Saturday, June 28, 2008

The clime's a changin

Intersing going's on up North - CBC news reports the following:

Mark Serreze, an ice scientist and the senior researcher for the National Snow and Ice Data Center notes that the early signs indicate that a total meltdown of ice this summer at the north pole is more likely than ever.

February and March information from NASA satellites have led NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally to predict slightly less than 50-50 chance that the north pole will go iceless this year.

Cecilia Bitz, ice scientist from the University of Washington puts the probability closer to 25%. Both Bitz and Serreze say it's now a foregone conclusion -- it's going to happen, far sooner than previously predicted.

All three of these estimates place the timing far in advance of present climate models which had predicted about a 1.5% chance of this event occurring between 2011 and 2020.

Satellite images reveal the ice circle surrounding the North pole to be far thinner than at any time in the last five years and last year set a record for ice melt across the entire arctic circle.

Get this: Change is happening now, much sooner than previously predicted. Another impact of global warming.

(update 30 June, 2008) One picture worth 1,000 words.

Every move you make - every step you take

BBC reports that Peter Barham, professor of physics at Bristol University has developed a
"Penguin Recognition System" which will be a relief to these creatures that formerly were tracked using a manual system of capturing, banding, and subsequently recapturing the penguins to read and record the banded ID codes. This labor-intensive manual system was prone to error and literally ruffled the feathers of some, perhaps many, of the captured ones. The new system is purported to be able to monitor the animals without harming them.

Adult African penguins have spotted chests and the patterns are thought by scientists to be unique. The new system replaces the grab and write methodology with the far more high tech approach of locating cameras on paths the penguins regularly pass when prancing to and fro from land to sea.

The camera software can recognize when penguins appear in the camera's field of vision and then compares the chest spots to determine if a specific creature has been previously photographed or is new to the data base. The computer then logs the location, date, time, and assigned penguin number.

Professor Barnham notes:

"The information we will get is going to be enormous, and there are questions we can answer that nobody has even thought of before."

But why stop just at penguins?

Dr Tilo Burghardt, from the Department of Computer Science at Bristol University, who has worked on the system, added: "We believe the new technology will enable biologists to identify and monitor large numbers of diverse species cheaply, quickly and automatically."

No one from the U.S. department of Justice was quoted in the BBC article, nor from Scotland Yard, but it is difficult to imagine that the technology will not someday (if not already) be used to monitor potential terrorists, tourists, taoists, teachers, tap-dancers, tile-layers, toothless tabbies and treacherous tainted toxic hippie throwbacks - unitarians and democrats too.

72 Filibusters in ten months - a record

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has been a long-time advocate of doing something about global warming. During Bill Moyers Journal of 27 June, 2008 she discusses how the republicans forced a reading of the entire bill into the congressional record. It took ten hours for the complete reading. The transcript picks up here:

BARBARA BOXER: Those poor clerks had to stay there over time reading the bill. It was a stall--

BILL MOYERS: Four hundred and ninety-two pages' worth?

BARBARA BOXER: --a stall tactic.

SEN. HARRY REID: We find ourselves confronting an orchestrate effort by the Republican leader to delay and obstruct. We've seen this play a record number of times before this body. In ten months we all know they broke the two year-filibuster record. We're now, I believe, at 72 filibusters.

72 filibusters in ten months. I had heard nothing of this before. So much for bi-partisan politics.

What the definition of "is" is

In a long ago distant past, a certain POTUS was questioned about having sexual relations with a young white house intern. He dodged the question, answering along the lines of, "it depends upon what your definition of is is."

The opposition party and its media propaganda wings (TV, print, radio) all went ballistic, citing the rule of law, and bringing up the necessity of impeachment hearings.

There are certain lawyerly ways of using words but not answering direct questions directly. Those who are practiced these ways, have well learned that never having to say you're sorry means never answering "yes" or "no". Somehow, they keep getting away with this. When the question is whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture, and those being questioned profess not to be able to answer yes or no, does it seem unfair to subject them to waterboarding until such time as they CAN answer the question yes or no?

John Yoo, the author of the Bush administration "torture memos" is one of these dissemblers. Robert Parry of Consortium News reports this exchange between Rep. John Coyners (D-MI) and Yoo during the June 26, 2008 hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution.

Conyers referred to a news report of a non-responsive non-answer Yoo gave when asked if the President could legally order the torture of the child of a terrorist suspect in order to get the suspect to talk. This scenario has played out on the Fox TV series 24. Parry writes the following:

The Judiciary Committee chairman asked: “Is there anything, Professor Yoo, the President cannot order to be done to a suspect if he believes it’s necessary for national defense?”

When Yoo dissembled, Conyers posed the question more pointedly: “Could the President order a suspect buried alive?”

Yoo continued to fence with the congressman, avoiding a direct answer.

“I don’t think I ever gave advice that the President could bury somebody alive,” Yoo said, adding he believed that “no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.”

Pointedly, however, Yoo avoided a direct response to the question of whether he believed the President had the authority to do it.

Democracy's easiest question

More from Senator Dodd's must read prepared remarks from the floor of the Senate, delivered 24 June, 2008:

When he came to the Senate before his confirmation, Michael Mukasey was asked a simple question, bluntly and plainly: “Is waterboarding constitutional?”

He replied: “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”

One would hope for a little more insight from someone so famously well-versed in national security law. But Mr. Mukasey pressed on with the obstinacy of a witness pleading the fifth: “If it’s torture….If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.”

And that is the best this noted jurist, this legal scholar, this longtime judge, a supposed expert on national security law had to offer on the defining moral issue of this presidency. Claims of ignorance. Word games.

Now-Attorney General Mukasey was asked the easiest question we have in a democracy: Can the president openly break the law? Can he—as we know he’s done already—order warrantless wiretapping, ignore the will of Congress, and then hide behind nebulous powers he claims to find in the Constitution?

His response: The president has “the authority to defend the country.”

And in one swoop, the Attorney General conceded to the president nearly unlimited power, just as long as he finds a lawyer willing to stuff his actions into the boundless rubric of “defending the country.” Unlimited power to defend the country, to protect us as one man sees fit, even if that means listening to our phone calls without a warrant, even if that means holding some of us indefinitely.

That is, Mr. President, contempt for the rule of law.

And so, this is very much about torture – about “enhanced interrogation methods” and waterboarding.

The administration defends waterboarding

More of Senator Dodd's prepared remarks from 24 June, 2008:

We have this Administration actually defending waterboarding, a technique invented by the Spanish Inquisition, perfected by the Khmer Rouge, and in between, banned—originally banned for excessive cruelty—by the Gestapo!

Still, some say, “waterboarding’s not torture.”

Oh really?

Listen to the words of Malcolm Nance, a 26-year expert in intelligence and counter-terrorism, a combat veteran, and former Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School. While training American soldiers to resist interrogation, he writes,

I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people….Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word….

It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result…and the obstinacy of the subject.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation…usually the person goes into hysterics on the board….When done right it is controlled death.

Controlled death, Mr. President.

And that is not torture?

Not according to President Bush’s White House. They have said waterboarding is legal, and that, if it chooses, America will waterboard again.

Holding the rule of law in contempt

From Senator Dodd's prepared remarks of 24 June, 2008 on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

I don’t think you can hold the rule of law in any greater contempt than sanctioning torture, Mr. President.

Because of decisions made at the highest levels of our government, America is making itself known to the world for torture, with stories like this one:

A prisoner at Guantanamo—to take one example out of hundreds— was deprived of sleep over fifty five days, a month and three weeks. Some nights, he was doused with water or blasted with air conditioning. And after week after week of this delirious, shivering wakefulness, on the verge of death from hypothermia, doctors strapped him to a chair—doctors, healers who took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”—pumped him full of three bags of medical saline, brought him back from death—and sent him back to his interrogators.

To the generation coming of age around the world in this decade, that is America. Not Normandy, not the Marshall Plan, not Nuremberg. But Guantanamo.

Think about it.

We have legal analysts so vaguely defining torture, so willfully blurring the lines during interrogations that we have CIA counterterrorism lawyers saying things like, “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

Friday, June 27, 2008

Constituencies with no political voice

Mike Davis, writing at Tom Dispatch, makes this this salient observation:

[G]lobal warming is above all a threat to the poor and the unborn, the "two constituencies with little or no political voice."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Quisling Cowards

A telecommunication companies-backed spy bill to protect the Bush administration from any and all criminal investigations into possible invasion of privacy violations of the U.S. Constitution passed a Senate test vote on Wednesday.

The issue has been framed by the mainstream media, the white house, republicans, and lily-livered democrats who have ceded ever more of their congressional consitutional authority to the executive branch for the lasts eight years, as one of national security, extant FISA laws empowered the executive branch to spy on U.S. citizens for reasons of "national security" even filing for permission from the FISA courts.

But with the capitulation of House and Senate democrats, the issue of investigating just who the white house spied on, the when, and the why is made moot.

Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Barak Obama, in an alarmingly familiar pattern of flip-flopping on promises to his constituent voting base, rebuked his recent opposition saying that "national security" trumps telecom immunity. Apparently this constitutional scholar does not see a potential problem.

Voting against the bill in the Senate were 14 Democrats and one independent:

Biden (D-DE)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Wyden (D-OR)

The words of Republican Senator Kit Bond are quite telling:

"We can tell those companies that answered their government's call for help in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks that a grateful nation stands behind them and that they will be given the civil liability protection they rightly deserve."

The teleco's would NOT need civil liability protection unless they KNOWINGLY broke the law. As this version of the law is written, it is enough for the teleco's to produce an "oly-oly-ox-in-free" statement to a judge saying that:

a) the President ordered us to spy
b) the President told us it was legal for us to spy
c) we were only following orders (no matter what our in-house attorneys may have suggested)

Ultimate passage of this law is will further solidify the Cheney administration affirmation of the "unitary executive theory" that the President IS the law (at least in times of war).

Given that the Global War on Terror has been pronounced to be a "long war" with no end in sight, the continuing war on drugs, one ramification of the "teleco immunity law" is that the President has lawful powers to disobey, break, and overturn "the law."

The following Senators were listed as "not voting"

Byrd (D - WV)
Clinton (D - NY)
Kennedy (D- MA)
Obama (D - IL)
McCain (R - AZ)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Friendly Fire" death in Iraq was Murder

Greg Mitch of Editor and Publisher, has authored the book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits --and the President -- Failed on Iraq, which includes several chapters on non-combat deaths in Iraq. He recently followed up on this tragic story, originally said by the army to involve two non-combat deaths, but which was later revealed to be a murder-suicide in which the victim had reported harrassment to superior officers.

[L]ast August I briefly described yet another case [of "non-combat" deaths in Iraq], involving a 20-year-old Texas woman named Kamisha Block, who apparently was much loved in her Vidor hometown. It was said to be death by “friendly fire,” which officially is fairly rare in Iraq, so I kept an eye on it for days, in case of an update.


Forget friendly fire. It turns out that Spc. Block was actually murdered, and the killer, another soldier, Staff Sgt. Brandon Norris, then turned the gun on himself.

And more: Her parents were misled at the start, and only after the mother noticed a suspicious head wound at the funeral (it turns out she was shot five times) and asked why, were they informed a few days later about the murder angle.


The [Beaumount] Enterprise in an editorial today charges: "There is no excuse for the U.S. Army's shabby treatment of Kamisha Block's parents and others who cared for her. Her commanders knew right away that she had been killed by a fellow soldier in Iraq, who had been harassing her. It was a standard murder-suicide. Incredibly, the Army first told her parents that it was an accidental death due to friendly fire."


Even after the family was informed about the murder – the two soldiers had some sort of “relationship” in the past -- no other details were released, and it took six months, and the help of a local congressman, for the family to finally get the 1200-page military report. It revealed that their daughter had been abused by the killer several times shortly before she died, and the Army seemingly did not do enough to protect her. The Blocks say that a military official told them that the chain of command should have taken the abuse more seriously and done more.

Now they are asking why it took so long for the truth to emerge, and why no one has been punished for the failure to save their daughter.

More on Russert

Pierre Tristam in an editorial published by the Daytona Beach News-Journal provides some more enlightening insights into Tim Russert's style of "journalism."

Respect for the man aside, there’s a matter of respecting journalism when assessing Russert’s place in the trade. That respect has been lacking in the almost universally fawning tributes to Russert and the craft he represented. Journalists and politicians from the president on down have formed yet another procession of praise and prostrations worthy of, say, Diana or Elvis. But Tim Russert?

That’s what journalism as we know it today is, primarily: an adjunct to the cult of celebrity, a shareholder in the business of image management to protect, foremost, the business of America. When the powerful pay tribute to Russert (”he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades,” were President Bush’s autopilot words) they’re paying tribute to themselves — to the establishment Russert represented, defended and, unfortunately for us, encrusted.


... Since the Age of Reagan, the perception of tough journalism has paralleled the perception of integrity in politics when, all along, politics and journalism have been complicit in legitimizing spin — interpretation ahead of fact. In more honest days, we’d call that propaganda. But that’s one of those “shrill” words not to be used in polite company, and Russert’s court was nothing if not a weekly oath to the appropriate.

The late Michael Kelly, a reporter and editor whose death in Iraq in 2003 was to my mind a greater blow to journalism than Russert’s, described this in a piece for The New York Times Magazine in 1993 (two years into Russert’s stint at “Meet”): “On the Sunday talk shows, the celebrity host and the celebrity reporter and the celebrity political strategist sit side by side, and the distinctions between them are not apparent to the naked eye. In effect, they are one, members of the faith, the stars of a culture they themselves have created. Indeed, they have acknowledged their oneness. They have given themselves a name, the Insiders, and a language. The language reveals, as all languages do, a great deal about how its speakers see themselves and the world. It is self-referential, self-important, self-mocking and very nearly (if subconsciously) self-loathing. It is deeply cynical. It portrays a society where to be knowing is to admit the fraud of one’s functions in the act of performing them.” At least, they have the loathing right.

[I've gotten the impression that McCain's overt cynicism of the political process endears him to reporters and has helped establish him, in their eyes, to be the "straight-talking maverick']

The truth is that on any night of the week Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” does more in a two-minute segment to show in politicians’ own words how venal, dishonest, contradictory and just plain dense they can be than Russert did in his Sunday services. Russert’s master was always the political structure he grilled, but never fundamentally questioned. You always knew whose side he was on: power, not truth — and, by power, I don’t mean his own, of which he had plenty, but the powerful men and occasional women he invited to his Versailles.

I mourn his death. But I wish I could mourn the death of the journalism he represented. To the detriment of journalism and malinformed citizens, that parody lives on.