Tuesday, May 26, 2009

George Tenet's House of Secrets


Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband): proposal open for votes

by Andy Oram

I've posted a proposal titled Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband) to a forum on open government put up by the White House. I ask this blog's readers to tell other people who might be interested, and vote up the proposal if you like it.

The Open Government Dialog site where this proposal appears is part of the White House's implementation of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government that Obama signed on his first day in office. Hundreds of ideas have already been posted. Many are very specific and some look quite worthy, but I think mine stands out for the reasons listed in my justification:

First, one of the Administration's major goals is to bring high-speed networking to every resident of the country.

Second, this goal is fundamental to the other goals in the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Members of the public need continuous access to the Internet and the ability to handle video and sophisticated graphical displays in order to make full use of the resources provided in open government efforts.

The local community aspect is also crucial, for reasons I list in my justification.

Many readers will note that the people who need my proposal the most the ones who have the most trouble participating in the forums--people who can't afford computers, who have access only to intermittent dial-up Internet access, etc. I deal with this ironic problem in the proposal in several ways (public terminals, face-to-face meetings, partnering with newspapers and television).

Because the formatting came out a mess, I'm reprinting the proposal below.

Local forums to implement high-speed networks (broadband)

Municipalities and regions undertaking projects in high-speed networking be encouraged to create online forums that:

  • Post regional maps showing the demographic features, geographical features, patterns of network use, and technological facilities relevant to the project

  • Accept proposals, provide comment and rating systems, and run polls

  • Provide public terminals and low-bandwidth versions of data, so that people who are currently on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide can offer input to help cross that divide

  • Are supplemented by face-to-face gatherings

  • Collaborate with newspapers and with television and radio news programs to publicize proposals, meetings, and opportunities for public comment

  • Create visitor accounts, perhaps with validation procedures for determining local residence, and allow visitors to identify their expertise and credentials

  • Provide tools for mapping proposed facilities and for calculating the reach, bandwidth, and costs of proposed facilities

  • Provide data about ongoing deployments in standardized, open formats on maps and in downloadable form

The federal-level initiative can support these efforts by:

  • Mandating the types of information that participating municipalities and companies should provide, such as the capabilities of current facilities, statistics on current usage, demographic information such as income and connectivity on a neighborhood basis, and detailed implementation plans with measurable milestones

  • Funding the development of software tools, such as programs that can estimate the quality of wireless coverage for different terrains, or the time period required to recoup the costs of building out networks

  • Providing formats and quality standards for the data provided

  • Publicizing successful initiatives, the tools they used, and their best practices

Why Is This Idea Important

High-speed digital networking (also known as "broadband") should concern open government advocates in two ways.

First, one of the Administration's major goals is to bring high-speed networking to every resident of the country.

Second, this goal is fundamental to the other goals in the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Members of the public need continuous access to the Internet and the ability to handle video and sophisticated graphical displays in order to make full use of the resources provided in open government efforts.


Blue Cross Millionaires Are Scared to Compete With a Public Plan

by: Dean Baker

photo    The boys running the show at Blue Cross in North Carolina are running scared. They're worried that President Obama is going to treat them like autoworkers and make them actually compete in the market. The Blue Cross boys think that they belong in the same league as the Wall Street bankers and should just be allowed to collect their multi-million-dollar salaries without being forced to worry about things like competition.

    The basic story is that Blue Cross of North Carolina decided to jump the gun on President Obama and Congress and start running television ads telling people how awful a public health care plan would be. According to the ads, people enrolled in the public health care plan wouldn't have a choice of doctors, would face long waiting periods for appointments and procedures and would not even be able to get a clerk to answer questions on billing.

    That sounds pretty awful, but if it were true, you have to wonder why Blue Cross of North Carolina is so worried. After all, President Obama is not proposing that anyone would be forced to join a public plan. He just proposed that people have the option to buy into a public plan. Is Blue Cross of North Carolina really that terrified that it will be unable to compete with a public plan that doesn't let patients choose their doctor, subjects them to long waits and doesn't answer questions about billing?

    Of course, if the ads being planned by Blue Cross of North Carolina were accurate, then it would not be concerned about a public plan. The reason that Blue Cross of North Carolina is running the ads is that it knows the ads are not true. There is no reason to think that a public plan will offer less choice, require longer waits or provide poorer service than a private plan, like Blue Cross of North Carolina. And there are reasons for believing that a public plan might cost considerably less.


President Obama Requests Supernatural Intervention In Speech To Scientists.

By Donald B. Ardell

President Obama Is Wonderful But I Wish He Would Stop Asking God To Interfere In Our Affairs

On April 27, 2009, President Barack Obama gave a splendid speech to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.  I'm an unabashed admirer of the president and I'm delighted with his performance to date.  I confess - I'm a fan.  Please take this into account when reading my recommendation for better endings to future speeches.

In describing the complex set of challenges America faces today, the president told the scientists that he will double federal investments in science-agency budgets.   He said science is essential for our prosperity, security, health, environment and quality of life - more so than ever before. The president promised to seek increases in medical and energy research.  He said he would also urge tax credits to encourage companies to pursue scientific breakthroughs.  All this and more would amount to what the president termed the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history. 

It was no surprise that he got rousing applause throughout the talk.

Mr. Obama also criticized previous administrations that undermined scientific research by politicizing it because they cared more about advancing predetermined ideological agendas.  You might be forgiven if you suspect the president had the Bush Administration in mind.

Overall, Mr. Obama's remarks were a testament to his commitment to reason, evidence and free inquiry.  It is clear he wants to advance the sciences of biology, genetics, medicine, biomedicine, physics, chemistry, computer and environmental science and engineering.   The president seeks to restore science to its rightful place. He stated, Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over. Our progress as a nation - and our values as a nation - are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.

All this was viewed as a welcome change from the recent past, but there was more.  In closing, the president added this: At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it. Some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long held views. Science cannot answer every question; indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be.  Science cannot supplant our ethics, our values, our principles, or our faith, but science can inform those things, and help put these values, these moral sentiments, that faith, to work - to feed a child, to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this earth.

Well, who could ask for anything more?

Not to be ungrateful or anything, but there is one thing.  I have a suggestion. Please reconsider those endings.  No, not the next-to-last part (be good stewards of this earth) - no, not the parting thank you to the assembled scientists (Thank you all for your past, present, and future discoveries). That was nice.  If only President Obama got off the stage at this point.  Alas, he had one more zinger that he just could not resist. Oh Lordie, here it comes.  I can imagine the gasps that must have come from the scientists: Here is the ending.  Prepare to be dismayed:  God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.

Holy Spaghetti Monster!  Great Zeus above! Oh Holy Baal!

Just what in the name of science does that mean - God bless the USA? There are tens of thousands of gods.  There are Norse gods, Roman gods, Greek gods, Celtic gods and so on.  There are gods of war, of love and sexuality and everything else you could think of. There are even gods of science.. Hermes was the god of science for the Greeks; Athena/Minerva did the trick for the Romans.  Since Mr. Obama was speaking to scientists, it might have been better to end with Hermes bless you and may Athena/Minerva bless the United States of America.

So, which god is the president summoning and what exactly or even what more or less would a divine blessing entail?  Even today, there are competing gods - surely the god the Taliban invoke when beating women can't be the same god Mr. Obama had in mind!  (On the other hand, maybe the Taliban god and the god of Pat Robertson might be related.)

How does the blessing thing work, anyway?  The United States of America has been around for over two centuries - if there's a god, and if he blesses nations, isn't it likely he blessed us enough already?  Does god pay special attention to US presidents who ask for blessings?  If so, how many times does a president have to ask?  Must President Obama utter this line every time he makes a speech?  (Congressmen and Congresswomen also do it, as do governors, sheriffs, mayors, Rotary and all other service club officers, VFW officials and so on).  Can there ever be enough calls for God to bless the United States of America?  Does our blessing greed have no limit?  Please - can we consider a moratorium or something on requests for god to bless the United States of America, for God's sake if not for common sense?


I watched Glenn Beck’s entire comedy special and all I got was this stupid blog post

Joseph Childers


Before I'd heard of his stand-up comedy special, Unelectable, the words 'funny' and 'Glenn Beck' didn't exactly have what you'd call a magnetic relationship to each other in my mind. After watching the whole thing on DVD, this remains the case.

This is because Glenn Beck is - you'd better sit down for this - not very good at comedy.    

I say that not as a liberal, but as a person who enjoys comedy and laughing and things that are humorous.  If there are jokes in Unelectable, I didn't see 'em. Sure, there are comedyesque things here – wacky facial expressions, props, observations, rants – but the way Beck executes them bears as much resemblance to comedy as kids playing house does to actually being married with children.

Economist George Stigler once quipped that the plural of anecdote isn't data. I'd like to propose a comedic corollary to that: The aggregate of whine isn't humor. It's annoyance - at least for me. Most comedy specials are a merciful ninety minutes or less, but Glenn Beck's brings the same lack of empathy to his 'entertainment' as he does to his politics. Unelectable has an unconscionable two-hour running time and it's hard not to be claw-your-eyes-out bored by ten minutes in. It's a plodding slog, a never-ending parade of every single thing that gets Beck's easily gotten goat. The main thread of Unelectable is how – you guessed it – unelectable Glenn Beck would be as a politician because he just can't stop telling so much damn truth. Humble, this one. Then there are the threadbare themes like liberals love terrorists, liberals hate America, liberals want to protect widdle owls over jobs, liberalszzzzzzzzzzz. Remember the 2004 Bush campaign? Good, you won't need to rent this, then.


Obama promises to suspend Habeas Corpus

Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation

America's richest people meet to discuss ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental, social and industrial threat

SOME of America's leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world's population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America's wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires' aides were told they were at "security briefings".

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. "We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don't want to be seen as a global cabal," he said.

Some details were emerging this weekend, however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their favourite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an "umbrella cause" that could harness their interests.

The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority.


Economy fuels jump in crisis stockpiling

Emergency-supply retailers and military-surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as an increasing number of Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hard-core survivalists.

SAN DIEGO — Six months ago, Jim Wiseman didn't even have a spare nutrition bar in his kitchen cabinet.

Now, the 54-year-old businessman and father of five has a backup generator, a water filter, a grain mill and a 4-foot-tall pile of emergency food tucked in his home in the expensive San Diego suburb of La Jolla.

Wiseman isn't alone. Emergency-supply retailers and military-surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as an increasing number of Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hard-core survivalists.

These people snapping up everything from water-purification tablets to thermal blankets shatter the survivalist stereotype: They are mostly urban professionals with mortgages, SUVs, solid jobs and a twinge of embarrassment about their newfound hobby.

From teachers to real-estate agents, these budding emergency gurus say the dismal economy has made them prepare for financial collapse as if it were an oncoming Category 5 hurricane. They worry about rampant inflation, runs on banks, bare grocery shelves and widespread power failures that could make taps run dry.

For Wiseman, a fire-protection contractor, that's meant spending roughly $20,000 since September on survival gear — and trying to persuade others to do the same.

"The UPS guy drops things off and he sees my 4-by-8-by-6-foot pile of food and I say 'What are you doing to prepare, buddy?' " he said. "Because there won't be a thing left on any shelf of any supermarket in the country if people's confidence wavers."

The surge in interest in emergency stockpiling has been a bonanza for camping-supply companies and military-surplus vendors, some of whom report sales spikes of up to 50 percent. These companies usually cater to people preparing for earthquakes or hurricanes, but informal customer surveys now indicate the bump is from first-time shoppers who cite financial, not natural, disaster as their primary concern, they say.

Top sellers include 55-gallon water jugs, waterproof containers, freeze-dried foods, water filters, water-purification tablets, glow sticks, lamp oil, thermal blankets, dust masks, first-aid kits and inexpensive tents.


EU urges Myanmar to release Suu Kyi


Aung San Suu Kyi has pleaded not guilty to charges of violating conditions of her house arrest [AFP]

The European Union has repeated calls for Myanmar's military government to free Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader who is standing trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest.

The call came on Monday at the start of two days of talks in Vietnam between foreign ministers from Asia and Europe.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Hanoi had been called to discuss ways of tackling the global economic slowdown and boosting economic cooperation.

But it is expected to be overshadowed both by the Aung San Suu Kyi trial and Monday's surprise nuclear weapon test by North Korea.

Representatives from 45 nations are taking part in the two-day meeting with brings together representatives of the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), as well as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Pakistan.

"It is obvious that the key is in Asia. I fundamentally believe that our Asian partners can incite the junta to evolve"

Rama Yade, French human rights minister

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting Jan Kohout, the Czech foreign minister, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he had passed on a message to his Myanmar counterpart calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release.

Kohout however acknowledged "I don't have a positive feeling" about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained by Myanmar's military rulers for most of the past 19 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi's resumed in Yangon on Monday behind closed doors in the notorious Insein jail.

She has been pleaded not guilty to charges of violating the conditions of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home without official permission.


Myanmar's Suu Kyi testifies about American visitor

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told a court Tuesday that although she gave "temporary shelter" to an uninvited American earlier this month, she had not violated her house arrest and was merely trying to shield the man and her security guards from punishment.

Testifying for the first time in the case, Suu Kyi appeared frail and pale but managed an occasional smile. A judge questioned her for less than half an hour about John W. Yettaw, who swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

The 63-year-old Nobel Peace laureate faces a possible prison term of up to five years in a trial that has brought worldwide outrage and led many countries in the West to say they are considering ramping up sanctions against the ruling junta. She is not expected to testify again, although she will continue to be present for the rest of the trial.

The charge against Suu Kyi is widely considered a pretext to keep her detained ahead of elections the military government has planned for next year. She pleaded not guilty Friday.

Myanmar's courts operate under the influence of the military and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents.

Suu Kyi's latest round of house arrest - extended every year since 2003 - was supposed to expire this week, and a top police official told diplomats Tuesday that the government had considered releasing her on "humanitarian grounds."

But the junta reversed that decision when the "unexpected incident of the intrusion of the American happened," Brig. Gen. Myint Thein said. The regime's critics, however, have assumed that the junta was looking for a pretext to keep her locked up.

She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial, most at her dilapidated Yangon home.

Reporters and diplomats, including a reporter for The Associated Press, were allowed into the courtroom for Tuesday's session, the second time during the trial that such rare access has been granted.

"Thank you for your concern and support. It is always good to see people from the outside world," she told reporters and diplomats before being escorted out of the court by four policewomen.

Suu Kyi's side does not contest the facts of the case: She acknowledges that she allowed Yettaw, 53, to stay after he entered her house uninvited and then subsequently said he was too ill to leave immediately.

In testimony and a written statement to the court, she has also said she did not alert authorities to his presence because she feared getting him and the security personnel guarding her house in trouble, according to her lawyers.

Suu Kyi told the judge Tuesday that she did not immediately know when Yettaw - who was also in the courtroom - entered her house, but that at 5 a.m., one of her women companions informed her "that a man had arrived."

When asked if she reported his presence to the authorities, Suu Kyi said, "No, I did not." She said she spoke to Yettaw and gave him "temporary shelter," and he left just before midnight May 5.


Elder statesmen call for Suu Kyi's release

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of former world leaders and Nobel peace laureates called on Tuesday for the release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The group, known as the Elders and founded by South Africa's Nelson Mandela, said their fellow group member Suu Kyi should be freed on Wednesday as her latest 6-year period of house arrest is due to expire.

The group's chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, said Suu Kyi was a symbol of hope for her nation and the world.

"We are moved by her courage and dignity. She shows the same steel as Nelson Mandela, who endured 27 years in prison. Like him, she has right and goodness on her side," he said in a statement released during a meeting of the group in Morocco.

Suu Kyi's trial for violating the terms of her house arrest entered its second week on Monday. The Nobel Peace laureate, 63, had been due for release on Wednesday after 6 years under house arrest, but was re-arrested earlier this month following an uninvited visit to her house by a U.S. citizen.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: "Aung San Suu Kyi is a hero for those who believe in human rights and democracy."

The Elders, who are meeting in Marrakech, kept an empty chair for Suu Kyi, as is usual at their meetings.


Motrin Moms: Social Media Fail Whale

Sarah Evans is the director of communications at Elgin Community College (ECC) in Elgin, Illinois. She also authors a PR and social media blog.

The inaugural celebration of International Baby Wearing Week also serves as a platform for the Motrin brand's launch of their new ads (below) targeting what else, "baby wearing moms." Touting the tagline "we feel your pain," the Motrin IB ad in particular takes a snarky approach towards moms who carry babies in a pouch or sling.

And on the surface at least, the company accomplished the ultimate in outreach goals:

1. Reach target audience
2. Get them to engage in dialogue about your brand
3. Find way to track message and outreach

The Wrong Move

Sounds great, right? Wrong. While the ads are the number one discussion trend on the microblogging platform, Twitter (Twitter reviews), the overall grade? A great big "Fail Whale".

Avid Twitter user and mom, Jessica Gottlieb is the originator of the conversation via her Twitter network. The dialogue (and overwhelming outrage) is growing exponentially. Already there are thousands of comments on #motrinmoms and almost all are negative with many saying they will no longer use the brand name product.


It took only a few short hours to go viral. Katja Presnal, founder of SkimbacoLifestyle.com and LadybugLandings.com, wants Motrin to know that the ads themselves are giving moms headaches.

Presnal says, "Moms have brains, don't treat us like that and learn to market for us. We spend 75% of our families' money."


Man sues book over most-litigious crown

Federal inmate's many targets include pirates, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!
by Thomas Clouse

The "Lawsuit Zeus," also known as "Johnny Sue-nami," filed a lawsuit this week in federal court seeking an injunction to stop the Guinness Book of World Records from naming him as the person who has filed the most lawsuits in the history of mankind.

Jonathan Lee Riches, aka Irving Picard, filed his latest legal fight this week in the Richland office of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, although he is incarcerated in the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Ky.

Riches alleges that Guinness is planning to print false information about the number of lawsuits he has filed, which he says is more than 4,000 worldwide. And he objects to the names Guinness intends to call him, including: "The litigator crusader," the "duke of lawsuits," "Johnny Sue-nami," "Sue-per-man" and the "Patrick Ewing of suing."

"I've filed so many lawsuits with my pen and right hand that I got arthritis in my fingers, numbness in my wrists, crooked fingers," he wrote – by hand – in the latest filing. "I flush out more lawsuits than a sewer."

A local federal official, who asked not to be identified, said Riches may be the most litigious person in America.

Riches previously filed a suit in this district against the Peanut Corp. of America, claiming that federal officials fed him salmonella-tainted peanut butter.

Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush entered an order dismissing that case Feb. 23 and warned Riches that he may be barred from filing any more lawsuits in this district.

"Then he files this … again before Quackenbush," the federal source said. "I think the local connection is that he has been banned from filing suits in so many other courts. But he has a friend in Judge Quackenbush, who at least has written him back."

In the injunction filed in Richland, Riches – who acknowledges he is receiving treatment for mental-health problems – said: "The Guinness Book of World Records have no right to publish my work, my legal masterpieces."

Those include lawsuits against New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, former President George W. Bush, Somali pirates, Britney Spears and Martha Stewart, according to a Wikipedia page dedicated to Riches' litigious exploits.

He's also filed lawsuits against Plato, Nostradamus, James Hoffa, "Various Buddhist Monks," the Lincoln Memorial, the Eiffel Tower and Three Mile Island.


The Angels Came in Airplanes

By Elizabeth Binder
Translated By David Vickrey

Germany - Der Tagesspiegel - Original Article (German)

If you want to send an e-mail to Gail Halvorsen, the most famous of all the "Rasinbombers," you need to type "wigglywings" in your computer, since that is part of his address. The "wiggly wings" became his signature flying maneuver during the airlift. Today he is 88 years old, but back then his flying style gave hope to half-starved children waiting expectantly for a piece of chocolate, some chewing gum, or just the thought that someone could do something funny, even in a very dark hour of history.

Back then Gail Halverson was 28 years old and in love. In April of 1949, he married Alta Jolley and was together with her for 20 years, until her death in 1999. They had 5 children who led to 24 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Back then it was never a sure thing that the young pilot from Utah would drop the chocolate bars that his friends had sent to him in Frankfurt over Berlin. The memories of Hitler and the terrible war were still fresh in his mind, he recalls. His whole life had been turned upside down.

At 27 years of age, Halvorsen would have much preferred to be driving his Chevy on America's highways. Instead he was flying for the Berlin Airlift, day and night, in fog, storms and ice. He asked a fellow pilot who had flown bombing missions over Berlin during the war how it felt to be flying now in service of the enemy he had been sworn to kill. He responded that it felt a good deal better to be providing food and sustenance rather than killing. Many pilots who flew for the airlift back then lost their hearts in Berlin.

Jack O. Bennett, who sat in the cockpit of the very first airlift flight, was against transporting coal to Berlin at first and was in favor of deploying tanks against the Russians. He remained in Berlin for the rest of his life. Edwin Gere, who wrote a book about what happened to the pilots, belonged to a group of former pilots, including Texan Earl Moore, British citizen Larry Lamb, and Australian David Evans, who, at their own expense, would often return to Berlin to commemorate important events together.

The first load that Halvorsen brought to Berlin consisted of 20,000 lbs. of flour. "The Germans looked at us as if we were angels from heaven." For Gail Halvorsen, an active member of the Mormon Church, gratitude has the power to make enemies into friends, to make what seems impossible possible.


From the Cloud Appreciation Society