Thursday, July 16, 2009

Know your place, shut your face!

The Man Who Knew Cheney's Secret

Seymour Hersh was mocked in March when he referred to Dick Cheney's secret squad of CIA assassins. Now, he talks to The Daily Beast about the next shoe to drop.

Seymour Hersh Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh raised eyebrows back in March when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that Dick Cheney ran a secret hit squad that he kept hidden from congressional oversight.

"Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on," Hersh said at the time. He added: "Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us."

Some observers accused him of rumor-mongering and a top former military official threw cold water on the story, but with the recent news that the CIA allegedly kept Congress in the dark on a covert program, Hersh's words suddenly look more and more prescient. Yesterday, The New York Times reported the hidden program in question was a death squad authorized by Dick Cheney without congressional approval.

Now, there are key differences between Hersh's reporting and the Times' latest piece. Hersh suggested that the assassination ring was conducted out of the Joint Special Operations Command rather than the CIA. Moreover, according to Hersh's sources, the program was operational, leaving a trail of bodies, while the Times cited officials saying that the CIA hit squad never actually carried out a mission. The Times and Hersh could conceivably be reporting two distinct squads.

The Daily Beast tracked down Hersh in South Asia, where he says he has not been able to read the New York Times piece but has received calls buzzing about the report. Asked about the officials quoted in the Times' report who claimed that Cheney's assassination ring never became operational, Hersh offered a skeptical response.

"I said what I said, they can always say what they say," Hersh told The Daily Beast. "The last time they said the government doesn't torture; this time it's the government doesn't assassinate."

Hersh said that his words in Minnesota were exaggerated in the press, because he had previously reported on covert operations that he alleged were out of Congress' view. In February 2005, he published a report that the president had authorized Donald Rumsfeld to organize special operations in South Asia and the Middle East without going through the CIA, and thus not having to report them to Congress. In July 2005, he wrote that the White House circumvented Nancy Pelosi to organize covert operations led by retired CIA officers and non-government personnel to influence the Iraqi elections.

"In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush administration's increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals," he wrote in the July 2005 piece. "This allowed the administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders."

Chart attack

Political Animal

THEY DO LOVE THEIR CHARTS.... Republican opponents of health care reform have a new, colorful talking point. It turns out, if you put reform plans into a chart, fiddle with box sizes, arrow colors, and creative fonts, you discover that health care reform is ... complicated.


After a brightly colored chart failed to kill the Waxman-Markey bill, House Republicans are scrapping doubling down on the idea. They've created a new one to demonstrate just how complicated the Democrats' health care reform bill is.

Just as in the case of the Waxman-Markey chart, though, this doesn't actually explain anything. And it ironically begs the question of whether Republicans secretly want a simpler, single payer system to replace more complex reform proposals.

There are a wide variety of arguments against reform, but this may be the most ridiculous. The chart apparently proves that the health care system will be complex. Well, yes, it is. It will involve a lot of people, money, government agencies, and private entities. Of course, I hate to break it to the House Republican caucus, but the health system is already complex, and features a lot of people, money, government agencies, and private entities.

Indeed, if I were to do a chart detailing the way John Boehner's car works, it would also show a complicated system, but I suspect he'd take it to work every morning. More to the point, if I were to show Boehner a chart about the various international elements that went into invading Iraq in 2003, I suspect he wouldn't be persuaded if I said, "See? It's just too darn complex to bother."

And that's the underlying point of the GOP pitch: we can't reform the system because the solution doesn't fit nicely on a chart. But that's not an argument. It's barely even a chart.

Healthcare: Change the Debate, Support a Real Public Option

By Dennis Kucinich

Take Action: Tell Congress "We Need Your Leadership for Healthcare Reform"

In mid-May, in an effort to reach consensus, President Obama secured a deal with the health insurance companies to trim 1.5% of their costs each year for ten years saving a total of $2 trillion dollars, which  would be reprogrammed into healthcare. Just two days after the announcement at the White House the insurance companies reneged on the deal which was designed to protect and increase their revenue at least 35%.  

The insurance companies reneged on the deal because they refuse any restraint on increasing premiums, copays and deductibles--core to their profits. No wonder a recent USA Today poll found that only four percent of Americans trust insurance companies. This is within the margin of error, which means it is possible that NO ONE TRUSTS insurance companies.

Then why does Congress trust the insurance companies? Yesterday HR 3200 "America's Affordable Health Choices Act," a 1000 page bill was delivered to members. The title of the bill raises a question: "Affordable" for whom?.

Of $2.4 trillion spent annually for health care in America, fully $800 billion goes for the activities of the for-profit insurer-based system. This means one of every three health care dollars is siphoned off for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing and the cost of paper work, (which can be anywhere between 15 - 35% in the private sector as compared to Medicare, the single payer plan which has only 3% administrative costs).

50 million Americans are uninsured and another 50 million are under insured while for-profit insurance companies divert precious health care dollars to non-health care purposes. Eliminate the for-profit health care system and its extraordinary overhead, put the money into healthcare and everyone will be covered, everyone will be able to afford health care.

Today three committees will begin marking up and amending HR3200. In this, one of the most momentous public policy debates in the past 70 years, single payer, the only viable "public option," the one that makes sound business sense, controls costs and covers everyone was taken off the table.

In contrast to HR3200 ... HR676 calls for a universal single-payer health care system in the United States, Medicare for All. It has over 85 co-sponsors in Congress with the support of millions of Americans and countless physicians and nurses. How does HR-676 control costs and cover everyone? It cuts out the for-profit middle men and delivers care directly to consumers and Medicare acts as the single payer of bills. It also recognizes that under the current system for-profit insurance companies make money NOT providing health care.

This week is the time to break the hold which the insurance companies have on our political process. Tell Congress to stand up to the insurance companies. Ask members to sign on to the only real public option, HR 676, a single-payer healthcare system.

Hundreds of local labor unions, thousands of physicians and millions of Americans are standing behind us. With a draft of HR3200 now circulating, It is up to each and every one of us to organize and rally for the cause of single-payer healthcare. Change the debate. Now is the time.

The time to act is now!

Financial Times editor says most news websites will charge within a year

Building payment platforms is one of key challenges facing news organisations, says Financial Times editor Lionel Barber

Lionel BarberThe Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has predicted that "almost all" news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.

Barber said building online platforms that could charge readers on an article-by-article or subscription basis was one of the key challenges facing news organisations.

"How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air," Barber said in a speech at at a Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night.

"But I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content."

Barber is the latest leading executive to suggest the newspaper industry has to radically overhaul its existing business model.

Rupert Murdoch said in May that he expected his News Corporation newspaper websites to start charging for access within a year. The News Corp chairman and chief executive said free newspaper websites were a "flawed" business model.

Murdoch's rival, the New York Times, could begin charging for online news within the next three to four weeks.

The amazing plant photographs which were ten years in the making and are filled with electricity

By Daily Mail Reporter

These extraordinary images reveal what happens when electrical surges pass through a metal board with a simple plant on top.

Photographer Robert Buelteman sends 80,000 volts through his flowery subjects and then literally paints photographs of the outcome.

In three awe-inspiring series, the 55-year-old uses roses, petunias, and even cannabis in mind-blowing detail to give an extraordinary view of ordinary plant-life.

Artist Robert Buelteman

Artist Robert Buelteman sends 80,000 volts through flowery subjects and then literally paints photographs of the outcome to create these amazing pictures

The process to capture these unique images is so complex it has taken him 10 years - and a gruelling average of 60 hours-per-week - to produce just 80 photos.

Working in complete darkness, he begins by placing his chosen plant onto a metal board which he then passes the electrical surge through.

He can even pinpoint areas where he wants to focus the charge using a wand and a simple car battery.

Artist Robert Buelteman

The artist uses roses, petunias, and even cannabis in his amazing works

As his subject lights up with the current, and emits radiation invisible to the naked eye, Mr Buelteman captures the moments by passing a fibre optic cable back-and-forth over the plant.

The cable emits a beam of white light which is just the size of a human hair and whatever the miniscule torch-beam touches, transfers the image onto film.

The captivating blue haze that surrounds every leaf, petal and stalk is actually gases ionising around them as the plant is electronically shocked.

To explain the baffling process, Buelteman, from Montara, California, USA, uses a trusted analogy.

Artist Robert Buelteman

This picture of Eucalyptus provides an amazing inside into plantlife

Artist Robert Buelteman

Buelteman spends an average of 60 hours-per-week - to produce just 80 photos

'You just have to imagine it like a painter creating a picture on canvass,' he said. 'The plant is the subject just like the painter's bowl of fruit or the person they are capturing.

'The electrified board I place the plants on is the canvass. The fibre optic cable emitting the light-beam is my paintbrush.

'Another way to try and understand it is like a normal photograph on a normal camera, except I am manually controlling the exposure by hand. In the same way the image I capture is simply burned onto film.' 

To give the pictures an added dazzling effect, Mr Buelteman's aluminium canvass actually floats in liquid silicone.

Goldman's Back, and Why We Should Be Worried

by Robert Reich

Should we breath a sigh of relief that Goldman Sachs has posted record earnings as revenue from trading and stock underwriting reached all-time highs (second quarter net income was $3.44 billion) -- less than a year after the firm took $10 billion directly from taxpayers and $13 billion indirectly through AIG?

In some ways, yes. That Goldman is back signals that the worst of Wall Street's recent meltdown is over. And at least New York City's economy will again benefit from the trickle-down effects of the multi-million dollar bonuses of Goldman's executives and traders.

But in another respect, Goldman's resurgence should send shivers down the backs of every hardworking American who has lost a large chunk of retirement savings in this economic debacle, as well as the millions who have lost their jobs. Why? Because Goldman's high-risk business model hasn't changed one bit from what it was before the implosion of Wall Street. Goldman is still wagering its capital and fueling giant bets with lots of borrowed money. While its rivals have pared back risks, Goldman has increased them. And its renewed success at this old game will only encourage other big banks to go back into it.

"Our model really never changed, we've said very consistently that our business model remained the same," Goldman's chief financial officer tells Bloomberg News. Value-at-risk -- a statistical measure of how much the firm's trading operations could lose in a day -- rose to an average of $245 million in the second quarter from $240 million in the first quarter. In the second quarter of 2008, VaR averaged $184 million.

Meanwhile, Goldman is still depending on $28 billion in outstanding debt issued cheaply with the backing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Which means you and I are still indirectly funding Goldman's high-risk operations.

Goldman Sachs in Talks to Acquire Treasury Department

Sister Entities to Share Employees, Money

In what some on Wall Street are calling the biggest blockbuster deal in the history of the financial sector, Goldman Sachs confirmed today that it was in talks to acquire the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

According to Goldman spokesperson Jonathan Hestron, the merger between Goldman and the Treasury Department is "a good fit" because "they're in the business of printing money and so are we."

The Goldman spokesman said that the merger would create efficiencies for both entities: "We already have so many employees and so much money flowing back and forth, this would just streamline things."

Mr. Hestron said the only challenge facing Goldman in completing the merger "is trying to figure out which parts of the Treasury Dept. we don't already own."

Goldman recently celebrated record earnings by roasting a suckling pig over a bonfire of hundred-dollar bills.

Empathy with their own kind

It only hurts when you don't laugh

by Ed Naha

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for today's conservatives to be intentionally funny? Oh, sure, they can make you fall down laughing when they're dead serious about things but when it comes to honest-to-God observational humor? Their sense of "righteousness" gets in the way, their paranoia, their blinders-impaired worldview. It's tough to be intentionally funny when your basic premise is: you're either with me or with the enemy.

Good observational humor comes from the concept that the world is crazy but we can all be in on the joke. It not only speaks truth to power, but also tosses a banana cream pie at it for good measure.

Here's comedian Bill Hicks commenting on the rationale behind the first Iraq War. "People say 'Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world.' Yeah, maybe, but you know what, after the first 3 largest armies, there's a REAL big fucking drop-off. The Hare Krishnas are the 5th largest army in the world, and they've already got all our airports."

And here's Dennis Miller commenting on the current one: "Liberals should not overplay this weapons of mass destruction card, because you want me to tell you the truth? Most of us are not going to care if they don't find these weapons of mass destruction. It's enough for a lot of us to see those kids smiling on that street again."

Bill Hicks on the first war: "You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know. During the Persian Gulf War, those intelligence reports would come out: 'Iraq: incredible weapons -- incredible weapons.' 'How do you know that?' 'Uh, well... we looked at the receipts. But as soon as that check clears, we're goin' in.'"

Dennis Miller on the current: "And finally, and most importantly, the next time we go to war, don't give a specific reason for the war that the left can seize upon and later flog us with it ad nauseam, just do it. Remember, the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club."

See the difference? (I mean, aside from the fact that Bill Hicks has been dead for fifteen years and Dennis Miller's career has been dead for less than ten.)

There's a certain clash between the conservative view and humor, in that humor is the great equalizer. Modern-day conservatism depends on the concept that there's only one way to view the world that is correct and, therefore, superior.

And, so, conservative "humorists" usually resort to fairly pre-pubescent "nyah-nyah" stuff that relies on racial and social stereotypes to swat back any belief system other than their own. When the French, for instance, refused to back Bush's Iraq invasion, Dennis Miller quipped "and after we had the good taste to chisel the armpit hair off the Statue of Liberty..."

He also tossed off the humorous, "Listen, I would call the French scum bags, but that, of course, would be a disservice to bags filled with scum."

In this realm of comedy, Italians are all cowards, the French don't bathe, the Irish are drunks, Scotsmen are thrifty, Poles are idiots and blacks are shiftless. In other words, it's second grade recess intellectualism at its finest. This type of humor shouldn't be dismissed because of PC reasons, but it should be acknowledged as being PJ - Pretty Juvenile.

Of course, conservative humorists don't see it that way. When Jackie Mason, who's gone from dwelling in the Borsht Belt to the Bile Belt in record time, referred onstage to Barack Obama as a "schvartze," he insisted he wasn't being racist and was offended that people would be offended, explaining "If it's a racist society the white people are the ones being persecuted because they have to defend themselves."

He told TMZ "Chris Rock has told a lot more jokes about whites than I have against Blacks. What about the demeaning words Blacks say about Jews?"

Yeah, remember Chris Rock's classic routines on Yids? Me, neither.

Small Australian Town Stands Up for the Tap

Huw Kingston, the owner of Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe and a leader of the "Bundy on Tap" campaign, said the ban did not begin as an environmental crusade. It started when a Sydney-based bottling company sought permission to extract millions of liters from the local aquifer.

BUNDANOON, AUSTRALIA — When the residents of Bundanoon voted last week to stop selling bottled water in town, they never expected to be thrust into the global spotlight.

Locals in this tourist town touched off a worldwide debate about the social and environmental effects of bottled water that has put the beverage industry on the defensive.

With a nearly unanimous show of hands at a community meeting on July 8, locals in this tourist town touched off a worldwide debate about the social and environmental effects of bottled water that has put the beverage industry on the defensive.

State and local officials across the United States have been phasing out the use of bottled water at government workplaces in recent years, citing a range of concerns including the energy used to make and transport the bottles and an erosion of public trust in municipal water supplies. But as far as campaigners are aware, Bundanoon is the first town in the world to stop all sales of bottled water.

Set in the cool highlands southwest of Sydney, Bundanoon is a sleepy village of tidy gardens and quaint cottages surrounded by the weekend estates of wealthy urbanites. It is the sort of place where strangers strike up conversations on park benches along the picturesque main street and townsfolk leave fresh flowers on the local war memorial.

According to Huw Kingston, the owner of Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe and a leader of the "Bundy on Tap" campaign, the ban did not begin as an environmental crusade. It started when a Sydney-based bottling company sought permission to extract millions of liters from the local aquifer.

At first, residents were upset at the prospect of tanker trucks rumbling through their quiet streets. But as opposition grew, Mr. Kingston said many began to question the "bizarre" notion of trucking water some 160 kilometers, or 100 miles, north to a plant in Sydney, only to transport it somewhere else — possibly even back to Bundanoon — for sale.

"We became aware, as a community, of what the bottled water industry was all about," said Mr. Kingston. "So the idea was floated that if we don't want an extraction plant in our town, maybe we shouldn't be selling the end product at all."

A dozen or so activists got together and called a community meeting. Of the 356 locals who turned out to vote by a show of hands, only one objected.

The ban is entirely voluntary. But with the support of the public, the town's six food retailers have agreed to pull bottled water from their shelves starting in September. They plan to recoup their losses by selling inexpensive, reusable bottles that can be filled at drinking fountains and filtered water dispensers to be placed around town.

Hunger is a great motivator

Flesh-Eating Robots Developed for Pentagon

picture4Thanks to the Pentagon and a Maryland Robotics Company, the robots who inherit the Earth when humanity is wiped out will be able to survive by feasting on the flesh of human corpses!

Robotic Technology Inc. has been contracted by the Pentagon to build robots that use biomass fuel; organic material such as "grass, broken wood, furniture, dead bodies", according to Popular Science.

The Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR -- yes, EATR) is described thusly on the company's website:

The purpose of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR)™ (patent pending) project is to develop and demonstrate an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling, which would otherwise preclude the ability of the robot to perform such missions. The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable.

Doesn't sound that sinister, since dead bodies are artfully skirted around in the description. Then again, a presentation on the technology is accompanied by the picture on the right, which appears to show a giant robot calmly shooting the last rebel human aircraft out of the sky with its eyes ...

US gun debate fires up as states allow weapons in bars

Changes in gun legislation in Arizona and Tennessee comes despite bloody rampages in recent months

by Ed Pilkington in New York

Alcoholic drinks on a barUp to 375,000 registered gun owners in Arizona and Tennessee were today given the right to carry concealed guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, in the latest example of loosening gun laws in a country already renowned for its lax approach to firearms.

The change of the two states' gun laws marks a trend across the US towards increased rights for gun owners despite a spate of bloody rampages in recent months that have seen scores of Americans die. Advocates of the second amendment's right to bear arms argue that in the wake such shooting sprees, citizens should be able to defend themselves by carrying guns in public places.

But opponents say this is the logic of the mad house. Groups calling for greater regulation of gun ownership are opposing a move at the federal level to extend the right to carry concealed weapons to all 50 states.

Today, Tennessee granted its 250,000 citizens with gun licences the right to carry handguns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Restaurant owners made a last-minute attempt to block the change, saying it was bad for business, but their appeal was rejected by the courts.

Randy Rayburn, one of the restaurant owner plaintiffs, told a local TV network: "I'm not worried about the 99% of gun owners who are permit holders. I'm worried about the 1 or 2% of would-be Dirty Harrys who are going to carry out their attempts at vigilante justice."