Friday, July 17, 2009

The Dick Killers

Bush's Hit Teams

Despite the new controversy over whether a global CIA "hit team" ever went operational, there has been public evidence for years that the Bush administration approved "rules of engagement" that permitted executions and targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Robert Parry

In effect, President George W. Bush transformed elite units of the U.S. military – including Special Forces and highly trained sniper teams – into "death squads" with a license to kill unarmed targets on suspicion that they might be a threat to American occupying forces.

In the recent public debate over whether Bush also authorized the CIA to assemble teams of assassins to roam the world hunting al-Qaeda suspects, the U.S. news media has cited the distinction between such face-to-face executions and the CIA's use of remote-controlled Predator drones firing missiles to kill groups of suspected insurgents in or near the war zones.

However, the evidence is that the Bush administration also permitted U.S. military units to engage in close-quarter executions when encountering alleged insurgents, even if they were unarmed and presented no immediate threat to American or allied troops.

This reality surfaced in 2007 with the attempted prosecutions of several U.S. soldiers whose defense attorneys cited "rules of engagement" that permitted killing suspected insurgents.

One case involved Army sniper Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., who was acquitted by a U.S. military court in Baghdad on Sept. 28, 2007, in the murders of two unarmed Iraqi men – one on April 27, 2007, and the other on May 11, 2007 – because the jury accepted defense arguments that the killings were within the approved rules. (Sandoval was convicted of lesser charges relating to planting evidence on a victim to obscure the facts of the homicide.)

The Sandoval case also revealed a classified program in which the Pentagon's Asymmetric Warfare Group encouraged U.S. military snipers in Iraq to drop "bait" – such as electrical cords and ammunition – and then shoot Iraqis who picked up the items, according to evidence in the Sandoval case. [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2007]

Out of step

Every Single Republican Congress Member Has Now Co-Sponsored Bill to Audit the Fed... Democrats, Its Up To You

Washington's Blog

Ron Paul announced today:

All 178 Republican members of the House have now signed on as cosponsors of [the] Federal Reserve Transparency Act, HR 1207.

With a total of 271 cosponsors, Democrats must put pressure on another 19 Democratic co-sponsors in order to bring it to the magic number of 290 ... so that it will be veto-proof by Obama.

Please call your Democratic and Independent representatives and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 1207!

And everyone, please call your senator and ask them to support S. 604, the Federal Reserve Sunshine Act of 2009.

There is a huge campaign to keep the Fed's shenanigans hidden (and see this). It will take every single one of us calling congress to make it happen.

This is not a partisan issue - every single Democrat and Independent should support Fed transparency.

The Recession Is Over! (Technically.)

 What America's best economic forecaster is saying.

CIllustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.ould our long national nightmare be over? The economic contraction, this Great Recession, began in December 2007, and there's no apparent end in sight. As the unemployment rate has spiked, analysts have thrown cold water on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's March sighting of "green shoots." The stock market's spring rally has fizzled.

But in this season of doubt, I'm prepared to declare that the recession is really, most probably over. Why? Well, it's not because the economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal believe it'll end in this quarter. (These guys wouldn't know an economic inflection point if it hit them upside the head. All through 2008, when the economy was contracting, they projected growth for the year.)

No, two of the best and most objective forecasters, who are not connected to investment banks or to the CNBC noise machine, have recently called the upturn. Macroeconomic Advisers, the St. Louis-based consulting firm that compiles a monthly GDP index, reported to its clients Monday that while second-quarter GDP was tracking at negative 0.1 percent (recession), the third quarter was tracking at 2.4 percent growth.

The folks at the Economic Cycles Research Institute agree enthusiastically. It's not because they've detected green pea shoots in Central Park. Rather, it's because we've seen the three P's, says Lakshman Achuthan, managing director at ECRI, which has been studying business cycles for decades and was one of the few outfits to call the last two recessions with any degree of accuracy.

The economic data that get the most play in the news— unemployment, retail sales—are coincident or lagging indicators and historically have not revealed much about directional changes in the economy. ECRI's proprietary methodology breaks down indicators into a long-leading index, a weekly leading index, and a short-leading index. "We watch for turning points in the leading indexes to anticipate turning points in the business cycle and the overall economy," says Achuthan. It's tough to recognize transitions objectively "because so often our hopes and fears can get in the way." To prevent exuberance and despair from clouding vision, ECRI looks for the three P's: a pronounced rise in the leading indicators; one that persists for at least three months; and one that's pervasive, meaning a majority of indicators are moving in the same direction.

The long-leading index—which goes back to the 1920s and doesn't include stock prices but does include measures related to credit, housing, productivity, and profits—hits bottom and starts to climb about six months before a recession ends. The weekly leading index calls directional shifts about three to four months in advance. And the short-leading index, which includes stock prices and jobless claims, is typically the last to turn up.

All three are now flashing green. According to Achuthan, the long-leading index growth rate has been recovering since November 2008, the weekly leading index has been recovering since last December, and the short-leading index growth rate bottomed in February 2009. In sequence, each turned up, "and by April the three Ps had all been satisfied." Sure, corporate profits continue to disappoint, and the unemployment rate is climbing. But for ECRI, which navigates by relying exclusively on its instruments, that's only a part of their picture. They're the Spocks of the economic forecasting crowd—unemotional, uninvested in anything but the logic of what history and their dashboard tell them. "From our vantage point, every week and every month our call is getting stronger, not weaker, including over the last few weeks," says Achuthan. "The recession is ending somewhere this summer." In fact, it may already be over.

Troy Jollimore on God's Evolution

The Evolution of God
A review by Troy Jollimore

The title of Robert Wright's new book -- The Evolution of God -- will surely put some people off; indeed it seems designed to do so. So many religious believers in the U.S. have so much antipathy toward the idea that evolution might explain anything, it seems highly unlikely that many of them will pick up a book whose title suggests that God, of all things, might have evolved -- let alone (dare I mention it?) a book containing a chapter titled "Survival of the Fittest Christianity."

But being provocative is clearly not something Wright fears. His acclaimed 1994 book The Moral Animal remains one of the most widely read books on evolutionary psychology, a topic that tends to breed controversy wherever it goes. In the work that has followed (notably 2000's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny), the author has displayed an increasingly strong penchant for grand pronouncements and attempts to explain all human behavior, and perhaps all of human history, in terms of a combination of evolutionary psychology and rudimentary game theory.

The Evolution of God finds the author going over much of the same ground, this time with a specific focus on religion. The word evolution in the title refers most straightforwardly to the process by which humanity's idea of God has changed over time -- a process described at some length in Wright's book. The human race begins as a bunch of parochial pluralists, separate tribes each with its own group of deities. These deities are conceived, to start with, more as superheroes -- humanoid beings with human personalities endowed with special powers -- than as genuine divinities. Over time a few of the deities gain more prominence and become more widely accepted, as pressures toward intertribal cooperation and, eventually, globalization (as manifested in the dynamics of "non-zero-sum situations," a key concept in Wright's thinking) push societies toward directing their energies at one comprehensive, universalistic, all-powerful god. This god -- the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- eventually becomes perceived as a just and loving father figure and is associated with modern ethical ideas like universal rights and the equality of all persons.

This is, in its way, a story of competition under selective pressure: God attains his ultimate position by defeating all competitors, not through brute power but by winning over the electorate, so to speak. And it is by serving various human purposes, and appealing to certain elements in human nature, that a more all-encompassing vision of God comes to take precedence over less universalistic versions. But, lest some readers be confused by the baggage inevitably attached to the word evolution (a confusion which Wright, to a certain degree, encourages), it is important to emphasize that this is no more a process of Darwinian natural selection than is television's American Idol. The process is a cultural one, and applies to a god that is clearly a cultural artifact in the strongest sense: an artifact that is the creation of human beings, the product of our beliefs, as Wright makes clear:

"The god I've been describing is a god in quotation marks, a god that exists in people's heads. When I said in chapter 5, for example, that Yahweh was strong yet compassionate, I just meant that his adherents thought of him as strong yet compassionate. There was no particular reason to believe that there was a god 'out there' that matched this internal conception. Similarly, when I say God shows moral progress, what I'm really saying is that people's conception of God moves in a morally progressive direction."

Passages like this will reinforce the believer's sense that The Evolution of God is, at the end of the day, nothing more than yet another evolution book whose aim is to explain how humans have evolved into the sort of creatures that believe in God, and in doing so to explain away any vestige of God's actual existence.

French sea-going 'vacuum cleaner' sucks up water pollution

An innovative new anti-pollution ship has hit the high seas off western France. The 'Catamar' can collect debris and more importantly help clean up oil pollution that destroys flora and fauna along the coastline.

Why Biofuels Are the Rainforest's Worst Enemy

Smart Growth
Forget petroleum. The next planet-destroying fuel is already here.

Nestled deep in the tropical rainforest on the island of Borneo, Pareh is a collection of about 60 weathered wooden houses perched on stilts and enfolded by coconut palms, banana trees, and the dappled green overhang of the towering forest. Pareh's inhabitants belong to the indigenous tribes of Borneo collectively identified as the Dayak. They have lived here for centuries, raising rubber trees, pumpkin, cassava, and rice, and harvesting wood for fuel and lumber.

In 2005, a group of village men went hunting in the forest several hours from Pareh and stumbled on a clearing in which the trees had recently been felled. That was how they discovered that Perseroan Terbatas Ledo Lestari, or ptll, a subsidiary of an Indonesian company named Duta Palma Nusantara, was seizing their ancestral land to establish a massive plantation of oil palms, a tree whose oil is rendered and refined into biodiesel. (One of Duta Palma's major customers is Wilmar International Ltd, a Singapore-based firm in which US agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland holds a 16 percent stake.)

Over the next two years ptll destroyed 15,000 acres, which the Dayak say amounts to three-quarters of their "customary forest"—land that's vital for their survival and to which they have certain rights under Indonesian law. The plantation also uprooted monkeys and wild boar, which began raiding the community's food supply. Because ptll replaced diverse forest with a monocrop, pests invaded Pareh's subsistence gardens. Rice crops failed. The Dayak filed complaints with regional and national officials; at one point they commandeered one of ptll's bulldozers (an offense for which Momonus, the village head, and Jamaluddin, an elder, served jail time—.pdf). The clearing went on.

Increasingly desperate, in 2007 the people of Pareh offered ptll a drastic compromise. The villagers would surrender every acre the plantation had illegally seized if the company agreed to take no more land. There was no response. Soon after, a villager obtained a ptll map showing the company's long-term plan: It aimed to clearcut 50,000 acres, more than three times as much land as it had already taken. On the map, both Pareh and its sister village, Semunying, were gone.

RNC Web site promoting anti-Semitic, anti-Latino, and pornographic literature

(UPDATE: I understand the Latino book is not anti-Latino, but in fact debunks anti-Latino prejudice. Fair enough. But I'm still looking forward to the RNC's explanation for including "bondage," "anal," and "clitoris." )

It's not very often the boys at AMERICAblog get to type the word "clitoris" in a political blog post, but thanks to Michael Steele and the headquarters of the Republican party, today is that special day.

Forget that copy of Playboy, kids, you don't need to go any further than your local Web site. Of course, in all seriousness, it's far worse than that - the Web site of the Republican National Committee is also promoting literature that is overtly anti-Semitic and anti-Latino.

It all started when earlier this week the GOP started promoting it's new Web site, The site is supposed to showcase how much money President Obama is supposedly spending by letting you, the visitor, spend money too on your new "Obama credit card."

Just what products does the RNC propose you buy with your new Obama credit card? Anti-semitic, anti-Latino, and overtly pornographic literature - with pictures to boot.

Basically, the RNC site is set up as a faux online business, like, where you can buy goods by doing word searches. Search for the word "car," for instance, and you get pictures of various cars and how much you can pay for them with your ObamaCard.

But don't stop there. Do a search for products dealing with the word "Jew" and the RNC suggests you buy the book "The Jews and Their Lies" (bottom left).

Type in "Latino" and get "The Latino Threat."

But the real fun starts when you type in the word "gay."

Gay, you see, is banned by the RNC (at least they haven't lost their sense of irony). "Homosexual," however, is a product you can buy at the RNC site, and oh what they showcase with that word (note the two men in the upper left corner - perhaps they're just very close friends, like Lindsey Graham and Aaron Schock).

A few other fun words you can search for on the RNC Web site...



Iraq's New Death Squad

By Shane Bauer


The light is fading from the dusty Baghdad sky as Hassan Mahsan re-enacts what happened to his family last summer. We're standing in the courtyard of his concrete-block house, his children are watching us quietly and his wife is twirling large circles of dough and slapping them against the inside walls of a roaring oven. He walks over to his three-foot-tall daughter and grabs her head like a melon. As she stands there, he gestures wildly behind her, pretending to tie up her hands, then pretending to point a rifle at her head. "They took the blindfold off me, pointed the gun at her head and cocked it, saying, 'Either you tell us where al-Zaydawi is, or we kill your daughter.'"

As Hassan tells it, it was a quiet night on June 10, 2008, in Sadr City, Baghdad's poor Shiite district of more than 2 million people, when the helicopter appeared over his house and the front door exploded, nearly burning his sleeping youngest son. Before Hassan knew it, he was on the ground, hands bound and a bag over his head, with eight men pointing rifles at him, locked and loaded.

At first he couldn't tell whether the men were Iraqis or Americans. He says he identified himself as a police sergeant, offering his ID before they took his pistol and knocked him to the ground. The men didn't move like any Iraqi forces he'd ever seen. They looked and spoke like his countrymen, but they were wearing American-style uniforms and carrying American weapons with night-vision scopes. They accused him of being a commander in the local militia, the Mahdi Army, before they dragged him off, telling his wife he was "finished." But before they left, they identified themselves. "We are the Special Forces. The dirty brigade," Hassan recalls them saying.

Ace o’Science

by Tintin
"Now which way is north?"

Watching some of the high-traffic wingnuts "do" science is a guilty pleasure, particularly when "done" by folks like Ace o'Play-doh and Don Bob Surber, both of whose scientific backgrounds appear to have been mostly garnered from careful study of NCIS reruns. Usually, their pseudo-scientific expertise on climate change is applied to a news report that it snowed in Las Vegas, or a rare southern sighting of the abominable snowman in a shopping mall in Mobile, or melting polar icecaps on Mars where there are no SUVs. ("Explain that, libs!")

The latest bauble to catch the eye of Ace and Don Bob has the tantalizing title "Global Warming: Scientists' Best Predictions May Be Wrong." With undisguised glee, Ace quotes the opening paragraph of the Science Daily article he links:

No one knows exactly how much Earth's climate will warm due to carbon emissions, but a new study suggests scientists' best predictions about global warming might be incorrect.

This is, of course, an occassion for Ye Olde Ace to stop playing World of Warcraft long enough to watusi around his garden-level efficiency and decide to order in a Papa John's "The Meats" Pie for a celebratory mid-day snack. Hell, this would be reason for Ace o'Play-Doh to go buy a big honking H3 and live in it with the engine running 24/7, right?

Sadly, no!™

Here's an abstract of the study in question, and it pretty much confirms what the Science Daily article and this article said it said. The Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum was a period around 55 million years ago when global temperatures increased 5–9 °C within a few thousand years. What the scientists did was study sediment cores in seabeds around the world to estimate the amount of carbon released prior to the PETM, and they found that carbon dioxide levels increased 70% prior to the PETM.

Now, here's the money quote from the abstract:

At accepted values for the climate sensitivity to a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration, this rise in CO2 can explain only between 1 and 3.5 °C of the warming inferred from proxy records. We conclude that in addition to direct CO2 forcing, other processes and/or feedbacks that are hitherto unknown must have caused a substantial portion of the warming during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum.

Translated into simple English (in the event that Ace or Don Bob Surber are moving their lips and scratching their foreheads while reading this post), the study doesn't say that carbon dioxide doesn't cause global warming. In fact, the study relied on "accepted" values for the correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global warming. The entire point of the study was that smaller increases might result in more global warming than predicted, particularly if there is a "feedback" process involved. In other words, it's not a question of whether the planet is fucked, it's a question of whether it may be fucked worse than we thought.

Oh, thank goodness

AP pulls number out of ass

Political Animal

AP IGNORES CRITICISM.... Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the House Democratic health care plan cost "$1.5 trillion." By the afternoon, the AP reporting didn't attribute the price tag to anyone; it just stated the figure as fact.

House Dems threw a fit, which was understandable -- the day before the AP blasted the $1.5 trillion figure to the world, the Congressional Budget Office pointed to a roughly $1 trillion cost over 10 years. The AP not only went with the much higher figure, it made no reference to the CBO score.

That, however, was yesterday. I'd hoped the AP would at least notice the criticism, and clarify the issue in the future. No such luck -- this AP report ran about a half-hour ago.

Votes were planned Thursday in the Education and Labor and Ways and Means committees on a $1.5 trillion plan that majority House Democrats presented this week.

No source, no reference to the CBO figure released Tuesday, and no mention of the fact that House Democrats reject the "$1.5 trillion" figure.

Naturally, others are picking up on the AP's reporting, and relaying the disputed figure. Time's Mark Halperin noted this morning that House committees are expected to vote today "on the Democrats' $1.5 trillion plan."

I don't mean to sound picky, but reporting like this not only misinforms news consumers, it also has the potential to adversely affect the larger policy debate. If the AP is intent on using the $1.5 trillion figure, it could at least add some language to reflect the concerns, such as "a number Democratic leaders dispute," or, "though the CBO puts the figure closer to $1 trillion." Something.

Humor In The Workplace

Added: Jul 09, 2009 11:28 am

This is a sources sought notice and not a request for quotations. The purpose of this announcement is to seek qualified contractors with the capability to provide presentations for The Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Public Debt (BPD), Management Meeting with experience in meeting the objectives as described herein.

The Contractor shall conduct two, 3-hour, Humor in the Workplace programs that will discuss the power of humor in the workplace, the close relationship between humor and stress, and why humor is one of the most important ways that we communicate in business and office life. Participants shall experience demonstrations of cartoons being created on the spot. The contractor shall have the ability to create cartoons on the spot about BPD jobs. The presenter shall refrain from using any foul language during the presentation. This is a business environment and we need the presenter to address a business audience.

Upon completion of the course, participants shall be able to:

• Understand the importance and power of humor in the workplace in a responsible manner
• How to use talents in a creative way that adds humor to everyday experiences
• Alleviate stress in home and the office
• Know how and why humor is important to communication
• Improve work-place relationships
• Prevent burn-out

Please provide the following information if you have performed similar presentation services:

1. The name and location of your company, contact information, and identify your business size (Large Business, Small Business, Disadvantaged Business, 8(a), Service disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, HubZone, etc.) based on NAICS Code 611430, size standard $7.0m.. Contact information shall include the name of the point of contact, email address, and telephone number should the Government have questions regarding individual responses.

2. A brief capabilities statement (not to exceed 5 pages) that includes a description of your company's standard line of business, as well as a list of customers your company has recently (within the last 3 years) provided these, or similar, services for. Include a point of contact information for the companies listed.

3. Contractors should provide their DUNS, if applicable.

Responses to this request must be submitted no later than 2:00 p.m. ET on July 6, 2009 and may be submitted electronically to to the attention of Angala Zoller.

What's funny about this? Responses must be submitted by July 6, but the solicitation was posted on July 9.

Your government at work.


Mandela Day 2009: Two Hands

Looking ahead to the first-ever Mandela Day in NYC on July 18th.