An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology
Saturday, March 31, 2007
What is Google [or its management] thinking? A recent AP story points out that "Google Earth" maps used to show satellite images of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina now show pre-Katrina New Orleans. What's up with that? Does Google hope to curry favor with the Bush Administration for some reason? I write that as a joke, but now I wonder. What could Google possibly hope to accomplish with this?
The House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on investigations and oversight asked Google's CEO some pointed questions about this. I especially like the subcommittee's chairman's comment when he accused Google of "airbrushing history."
Down the memory hole
There exists some precedence for this sort of concealment of reality. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Panama the photographic services destroyed all the pictures of the devastation of Panama City and other parts of that Country, including the tent cities that sprang up in the wake of the U.S. military's destruction of poor people's homes. Without having to "store" loads of print photographs or negatives, those who, for whatever reason, wish to cover up the images of reality need a better excuse than whatever Google cooks up. Storage space for bits and bytes has never been cheaper.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Now Salon.com found a major bit of stealth regulation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency attempted to keep a draft of the proposed destruction of the Endangered Species Act secret but someone leaked a copy. Although regulations, in theory must have a public review (meaning they can't keep it a secret forever) an Agency can stage a press conference without releasing the proposal far enough in advance to allow for anyone to mobilize against the proposed changes until after the PR battle has already started. This is not democracy.
Here are some highlights from
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act:
The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.
In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."
Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."
Call or write your Representatives and Senators now. And the full article is worth reading. Salon makes you sit through an ad (sorry) in order to read the full text without a subscription.
Also, if anyone knows of any mainstream news outlet reporting on this please put that information in a comment on this post!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
"Military investigators found several witnesses who said they heard Colonel Michael Steele tell his troops to "kill all military-aged males" in the assault on a suspected insurgent base on an island in the Tigris River north of Baghdad.
Oh, and it gets worse. This lunatic managed to go so far into his delusional world that he allowed someone to film him giving the "pep talk" from which reporters have extracted this gem:
"Don't let them live to fight another day. They’re going to breed, multiply . . .,’You'll be eaten unless you act like the dominant one on the food chain...rely on your training to do what's right, do not hesitate...you’re the hunted … don't bring any of them back."
Does any of this ring a bell? In another war against a civilian population the U.S. military routinely searched for "military age males" in a given village and arrested all such men they found. If they were military age, the were supposed to enlist in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. If they did not, they were assumed to be the enemy. The Bush administration sent the U.S. military into the Iraqis country and now soldiers such as Girouard and Wuterich get to decide who lives or dies, based on assumptions fed to them by people like Col. Steele. A "military age" Iraqii is Not free to choose Not to join a military or police force? The Military spokespeople have played this one as a rouge officer acting as a bad influence over the men in his command. Also, statements about the U.S. soldiers suffering under stress and fatigue play into their defense.
Another gratuitous pop-culture reference:
How many remember the character of the helicopter gunner from the movie Full-Metal Jacket? He fired his machine gun at every Vietnamese they flew past. He said to the others: "If they run, it means they're VC. You know what we call the ones who don't run? Disciplined VC."
Which brings us back to Haditha. Military age males ran. Did that made them guilty of being undisciplined insurgents?
And the best part comes from a direct quote from one of the soldiers in the May 9, 2006 incident comparing what he did to a gang initiation: "That's what the army is, a big gang," said Private Corey Claget ..."
If these incidents constitute some inevitable effect of war, should President Bush have unleashed "a big gang" in the first place? Those of us who do not believe that war should ever start many can dismiss as naive or "moonbats" etc. But even those who believe that war is sometimes necessary usually also agree that one should not start the horror without a clear and present danger to the U.S. or its citizens. The right wing has reduced itself to screaming lies that only a handful of narrow-minded lunatics believes anymore. Sorry wing-nuts, but no one found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no one found evidence of collaboration by Iraq with Al-Queda or the Sept. 11th attacks. (Despite these facts, opinion polls of U.S. military personnel in Iraq have revealed that the majority of them believe that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had something to do with the Sept. 11th attacks). And while the Democrats dither around -- fearing that pulling the plug on the war will brand them as cowards allowing Republicans to win elections for the next 50 years by calling them defeat-crats -- the death and horror continues.
US officer "upset" Iraqi suspects taken alive, court hears
Mar 14 08:44 AM US/Eastern
The Training And Conviction Of Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard
Commander's Comments Draw Sharp Criticism: Colonel Will Not Testify In Soldier's Case
Reported By Demetria Kalodimos http://www.wsmv.com/news/11234564/detail.html
POSTED: 4:40 pm CDT March 12, 2007
UPDATED: 11:48 am CDT March 13, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
How many people even recognize the name "Michael Gallagher" now? I admit, I had to do some research to find his name because I too had forgotten. But when I read that Chiquita has to pay a $25 million fine for hiring terrorists (of the right as well as the left. Well, at least Chiquita has an equal opportunity policy when it comes to hiring homicidal maniacs) to protect its plantations in Colombia.
Almost 10 years ago two men (that I know of) Michael Gallagher of The Cincinnati Enquirer and George Ventura, a former lawyer for Chiquita, received criminal convictions for illegally obtaining Chiquita company voice-mail messages that confirmed the sGallagher's story about how Chiquita routinely did business with right-wing terrorists and oppressive governments to make sure that any workers on their plantations in Central America who attempted to form a union or go on strike died horribly. He could connect the dots between Chiquita and death.
How much "harm" does a $25 million fine do to a company like Chiquita? Sounds like a lot of money? Chiquita makes $25 million in less than 2 working days. And besides, judgements against a company count as "losses" on its balance sheet and consequently reduce its taxes. Unlike most of the rest of us when we have to pay a parking ticket, the corporation gets to pay out of "pre-tax" earnings. No one at Chiquita goes to jail or has criminal convictions on their records. Remember that the next time you read about a corporation paying a big fine.
And almost lost in the memory hole: The Cincinnati Enquirer apologized to Chiquita and paid it a $10 million settlement over the story by Michael Gallagher that turned out to be the truth.
UPDATE: I found a link to an old salon story that is still live: Rotten Banana, by Bruce Shapiro
Received referral fees and a percentage of revenue for recommending particular loans to student borrowers.
Steered students to "preferred" lenders that may not offer the best terms and conditions.
Solicited money or other benefits from lenders in exchange for inclusion on their preferred-lender lists.
Delayed the certification of loans from lenders not included on their lists.
But here's the good part, and it's worth quoting at length:
"But some lenders say the attorney general's efforts could hurt the borrowers who depend the most on the advice of their financial-aid offices: low-income and first-generation students. If those students feel they can't trust their colleges' counsel, they may make unwise borrowing decisions based on misleading marketing, the lenders say."
So let me see if I undertand this. Calling attention to corrupt practices can disuade students from trusting the financial aid officials, some of whom deliberately mislead them, thereby allowing the students to fall prey to some other sharks than the ones who paid good money (to the school) to be the sharks who get to lend the students money at usurous rates?!
* On a personal note, I co-signed a student loan for my nephew. The sharks charge 8.5% interest compounded daily with repayment "generously" deffered until he is no longer enrolled as a full-time student. A $10K loan (with a $900 lending fee added) will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 in 4 to 5 years. And people wonder why the middle class has started to buckle under the weight of enormous debt. What did you think would happen?
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I just finished watching the 60 minutes interview with Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the man principally responsible for the killing of 24 civilians in the city of Haditha on November 19, 2005. He said he would do it again. His defense relies on the assertion that he followed his training.
Sadly, the unmistakable similarity to Vietnam struck me most during the interview. In the statements by Vietnam veterans, in writing and in documentaries, you can read and hear that they "cleared hooches" by throwing grenades into them. These and other details one can read on books such as Bloods and in the compilation of The Winter Soldier affidavits. Wuterich, sadly, tells much the same story.
The killing of 5 men who were in a car near the IED explosion that killed one of the Marines I found especially distressing. Wuterich stated that "Iraqis know the drill, they know what they're supposed to do." They are supposed to lie flat on the ground and put their hands up. I remember a Vietnam veteran interviewed on the documentary about Vietnam done in the 1980s describing how he shot an old woman who ran at the sight of him. He realized in retrospect that she just panicked and ran in terror. He shot her without giving it a second thought at the time but during the interview he admitted (in tears) that she must have been "running from the big bad American" and nothing more. The Iraqi men Wuterich shot dead were unarmed. Maybe they just did not want to go to Abu Ghraib. Would you?
Wuterich found nothing wrong with "clearing" two houses by throwing grenades into them without warning and then shooting everyone inside. There's an old Doonesbury cartoon involving the "Uncle Duke" character who one night shoots Zeke Brenner. While explaining this to a police detective in the next day's cartoon Duke says, "I'm cautious by nature. I don't like to walk into a dark room until I've softened it up." Life imitates art?
How does the presence of U.S. troops in Haditha make Iraq safer?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
I have a podcast of an interview Al Franken did on Air America with Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent. Johnson "graduated" from the same training group as Valerie Plame. (7/21/05 Al Franken Show interview with Larry Johnson)
I have listened to this again and have a compilation of facts, all well established parts of the public record, that the mainstream news forgot to mention this week in the aftermath of Valerie Plame's appearance before Congress.
First, a quick re-cap:
Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece pointing out that he had determined, long before President Bush's 2003 State-of-the-Union address, that the evidence (the only evidence anyone has ever had) indicating that Saddam Hussein had re-started his nuclear weapons program, proved totally bogus. The letter in question has already had a thorough debunking*.
Shortly after the publication of the letter, right-wing columnist Robert Novak published an editorial which revealed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert operative for the CIA and made the assertion that she recommended her husband for the task of meeting with the President of Niger, therefore she sent her husband on a junket, and therefore his information was "tainted" by the nepotism and misconduct of his wife in having him sent to confirm the "intelligence" in question.
The list of what I have not seen reported in the Mainstream Media:
1.) The CIA, and NOT left wing bloggers or liberals, took the matter of the leak to the Justice Department. The CIA collectively "wigged out" over the leak and insisted on an investigation. This is not some "liberal" plot against the White House.
2.) The leak of her identity as a CIA agent could have killed Plame. She was a "non-official cover" agent, meaning there was no "visible" link to the CIA. NOC: Non-official cover. For this and other reasons, Larry Johnson characterizes the leak of her identity as an act of treason.
3.) The damage extends well beyond Plame herself. Johnson points out that Plame acted as if a private citizen. The leak of her identity compromised everyone she worked with. The smear campaign that the right wing has raged for the last 4 years characterizes her as a "desk jockey" in order to minimize what Plame's job actually was. She worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division (according to a Senate Intelligence committee report mentioned by Johnson in the interview) working to detect and identify people offering to sell uranium, chemical agents or biological precursors of weapons. "She worked directly to identify individuals who were involved with those transactions or were offering to help us [The CIA] put a mole inside those transactions." Important work, is it not? And all of it blown to hell by the leak of her identity. Enemies can "follow a trail of bread crumbs" to her assets and contacts and possibly kill people who were trying to help the CIA interdict ingredients for weapons of mass destruction.
4.) Bush reversed his initial assurances that he would fire anyone in his administration who had anything to do with outing a CIA agent. When the investigation started to reveal direct involvement by his underlings he revised his stand and "lowered the bar" by saying that only if someone were convicted of criminal acts in connection with the leak would he fire them.
Additional background and interesting bits
1st time since 1948 when CIA established that an agent was outed within the government.
The CIA did not let recruits in training tell each other their last names. Johnson did not know her last name while in the CIA. Another former CIA agent told him shortly after the leak "this is our Valerie."
Johnson is (was at the time of the interview anyway) a Registered Republican. He worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Kit Bond and was recommended to the CIA by Orin Hatch. Johnson voiced his disgust with their continuing smear of Plame and Wilson. "To watch Hatch and Bond participate in this smear is one of the most sickening, disgusting spectacles I've seen," he stated bluntly during the interview, "Right now, in The Republican Party there is no honor."
Gratuitous Pop-Culture reference:
I recall the speech that Al Pacino gave in the recent movie The Recruit: [Addressing a group of CIA trainees, and I paraphrase] : "We do not hope for recognition. We will never have a parade. The best you can hope for is after you risk your life and nearly get yourself killed, they may take you to a damp, dusty basement, feed you stale cookies and warm lemonade, and then show you your medal - you don't get to keep it, they show it to you. Then they put your medal back in the vault and you go back to work."
Larry Johnson explains that Plame did her job, as most members if the CIA do, without expectation of any recognition, commendation or public accolades. Then someone in the Bush Administration betrayed her. And all of us, too.
* On the web site of the Federation of Atomic Scientists you can see a number of interesting examples: A Congressional Record enumeration of 237 misleading statements by the Bush Administration, and you can read in the Report on the Commision on Intelligence Capabilities that the the letter that formed the basis of the claim that Saddam Hussein had re-started his nuclear weapons program was forged. The letter in question, supposedly from a government official from the African country Niger, looks incredibly bogus on its face. The person(s) responsible for it flunked forgery 101. The letter has a form of the name of the government agency from 10 years before the date. The letter is signed by a government official who has not been in office for over 10 years. This constituted the "evidence" that President Bush used to convince the nation to go to war. If right-wing nuts think there's any other evidence I'd like to know what it is. Such would contradict a National Security Council document, declassified in 2006, which indicated that the NSC told President Bush 10 days before the State-of-the-Union address in 2003 that no credible, believable evidence existed that indicated Saddam Hussein had any capability to produce weapons of mass destruction at that time.
one last bit: If anyone has an exact transcription of Al Pacino's speech above, please send it to me.
[Note: updated for clarity on March 24, 2007]
"... the NSL reporting requirements imposed by Congress were precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a "signing statement" as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act's renewal into law. Put another way, the law which the FBI has now been found to be violating is the very law which George Bush publicly declared he has the power to ignore."
I also wrote about signing statements and the slide toward dictatorship earlier. But that's not what this post is about. I found myself once again struck by the speed with which the right (or in some cases the left) will adopt the tactics they once denounced. In the theaters as I write this you can see a German film called (translated into English) The Lives of Others. The movie deals with the East German secret police in the days before the wall fell. The Lives of Others dramatizes the intrusiveness and the harm the East German Stazi did to ordinary people, all in the name of national security. Some people in the U.S. foolishly believe that the FBI can not do any harm if you're not guilty. But as Greenwald points out, the FBI has compiled records it has obtained into a database. This database contains at least 30,000 people's records to date.
The writer and journalist Eric Larsen wrote a book called "The Naked Consumer," in which he explains "Larsen's 4 Laws of Data Dynamics" with examples to verify and illustrate each one.
The First Law (also the "law of data coalescence"): Data must seek and merge with complementary data.
The Second Law: Data always will be used for purposes other than originally intended.
The Third Law: Data collected about individuals will be used to cause harm to one or more members of the group who provided the information or about whom it was collected, be it minor or major.
The Fourth Law: Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not.
From:Larson, Erik. The naked consumer : how our private lives become public commodities. 1st ed. (New York : H. Holt, 1992.), p.
Once your personal information enters a computer database of any kind, you will find it impossible to extricate it. And the process by which data "merges" with other data we have already seen in the seriously defective "no fly" list which has branded infants and U.S. Legislators as terrorist threats. The way your personal data can come to harm you is a book in and of itself. From unscrupulous individuals to identity thieves (no, we never had a person with a high security clearance go bad, have we?) just the unsanctioned mis-use looks scary enough. And what if we have another President such as Nixon who maliciously uses the agencies of government to attack his political opposition? As we recently discovered with Valerie Plame "Confidential information is confidential only until someone decides it's not."
Friday, March 09, 2007
What I love most about this lunacy is that Bush appointed a free-market economist and a former insurance industry executive to run the Veterans Hospitals. They immediately set about running the VA hospitals like an HMO, denying care and benefits, pinching pennies everywhere possible and reduced costs throughout the system. Voila! They ran the VA hospitals like a privately owned HMO.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a replay in what happened in the lead-up to the war with Iraq — the allegations of the weapons of mass destruction, the media leaping onto the bandwagon?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, in a way. But, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly twice. What I did warn about when I testified in front of Congress in 2002, I said if you want to worry about a state, it shouldn’t be Iraq, it should be Iran. But this government, our administration, wanted to worry about Iraq, not Iran.
I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”
The interview itself
This Modern World blog that provided the excerpt above
Think about this for a moment. If this memo truly exists it means that Bush, Rumsfeld and their band of merry neocons truly thought that they could Americanize 7 Islamic countries by force of arms (plus setting loose a hord of carpet baggers in the aftermath of Seven (?!), wars).
Maybe if enough people raise hell over the memo the mainstream media will have to pick-up on it? Maybe the memo does exist? Maybe a reality-based echo-chamber can force an investigation? Just a thought. I can dream, can't I?
Saturday, March 03, 2007
The interview in salon.com with Evan Kohlman, a man who works as a consultant for the DoD, Dept. of Justice, FBI and CIA gives a clear and rational picture of the insurgency in Iraq and how it happened. President Bush and his Administration look like complete idiots. Some highlights (comments in brackets [ ] are mine):
it was almost like Osama bin Laden was trying to vibe into George Bush the idea: "Invade Iraq, invade Iraq." This was an opportunity they seized with amazing alacrity. As brutal and terrifying as what they've done is, you have to acknowledge they capitalized on an opportunity that we handed them.
We [actually the Bushites] thought that if we get rid of Saddam Hussein, people would come together and celebrate and democracy would reign throughout the Middle East. The people who thought that up are people who think Iraq is like Texas. Iraq is not Texas. To Iraqis, tribal affiliations, religion and family mean a lot more than saying, "I'm from Iraq." You know we're doing a bad job of communicating our own message when we're losing the propaganda war to people who cut other people's heads off on camera. Think about it: People in one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East would rather trust al-Qaida than the United States. That's a terrible sign of things to come.
But if you want to know who is responsible for the fact that al-Qaida is succeeding in Iraq, it's Saudi Arabia. The most common nationality of foreign insurgents in Iraq has been Saudis. Where do you think all the money comes from to pay for these operations? It's from Saudi donors. I'm not blaming this necessarily on the Saudi government. But they have made some very provocative statements about the idea that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, they're going to actively aid Sunnis in their war against Shiites. If we're going to put pressure on Iraq's neighbors, let's put pressure on all of Iraq neighbors to stop contributing to the violence.
I thought perhaps, in invading Iraq, they had some long-term view that nobody else could see. But that hope faded very quickly. The Bush administration didn't reach out to anyone credible when they were asking about, for instance, the connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Anybody with any real knowledge of the region would have told them there are no connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The only people who believed that nonsense were lunatics.
If I was going to invade Iraq, the first thing I would do is commission the top history experts, top geographical experts, top cultural experts, and sit them down at a table and say, "This is what I'm thinking about doing. Is this feasible?" That was never done. Nobody in their right mind would have taken a look at Bush's plan and said, "Oh, yeah, that's going to work." It's not possible that it could work. Every historic precedent works directly against Bush's plan. I know it's easy to say, but the best solution is not to have invaded at all. [emphasis mine --2+2=4]
Thank about the significance of this: someone who actually knows something about the region and its people would want to consult a wide range of experts (real ones, not whack-jobs from a "think-tank") before trying anything.
The Bushites represent one of the very worst qualities about U.S. society *: a contempt, even hatred, for well-educated people who make an effort to know what they're talking about. The War is a kind of victory of the anti-intellectual blow-hard who "knows what's what" and doesn't need any "eggheads" to tell him anything. There exists an element within American society who vehemently hate education and educated people. But sad to say, it's the ones who despise expertise and study who have created better and more efficient organizations and demonstrate an ability to elect candidates. We can not accuse Bush's supporters of complete and total stupidity. They played hard, they played for keeps, and they won elections. Why can't more educated and knowledgeable people do that?
*No, I do not hate America. I direct my comments to certain individuals and certain groups within U.S. society, not the whole country.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
In Monroe County New York (where Rochester is) a county bureaucrat has decided that the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) does not go far enough. According to the American Libraries story "after local television station WHEC captured on camera library computer users viewing pornography within sight of other patrons" a county administrator names Maggie Brooks decided to withhold funding for the library until it ceased its policy of unblocking lawful content for legal adults on request. The story does not specify what the TV cameras caught or why one would consider it pornographic. And even if pornographic by most people's standards, the censorware programs (euphemistically called "filtering" in the industry) have blocked web sites of the Quakers, Greenpeace, and numerous other activist or non-mainstream web sites. (Nevermind they fail to block lots of nudity and vileness as well).
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed CIPA to stand with the proviso that a library would unblock lawful content for legal adults on request. Evidently this does not censor enough. As has happened in other cases in the 90s the library must "sanitize" the internet so that everyone can have the same Disney'fied experience.
If anyone in the Rochester area reads this and can shed some light on what's going on, please post a comment with additional info.