design
The stadium's unique steel rod structure stands out against the cloudy sky

Its unusual semi-spiral shape is intended to imitate a dragon and provide a 'cordial welcome and a cheerful greeting' to athletes and spectators with its open-ended structure.

Craigslist sues South Carolina attorney general

by Steven E.F. Brown

Classified ad business Craigslist Inc. filed a suit against Henry McMaster, attorney general of South Carolina, who threatened criminal charges against the business over sex ads.

San Francisco-based Craigslist's suit seeks declaratory relief (a clarifying ruling that doesn't include any damage award) and a restraining order over the criminal charge threats.

McMaster called the suit "good news" in a Wednesday statement. "It shows that Craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time."

The dispute between McMaster — who is considering a run for governor of the Palmetto State — and Craigslist concerns ads on the site's "erotic services" section, which McMaster said constituted prostitution. That section of Craigslist has now been eliminated and a new, more strictly regulated "adult services" section has been added.

"If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement," said McMaster. His statement didn't directly address the criminal charges, saying only, "we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response. We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised."

Two weeks ago McMaster sent a letter to Craigslist and its CEO, Jim Buckmaster, threatening "criminal investigation and prosecution" of Buckmaster, founder Craig Newmark, and other company employees if those ads weren't removed.

In an undated statement on his office's Web site, McMaster said his office "had no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation." His letter to Craigslist, dated May 5, gave the business 10 days to remove its ads.

Craigslist has long maintained that its site puts up the same type of ads long allowed in newspapers, the yellow pages, and on many other web sites, all of them legal. Direct solicitation of sex is not permitted in any ads, though many of the postings do use code phrases like "sensual massage" to convey their meaning.

The company sued McMaster because, it says, it is complying with all applicable laws, it has responded promptly to requests from law enforcement agencies, has offered to meet with McMaster to hear his concerns, and because its has "far fewer and far tamer adult service ads than many mainstream print and online venues operating in South Carolina." McMaster has not threatened those other venues for their ads, Craigslist says.

Americans make difference for poor Egyptian family

By Charlene Gubash

CAIRO – The aisles were empty in Country Homes Furniture in Wilbraham, Mass., and owners Hazel and Nazih Zebian were sitting in their office doing what they described as the "usual whining and complaining" about how bad business had become and questioning how much longer they could last. 

"Like so many people in these economic conditions, furniture has been hit hard," Hazel said. "It's the last thing people want to buy." 

Out of boredom, she began to surf the Internet and came across a story on about another man half a world away facing hard times: Abu Sayed in Cairo.

Image: Abu Sayed picks up his money from a Cairo Western Union.
Mohamed Muslemany
Abu Sayed picks up his money from a Cairo Western Union.

We reported on how Sayed had just lost his small herd of pigs, the only source of income for his extended family of 14. The Egyptian government began culling all pigs in a misguided attempt to prevent swine flu. But pig farmers, most of them living below the poverty line, lost everything when police seized their swine herds without any compensation. 

Sayed was no exception. He was beaten by police when he asked what would happen to his herd.  He had no idea how he could continue to feed his own children or help provide for his brothers and sister.  

But after reading Sayed's story, Hazel silently calculated how much it would cost to replace the 25 pigs.

"I read it to my husband and as I started reading it, multiplied in my head and all it amounted to was $1,125.  I said, 'I wish we could give that to him ourselves.' And he said, 'If that's what you want to do, just go ahead and do it.'" 

Photo Courtesy of Zebian family
Hazel and Nazih Zebian, Sayed's Massachusetts benefactors, at a recent wedding.

Soon after, I received the following email from the Zebians: "I would like to know if there is any way possible I can make a financial contribution to this man and his family… I want someone to physically hand him the money on behalf of myself and my family so that he does not go without the income his pigs would have brought in for him." 

A few days later, after a flurry of e-mails and a trip to Western Union, the grateful Egyptian family was given a fresh start.

Kid Curious

Crime in US Drops Significantly, Despite Economic Downturn

Posted by geri
nycity-skyline.jpgFrom Washington to Oregon, to Vermont, states across the country are tallying lower crime rates over the past few years. Even in 2009, amidst economic downturn, cities like Los Angeles, Dallas and New York have seen a dramatic reduction in violent crime.

"In much of Los Angeles County and elsewhere in Southern California crime has dropped significantly so far this year, despite an economic meltdown that has pushed unemployment into double digits, imploded the housing market and shuttered countless businesses," exclaimed the LA Times last month.

New York City's crime rate for the first three months of 2009 was the lowest in more than 40 years, which "defied fears that the sinking economy might send the city back into the bad old days of rampant murders and rough streets," said the New York Daily News three weeks ago.

More Astonishing Statistics:

"Homicides are down almost 23 percent in Memphis so far in 2009, part of a trend that has seen a near 10 percent decrease in rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor-vehicle theft and arson," according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Tampa's crime rate has plummeted 46 percent in the past six years, a decrease not seen since the 1970s, Mayor Pam Iorio announced recently.

A report out of Milwaukee in April said nearly 1,600 fewer people were victims of violent crime in the city in the first three months of 2009. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn announced crime numbers in the city were down 17 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from the same time period last year.

Investigating Torture: An Interview With Former Federal Prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega

A forum for civil debate that promotes progressive alternatives to current challenges and a firm voice for the Patriotic Left.

Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega has recently made news urging that we don't rush into appointing a special prosecutor to investigate crimes of torture during George W. Bush's presidency. In a provocative April 20th post entitled "Of Black Holes and Radio Silence," Ms. de la Vega wrote:
"There is no doubt that sometime in 2002 - if not before - Bush administration officials and their lawyers began orchestrating a torture campaign, which they calculatedly attempted to justify through specious legal memos. They continued to abuse prisoners, and to conceal that mistreatment from Congress and the public, through at least 2008. In all of this conduct, they have committed grave crimes for which they must be held accountable. I believe this to be a national imperative of the highest order."
However, she also argues that,
"First, the bottom line: From the perspective of anyone who wants Bush and Cheney and their top aides to be held accountable for their crimes, the designation of some sort of independent prosecutor right now would be the worst possible eventuality. It's a move that has so many downsides - and holds so few real benefits - that I would be more inclined to question President Obama's motives if he appointed a special prosecutor than if he did not. There is a reason why former prosecutor Arlen Specter - a Republican senator from Pennsylvania - has voiced support for a special prosecutor, while former prosecutors Patrick Leahy and Sheldon Whitehouse - Democratic senators from Vermont and Rhode Island, respectively - would prefer a public inquiry."
Please note that Ms. de la Vega's post was written prior to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter becoming a Democrat.

Overall, Ms. de la Vega contends that appointing a special prosecutor now would undermine the cause of truth and accountability. It is her contention that transparent and public hearings would facilitate more popular support for prosecuting wrong doers than currently exists. As she wrote on April 20th:
"What we continue to need, in sum, are unwavering spotlights, even more civic education, and, most importantly, an irrefutable and cohesive factual narrative - comprised of direct and circumstantial evidence - that links the highest-level officials and advisers of the Bush administration, ineluctably, to specific instances and victims of torture. What we will surely have, however, if a special prosecutor is named, will be precisely the opposite: The initiation of a federal grand jury investigation right now would be roughly the equivalent of ceremoniously dumping the entire issue of torture into a black hole. There will be nothing to see and we will be listening intently to radio silence, trying to make sense of intermittent static in the form of the occasional unreliable leak. For years. There may never be any charges and we will almost certainly never have the unimpeachable historical narrative that we need."
On May 10th, she posted a followed up piece entitled "Prosecuting Torture: Is Time Really running Out?"and argued that the statutory clock in section 2340A, otherwise known as the "torture statute" didn't start ticking until Bush's presidency ended on January 20, 2009 – when President Obama reversed our policies. Her May 10th post was in response to those who are clamoring for the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor because they claim the statute of limitations for torture crimes that began in 2002 were scheduled to expire in 2010.

Ms. de la Vega's position stems from her longtime experience as a federal prosecutor. She served as a Justice Department Attorney under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. She is the winner of numerous Attorney General's and community awards, including the prestigious Director's Award for Superior Performance. For over twenty-years, Ms. de la Vega targeted violent gangsters and sophisticated white-collar criminals in Minneapolis where she served as an Assisted United States Attorney and San Jose, where she was Branch Chief and a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force.

An age old American argument...

Same words too