Archive for June, 2008

War is terrorism with a bigger budget.

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Earlier this year, after former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was tragically assassinated, pundits speculated that the shocking attack may have benefited Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) politically. Now, McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black, tells Fortune that the “unfortunate event” of Bhutto’s death “helped us.” Asked if another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would help McCain as well, Black told Fortune that it would be “a big advantage to him“:

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.” As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.

From ThinkProgress.org

We wanted to offer a fitting and fond farewell to one of our favorite comedians by posting a clip of his stand-up act here. We could find nothing that would not have offended a number of people – and that’s not really our aim. We even can’t post his appearance on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

So – if you really are an independent thinker and are not easily offended by language or concept, go to YouTube and watch any one of all of the videos featuring him.

Good-bye George – we really could still have used your voice.

BEN STEIN: I was just in a room with a whole bunch of speculators who are former Enron traders that are now trading natural gas and oil. And they’re laughing their heads off about how much they’re manipulating the price of oil. They couldn’t care less.

Keith Olbermann and the “Enron Loophole”

Washington, DC –  Hidden deep in Senator Christopher Dodd’s 630-page Senate housing legislation is a sweeping provision that affects the privacy and operation of nearly all of America’s small businesses. The provision, which was added by the bill’s managers without debate this week, would require the nation’s payment systems to track, aggregate, and report information on nearly every electronic transaction to the federal government.

Call Congress and Tell Them to Oppose The eBay Reporting Provision in the Housing Bill: 1-866-928-3035

FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey commented: “This is a provision with astonishing reach, and it was slipped into the bill just this week. Not only does it affect nearly every credit card transaction in America, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express, but the bill specifically targets payment systems like eBay’s PayPal, Amazon, and Google Checkout that are used by many small online businesses. The privacy implications for America’s small businesses are breathtaking.”

“Privacy groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology and small business organizations like the NFIB sharply criticized this idea when it first appeared earlier this year. What is the federal government’s purpose with this kind of detailed data? How will this database be secured, and who will have access? Many small proprietors use their Social Security number as their tax ID. How will their privacy be protected? What compliance costs will this impose on businesses? Why is Sen. Chris Dodd putting this provision in a housing bailout bill? The bill also includes the creation of a new national fingerprint registry for mortgage brokers.

“At a time when concerns about both identity theft and government spying are paramount, Congress wants to create a new honey pot of private data that includes Social Security numbers. This bill reduces privacy across America’s payment processing systems and treats every American small business or eBay power seller like a criminal on parole by requiring an unprecedented level of reporting to the federal government. This outrageous idea is another reason to delay the housing bailout legislation so that Senators and the public at large have time to examine its full implications.”

From the Senate Bill Summary:

Payment Card and Third Party Network Information Reporting. The proposal requires information reporting on payment card and third party network transactions. Payment settlement entities, including merchant acquiring banks and third party settlement organizations, or third party payment facilitators acting on their behalf, will be required to report the annual gross amount of reportable transactions to the IRS and to the participating payee. Reportable transactions include any payment card transaction and any third party network transaction. Participating payees include persons who accept a payment card as payment and third party networks who accept payment from a third party settlement organization in settlement of transactions. A payment card means any card issued pursuant to an agreement or arrangement which provides for standards and mechanisms for settling the transactions. Use of an account number or other indicia associated with a payment card will be treated in the same manner as a payment card. A de minimis exception for transactions of $10,000 or less and 200 transactions or less applies to payments by third party settlement organizations. The proposal applies to returns for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2010. Back-up withholding provisions apply to amounts paid after December 31, 2011. This proposal is estimated to raise $9.802 billion over ten years.

From FreedomWorks.org

Press Release: Massachusetts School Of Law

17/06/08 “ICH” — A conference to plan the prosecution of President Bush and other high administration officials for war crimes will be held September 13-14 at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

“This is not intended to be a mere discussion of violations of law that have occurred,” said convener Lawrence Velvel, dean and cofounder of the school. “It is, rather, intended to be a planning conference at which plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth.”

“We must try to hold Bush administration leaders accountable in courts of justice,” Velvel said. “And we must insist on appropriate punishments, including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top German and Japanese war-criminals in the 1940s.”

Velvel said past practice has been to allow U.S. officials responsible for war crimes in Viet Nam and elsewhere to enjoy immunity from prosecution upon leaving office. “President Johnson retired to his Texas ranch and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was named to head the World Bank; Richard Nixon retired to San Clemente and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was allowed to grow richer and richer,” Velvel said.

He noted in the years since the prosecution and punishment of German and Japanese leaders after World War Two those nation’s leaders changed their countries’ aggressor cultures. One cannot discount contributory cause and effect here, he said.

“For Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Yoo to spend years in jail or go to the gallows for their crimes would be a powerful lesson to future American leaders,” Velvel said.

The conference will take up such issues as the nature of domestic and international crimes committed; which high-level Bush officials, including Federal judges and Members of Congress, are chargeable with war crimes; which foreign and domestic tribunals can be used to prosecute them; and the setting up of an umbrella coordinating committee with representatives of legal groups concerned about the war crimes such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, among others.

The Massachusetts School of Law at Andover was established in 1988 to provide an affordable, quality legal education to minorities, immigrants and students from low-income households that might otherwise be denied the opportunity to obtain a legal education and practice law. Its founder, Dean Velvel, has been honored by the National Law Journal and cited in various publications for his contributions to the reform of legal education.


Further information – Jeff Demers at demers@msl.edu 978-681-0800; or Sherwood Ross, media consultant to MSL, at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com

It appears we’re not the only ones.

Thursday, June 19th 2008, 1:37 PM

WASHINGTON – Wherever the nation should be headed, this isn’t it.

The number of Americans who believe the country is moving in the wrong direction has risen sharply, to nearly eight in ten, amid soaring food and gas prices, falling home values and unending war. Just 17 percent say the country is going in the right direction, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.

The right-direction number is the lowest ever recorded by the survey, which began in 2003. When other surveys are taken into account, the general level of pessimism is the worst in almost 30 years.

And it’s getting worse. The 17 percent positive reading was down from 24 percent just since April.

Those who said the country was on the wrong track totaled 76 percent of the people contacted in the survey, which was taken from June 12-16. That’s up from 71 percent in April and 66 percent near the end of 2007.

Six in ten of those who chose wrong track blamed the struggling economy, with gasoline prices hovering above $4 a primary reason. “Poor leadership” accounted for 23 percent, while 20 percent said the war in Iraq.

Robert Ovitt, 57, of Derby, Vt., who describes himself as a political independent, was among those who selected “wrong track.”

“It scares me, the way things are going now,” said Ovitt, who is facing retirement in the next five years from his job as a correctional officer.

“Ten years ago, we had a Democratic president, Clinton,” and the worst that happened was his affairs, Ovitt said. Back then, gas prices, interest rates, unemployment and the federal budget deficit were low, he said. “Now that we have a Republican, everything is sky high. … I mean I don’t know how we’re going to survive.”

Shirley J. Bailey, 70, of Las Vegas, is already retired. The former Los Angeles dentist, who worked as a precinct captain for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, said, “People are struggling to live and educate their children.” Married with four children and 11 grandchildren, Bailey said, “Just look around us. In my entire lifetime, I never paid $4.23 for a gallon of gas. The foreclosures are among the highest here in Las Vegas.”

President Bush’s approval rating was 29 percent in the poll, near his all-time low of 28 percent in April, while 67 percent said they disapproved of the way he was handling his job.

Congress, under Democratic control since January 2007, drew even lower approval ratings: 23 percent approved, 72 percent disapproved, roughly the same levels as in the April survey.

Asked about their party affiliation, 37 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 23 percent said they were Republicans and 23 percent said independents. That breakdown underscores the importance of independents in the presidential contest as both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama court their support.

Software consultant April Dolan, 40, of Scottsdale, Ariz., is a Republican who believes the country is heading in the right direction. “I’m optimistic in general, and I do believe that the economic situation will probably get better in the next 12 to 18 months. I believe it’s going to turn around, it’s just going to take some time,” she said. “Not that everything I think is great. I mean, the oil prices are a nightmare.”

She said she has two sons, one already in college and the other due to enter next year. She said she supports Bush and “I don’t blame him for the state of the economy.”

Many others appear to, however.

Asked about Bush’s handling of the economy, 72 percent said they disapproved, 48 percent strongly so; 24 percent said they approved, 7 percent strongly.

The survey reinforces the notion that consumers are particularly gloomy — possibly more than economic statistics justify. Despite record energy costs, slumping stock prices and the housing and credit crunch, reports show the economy to be still growing, if slowly. Inflation and interest rates remain at relatively tame levels. And the unemployment rate is lower than it was during the past two recessions, in 1990 and 2001.

Still, “For the average American, everything’s going wrong. I think there’s a lot of reasons for households to be pessimistic. I think things have gotten tougher for most,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com.

The survey results also parallel the drop in a consumer confidence index to the lowest level since June 1980, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and consumers were being battered by a recession and soaring gasoline prices.

Among the findings of the AP-Ipsos survey:

—Men were more likely than women to think that the U.S. is headed in the right direction — 20 percent to 14 percent.

—Just one in 10 Americans with household incomes below $25,000 feel the country is headed the right way compared with 21 percent of those with household incomes of $50,000 to $75,000.

—One-quarter of Republicans (including those who said they were leaning Republican) believe the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 11 percent of Democrats (including those leaning Democratic).

—People with lower incomes were more likely to frame the economic situation as their own “cost of living,” while wealthier people listed the economy more abstractly — a sign that those hurting the most personalize the issue a bit more.

People in the AP-Ipsos survey were asked: “Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?” The survey entailed interviews with 1,000 adults, 785 of them registered voters. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for all respondents, 3.5 percent for registered voters.

From The New York Daily News

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former terrorist suspects detained by the United States were tortured, according to medical examinations detailed in a report released Wednesday by a human rights group.

The Massachusetts-based Physicians for Human Rights reached that conclusion after two-day clinical evaluations of 11 former detainees, who had been held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan.

The detainees were never charged with crimes.

“We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering,” said Dr. Allen Keller, a medical evaluator for the study.

In a 121-page report, the doctors’ group said that it uncovered medical evidence of torture, including beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sodomy and scores of other abuses.

The report is prefaced by retired U.S. Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003.

“There is no longer any doubt that the current administration committed war crimes,” Taguba says. “The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account.”

Over the years, reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib and allegations of torture at Guantanamo prompted the Bush administration to deny that the U.S. military tortures detainees.

Since only 11 detainees were examined “the findings of this assessment cannot be generalized to the treatment of all detainees in U.S. custody,” the report says.

However, the incidents documented are consistent with findings of other investigations into government treatment, “making it reasonable to conclude that these detainees were not the only ones abused, but are representative of a much larger number of detainees subjected to torture and ill treatment while in U.S. custody.”

Four of the men evaluated were arrested in or taken to Afghanistan between late 2001 and early 2003 and later were sent to Guantanamo Bay, where they were held for an average of three years before being released without charge, the report says. The other seven were detained in Iraq in 2003 and released within a year, the report says.

All the subjects told examiners that they were subjected to multiple forms of torture or ill treatment that “often occurred in combination over a long period of time,” the report says.

While the report presents synopses of the detainees’ backgrounds based on interviews with them, the authors did not have access to the detainees’ medical histories. Therefore, there’s no way to know whether any of the inmates may have had medical or mental problems before being detained.

Among the ex-detainees was an Iraqi in his mid-40s, identified only as Laith, whom U.S. soldiers took into custody in October 2003 and who was released from Abu Ghraib in June 2004. According to the report, Laith was subjected to sleep deprivation, electric shocks and threats of sexual abuse to himself and his family.

“They took off even my underwear. They asked me to do some movements that make me look in a very bad way so they can take photographs. … They were trying to make me look like an animal,” Laith told examiners, according to the report.

According to the report, Laith said the most “painful” experiences involved threats to his family: “And they asked me, ‘Have you ever heard voices of women in this prison?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’ They were saying, ‘Then you will hear your mothers and sisters when we are raping them.’ ”

The examiners concluded in the report that “Laith appears to have suffered severe and lasting physical and psychological injuries as a result of his arrest and incarceration at Abu Ghraib prison.”

Another detainee, Youssef, was detained by U.S. soldiers nearly seven years ago when he tried to enter Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan without a passport, the report says. He initially was held in an Afghan prison, where he describes “being stripped naked, being intimidated by dogs, being hooded and being thrown against the wall on repeated occasions,” the report says.

A few months later, he was taken to the Guantanamo Bay facility, where he was subjected to interrogators who would enter his cell and force him to lie on the floor with his hands tied behind his back to his feet, the report says.

Youssef said the interrogators wanted him to confess of involvement with the Taliban, the report says.

Based on its investigation, the report calls on the U.S. government to issue a formal apology to detainees subject to torture and ill treatment by the military since fall 2001 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The rights group also demands that the Bush administration:

• “Repudiate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”;

• Establish an independent commission to investigate and report publicly the circumstances of detention and interrogation at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay;

• Hold individuals involved in torturing detainees accountable through criminal and civil processes; and

• Monitor thoroughly the conditions at U.S.-run prisons all over the world.