Monday, June 21, 2010

The red-light accounting district

Cartoon of the Week

Homeland Security Chief: OK to Moniter Internet

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at a security conference in Abu Dhabi, 06/01/10. (photo: Getty Images)

Napolitano: US must balance liberties, security

WASHINGTON — Fighting homegrown terrorism by monitoring Internet communications is a civil liberties trade-off the U.S. government must make to beef up national security, the nation's homeland security chief said Friday.

As terrorists increasingly recruit U.S. citizens, the government needs to constantly balance Americans' civil rights and privacy with the need to keep people safe, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

But finding that balance has become more complex as homegrown terrorists have used the Internet to reach out to extremists abroad for inspiration and training. Those contacts have spurred a recent rash of U.S.-based terror plots and incidents.

"The First Amendment protects radical opinions, but we need the legal tools to do things like monitor the recruitment of terrorists via the Internet," Napolitano told a gathering of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Napolitano's comments suggest an effort by the Obama administration to reach out to its more liberal, Democratic constituencies to assuage fears that terrorist worries will lead to the erosion of civil rights.

The administration has faced a number of civil liberties and privacy challenges in recent months as it has tried to increase airport security by adding full-body scanners, or track suspected terrorists traveling into the United States from other countries.

"Her speech is sign of the maturing of the administration on this issue," said Stewart Baker, former undersecretary for policy with the Department of Homeland Security. "They now appreciate the risks and the trade-offs much more clearly than when they first arrived, and to their credit, they've adjusted their preconceptions."

Help Ensure House & Senate Managers "Aren't in a Good Mood" About Shady Auto Deals

They Get Rich, We Get Ho-Hum Gadgets

Too Much

by David Prosser

Our economy would become the world's most innovative, our elites assured us, if we gave our rich enough incentives to innovate. We kept to our end of the bargain. So where's the innovation?

The pollsters at Gallup have never asked Americans to name the world's most technologically advanced nation. Neither, apparently, have any other pollsters. But we don't need a pollster to know how Americans would answer that question.

Most Americans, without a moment's hesitation, would almost certainly name the United States as the global techno tops. No other nation, after all, can lay claim to the iPhone or Microsoft or Google. We must be number one.

Only in our dreams. The latest stats show the United States lagging far behind on the high-tech benchmarks that matter most in our daily lives. On broadband speed, for instance, the United States ranks 15th globally in one international comparison, 29th in another.

Indeed, earlier this month, Bloomberg News noted that the federal government's current "national broadband plan," if successfully completed, would give most American homes a decade from now "the same connection speeds available today in Portugal and Japan." 

Singapore, news reports last week indicated, will have by 2013 a broadband infrastructure fast enough to let the nation's every home download a DVD in just a few seconds, at speeds hundreds of times faster than the current U.S. average.

Other nations are also jumping to the global high-tech forefront. Belgium leads the way in smart IDs, the Netherlands in health tech, South Korea in the "telematic" application of info technology to transportation.

The United States has become, in effect, a technological also-ran in one area after another. How could we not know that? What explains the breathtakingly wide gap between technological reality and how Americans perceive it?

Our gullibility may be the culprit. Our rich have spent the last 30 years promising us the best of all possible worlds — if in them we put our trust — and we put our faith in that promise.

We let our lawmakers lavish tax breaks and other incentives on rich people because we believed the rich when they told us these incentives would encourage badly needed investments in innovation.

We let corporate CEOs rake in unspeakable fortunes because we believed these execs when they told us they needed rewards bountiful enough to get their entrepreneurial juices flowing. 

In the end, our movers and shakers guaranteed, everyone would benefit from all these incentives and rewards. Investors and executives would become richer, and the rest of us would enjoy the privilege of life in a sublimely innovative economic powerhouse that delivers endless prosperity and great gadgets.

We average Americans, over the past three decades, have done our best to move this storyline along. And things have worked out fairly well — for investors and executives. They have most definitely prospered — and continue to prosper, even in troubled times.

The latest evidence: the just-released executive pay data from Silicon Valley. Eight execs from Northern California's high-tech heartland took home over $10 million last year. Silicon Valley's top 155 CEOs, the San Jose Mercury News reported last week, together pulled in $579 million.

Why Our Nobles Betray Us

As Robert the Bruce explains to Wallace in the movie, "They have much to lose." You see, those nobles profited from the status quo of that time. Wallace means to upend that status quo. It's naïve to think that they will help him because they love their country. Of course, they will work against him because they don't want to lose their status, power and riches. That status quo might suck for everyone else, but it's great for them.

And so it is with our nobles today. We keep expecting the politicians and the mainstream press to do the right thing. That is profoundly naive. Why is a television anchor making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year going to look to change the system? He loves the system. The system pays the bills.

That's even truer of our politicians. The status quo got them elected. The status quo will get them -- and their staffers -- great salaries when they retire and become lobbyists. They'd have to be crazy to change the system that put them up on top.

That's why change must come from outside the system. We keep waiting for the Obama administration to bring us the change they promised. What are we, children? The current system got Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner, etc. where they are. They have gotten to the pinnacle of power by playing within that system. They've made millions in that system. That's why they have no intention of actually upending it. They just want to tweak it and do exactly what Obama said he wouldn't do if he got elected -- play the Washington game just a little better.

This doesn't mean you give up all hope. There are some good guys in DC. I recently talked to a House staffer who said that Senator Franken's staff is excellent. The staff is so important because they are the ones who actually write the bills. I asked him why Franken's staff was better than the others. And he had a simple answer -- they don't plan to work as lobbyists in DC when they're done serving in his office.

Hundreds in Oakland protest Gaza blockade

Marshall Schwartz of Oakland waves an Israeli flag across... John Sebastian Russo / The Chronicle
Marshall Schwartz of Oakland waves an Israeli flag across the road from pro-Palestinian supporters protesting the Israeli Zim Shipping Line at the Port of Oakland on Sunday.

Hundreds of demonstrators, condemning Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, picketed at the Port of Oakland on Sunday and may have prevented an Israeli cargo ship from unloading for the day.

Two shifts of longshoremen agreed not to cross the picket line, leaving nobody to unload the vessel.

"Our objective was to boycott this ship for 24 hours, and we succeeded in doing that," said Richard Becker, with the ANSWER Coalition, one of the groups that organized the protest.

The demonstrators first gathered before dawn at Berth 58, where a ship from Israel's Zim shipping line was scheduled to dock Sunday, first in the morning then in the afternoon, protesters said. It eventually arrived around 6 p.m., Becker said, but by that time the dockworkers had agreed not to show up to unload the vessel.

Good Deal for Gaza

The contours of the response to the Gaza flotilla fiasco are now coming into sharper public view:  the Israeli government will significantly ease the blockade of Gaza in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident. As I've said many times on Twitter, this is a good deal. No investigation was ever going to produce anything of any particular value, but easing the blockade of Gaza could have significant positive effects for the people of Gaza, the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation, the peace process, and American credibility in the region. None of those will happen on their own, of course. And nobody is likely to be fully satisfied with the new measures. I've been quite critical of how the Obama team has handled the Israeli-Palestinian track, and particularly the Gaza situation -- and if they had moved strongly to resolve the Gaza blockade a year ago, the issue wouldn't have been there now to exploit. But now, I think they deserve some real credit for nudging Israel towards finally making a move which could over time open up some real new possibilities for progress.

I know a lot of people won't agree with me on this, but trading off the investigation for the blockade was the right move. It is difficult to imagine what value even a real, independent international investigation of the flotilla incident would possibly have. The incident itself was only a minor one in the longer, deeper story of the Gaza blockade -- a fiasco waiting to happen, not a bolt from the blue. An investigation narrowly focused on the flotilla and what happened during the Israeli boarding would be of only marginal value, while the process itself would be hopelessly politicized. The Israeli self-study seems designed to be self-discrediting. By appointing David Trimble, founder of a "Friends of Israel" group, as one of the two international observers, they have more or less guaranteed that the results will be pleasing to their sympathizers and totally discredited in the eyes of everyone else. So be it.

Gaza itself has always been the point for most people, not the flotilla itself. Israel's blockade of Gaza has long been widely recognized as a failure, harming the people of Gaza while strengthening Hamas and serving as a focal point for international anger. Hawks will complain that this is the wrong time to ease the blockade because it will allow Hamas to claim a victory, but that's a weak argument -- Israel, and the United States, have had many long months to ease the blockade on their own terms and have refused. Without a forcing incident, it was clear that nothing would change. But change was clearly needed.

Jerusalem revives plan to raze Palestinian homes

A Palestinian child walks near rubble in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Monday, June 21, 2010. Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, pressed ahead Monday with a contentious plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes, that were illegally built, to make room for a tourist center that Palestinians fear would tighten Israel's grip on the city's contested eastern sector. The contested site, called al-Bustan, is a section of the larger neighborhood of Silwan, which is home to some 50,000 Palestinians and 70 Jewish families. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

JERUSALEM — A Jerusalem planning body on Monday approved a plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem to make room for an Israeli tourist center, a decision that could raise tensions in the divided city and deepen the conflict with the Obama adminstration.

Back in March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressured Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to hold up the plan so authorities could consult with Palestinians who would lose their homes — a delay that appeared to be aimed at fending off criticism from the U.S.

"Now, after fine-tuning the plan and seeking more cooperation with the residents as far as their needs and improving the quality of their lives, the municipality is ready to submit the plans for the first stage of approval," said Barkat's spokesman, Stephan Miller, before the city's planning commission agreed to the plan.

Final approval, which would require an Interior Ministry green light, could take many more months.

17 big questions about the handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill
natural health
by Mike Adams
What's clear about the BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is that the independent journalists are doing a better job of asking the really tough questions than the mainstream media. Sure, CNN, Fox and others are bringing some attention to the matter, and they've done some solid reporting on it, but they haven't yet found a way to ask the deeper questions like why the U.S. government seems to be colluding with BP to cover up the truth about the spill.

Just the other day, I found an article entitled, "16 Burning Questions About The Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill" on the site ( It was a really insightful collection of important questions, so I've repeated them below. The author of these questions wasn't mentioned on the page, so I regret I cannot properly attribute the list, but I do think they're worth reviewing, so I've included my own commentary and an extra question below.

Here are the 16 questions:

#1) Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of more than 17,000 National Guard members along the Gulf coast to be used "as needed" by state governors. So what are all of these National Guard troops going to be doing exactly? Are the troops going to be used to stop the oil or to control the public?

Mike's comment: Good question. Much of the response activity to the spill seems to be about controlling the public's perception and limiting media access to the spill site rather than actually cleaning up the mess.

#2) Barack Obama has also announced the creation of a "Gulf recovery czar" who will be in charge of overseeing the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico region following the oil spill. So is appointing a "czar" Obama's idea of taking charge of a situation?

#3) Because it is so incredibly toxic, the UK's Marine Management Organization has completely banned Corexit 9500, so if there was a major oil spill in the UK's North Sea, BP would not be able to use it. So why is BP being allowed to use Corexit 9500 in the Gulf of Mexico?

Mike's answer: Because Corexit kills sea animals and makes them sink and disappear rather than allowing them to wash up on shore where the emotional outcry would be even worse than it is already.

#4) It is being reported that 2.61 parts per million of Corexit 9500 (mixed with oil at a ratio of 1:1o) is lethal to 50% of fish exposed to it within 96 hours. That means that 1 gallon of Corexit 9500/oil mixture is capable of rendering 383,141 gallons of water highly toxic to fish. So why was BP allowed to dump 1,021,000 gallons of Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527 into the Gulf of Mexico, and why aren't they being stopped from dumping another 805,000 gallons of these dispersants that they have on order into the Gulf?

The BP Oil Spill Re-Enacted by Cats in 1 Minute