Saturday, June 10, 2006


Gathering Highlights Power of the Blog

June 10, 2006
Gathering Highlights Power of the Blog

LAS VEGAS, June 9 — If any more proof were needed of the rising influence of bloggers — at least for the Democratic Party — it could be found here on Friday on the Las Vegas Strip, where the old and new worlds of American politics engaged in a slightly awkward if mostly entertaining clash of a meeting.

There were the bloggers — nearly a thousand of them, many of them familiar names by now — emerging from the shadows of their computers for a three-day blur of workshops, panels and speeches about politics, the power of the Internet and the shortcomings of the Washington media. And right behind them was a parade of prospective Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders, their presence a tribute to just how much the often rowdy voices of the Web have been absorbed into the very political process they frequently disdain, much to the amazement, and perhaps discomfort, of some of the bloggers themselves.

"I see you guys as agents of advocacy — that's why I'm here," said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat and a prospective 2008 presidential candidate, who flew here at the last minute to attend the YearlyKos 2006 Convention. Bloggers, Mr. Richardson said later, "are a major voice in American politics."

They may think of themselves as rebels, separate from mainstream politics and media. But by the end of a day on which the convention halls were shoulder to shoulder with bloggers, Democratic operatives, candidates and Washington reporters, it seemed that bloggers were well on the way to becoming — dare we say it? — part of the American political establishment. Indeed, the convention, the first of what organizers said would become an annual event, seems on the way to becoming as much a part of the Democratic political circuit as the Iowa State Fair.

"It's 2006, and I think we have arrived," Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the Daily Kos and the man for whom the conference was named, announced after being greeted with the kind of reception Elvis, or at least Wayne Newton to a more traditional Las Vegas audience, might have received had he walked into the dowdy ballroom at the Riviera Hotel and Casino. (Mr. Moulitsas was accompanied by a media adviser and bloggers snapped his picture whenever they spotted him.)

"Both parties have failed us," Mr. Moulitsas said. "Republicans have failed us because they can't govern. Democrats have failed because they can't get elected. So now it's our turn."

The ceremony and self-celebration notwithstanding, the actual extent of the blogging community's power is still unclear. For one thing, it was hard to find a single Republican in the crowd here, though organizers insisted that a few had registered. For another, as the presidential campaign of Howard Dean demonstrated in 2004, the excitement and energy of the Web does not necessarily translate into winning at the polls.

"I do believe that each day, they have more impact," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, who will deliver the keynote speech to the group on Saturday night. "Now how far that will go, I don't think we know that yet."

But, Mr. Reid added: "One of the reasons I so admire them is they have the ability to spread the truth like no entities I've dealt with in recent years. We could never have won the battle to stop privatization of Social Security without them."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, widely viewed as a leading candidate for her party's presidential nomination, declined an invitation to attend. Her spokeswoman, Lorraine Voles, said Mrs. Clinton had obligations in New York this weekend. Mrs. Clinton is highly unpopular with this crowd, in no small part because she supported going to war in Iraq.

"Oh my God, no way!" Mr. Moulitsas said when asked whether Mrs. Clinton was popular here.

Still, there was no shortage of Democratic luminaries on display. Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia and a likely candidate for president in 2008, invited everyone on hand to a reception at the Stratosphere Hotel Casino on Friday. He and Mr. Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, are scheduled to speak on Saturday.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who ran for president in 2004 and said he might run again in 2008, was spotted on Thursday night looking somewhat out of place as he roamed the halls in a pin-striped suit before heading to the Hard Rock Cafe to hold his own reception for bloggers. ("I just flew in from Washington from a business meeting," he explained, promising that the suit was old and tattered.)

Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, another potential 2008 Democratic candidate, was on the way to participate in a forum on education.

And for whatever disdain that could be picked up toward mainstream politicians and news media, it seems fair to say that the bloggers and the people who love them were fascinated by their favorite targets. Jennifer Palmieri, a deputy White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, held a "pundit project training," where she told bloggers how to present themselves in television interviews — what to wear, how to sit and what to say.

And a well-known columnist from a major metropolitan newspaper — this one — was repeatedly stopped by bloggers requesting that she pose for photos with them, as they expressed admiration for her work. (That would be Maureen Dowd.)

As became clear from the rather large and diverse crowd here, the blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters. Blogging is nowhere near the force among Republicans as it is among Democrats, and talk radio is a much more effective tool for Republicans.

"We don't spend a lot of time in cars, but we do spend a lot of time on the Internet," said Jerome Armstrong, a blogging pioneer and a senior adviser to Mr. Warner, who has been the most aggressive among the prospective 2008 candidates in courting this community.

Their political opinions were, not surprisingly, hard to mistake. With little doubt, the most unpopular Democrat around was probably Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, scorned for his frequent support of President Bush's policies. Mr. Lieberman is facing a primary challenge from Ned Lamont, a cable television executive, that should offer a pretty good test of the political impact of this world. Lamont T-shirts and buttons were in abundance.

"Lieberman is going to lose this one," Mr. Moulitsas said.

This unlikely location for a bloggers' convention was chosen not because this crowd has any particular affinity for gambling, organizers said, but because rooms were cheap ($99). The floors were filled with people, laptops perched on their legs, typing away.

Mr. Richardson's visit was interesting in that he decided to come so late that his name did not appear on any programs; a hand-lettered sign announced a breakfast with him on Friday morning. Still, Mr. Richardson arched an eyebrow when asked whether he had suddenly decided to fly in after learning that many of his prospective rivals for 2008 were here and that Mr. Warner, in particular, was giving a major address on Saturday.

"Warner?" Mr. Richardson responded with a hint of a smile. "Is he here?"


Fallen star blames self, GOP tactics

Jail term served in N.H. phone plot

WASHINGTON -- For nearly a decade, Allen Raymond stood at the top ranks of Republican Party power.

He served as chief of staff to a cochairman of the Republican National Committee, supervised Republican contests in mid-Atlantic states for the RNC, and was a top official in publisher Steve Forbes's presidential campaign. He went on to earn $350,000 a year running a Republican policy group as well as a GOP phone-bank business.

But most recently, Raymond has been in prison. And for that, he blames himself, but also says he was part of a Republican political culture that emphasizes hardball tactics and polarizing voters.

Raymond, 39, has just finished serving a three-month sentence for jamming Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire during the 2002 US Senate race. The incident led to one of the biggest political scandals in the state's history, the convictions of Raymond and two top Republican officials, and a Democratic lawsuit that seeks to determine whether the White House played any role. The race was won by Senator John E. Sununu , the Republican.

In his first interview about the case, Raymond said he doesn't know anything that would suggest the White House was involved in the plan to tie up Democrats' phone lines and thereby block their get-out-the-vote effort. But he said the scheme reflects a broader culture in the Republican Party that is focused on dividing voters to win primaries and general elections. He said examples range from some recent efforts to use border-security concerns to foster anger toward immigrants to his own role arranging phone calls designed to polarize primary voters over abortion in a 2002 New Jersey Senate race.

``A lot of people look at politics and see it as the guy who wins is the guy who unifies the most people," he said. ``I would disagree. I would say the candidate who wins is the candidate who polarizes the right bloc of voters. You always want to polarize somebody."

Raymond stressed that he was making no excuses for his role in the New Hampshire case; he pleaded guilty and told the judge he had done a ``bad thing." But he said he got caught up in an ultra-aggressive atmosphere in which he initially thought the decision to jam the phones ``pushed the envelope" but was legal. He also said he had been reluctant to turn down a prominent official of the RNC, fearing that would cost him future opportunities from an organization that was becoming increasingly ruthless.

``Republicans have treated campaigns and politics as a business, and now are treating public policy as a business, looking for the types of returns that you get in business, passing legislation that has huge ramifications for business," he said. ``It is very much being monetized, and the federal government is being monetized under Republican majorities."

Raymond, raised in a liberal Democratic family, became intrigued with the Republican Party during his four years in the early 1980s at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

After running a successful US House campaign in 1994, Raymond was picked by then-GOP chairman Haley Barbour to become one of the party's eight regional political directors, overseeing the mid-Atlantic states. He was then hired as chief of staff to a subsequent cochairman of the Republican National Committee, Patricia Harrison. That was followed by his job as deputy political director of Forbes's 2000 presidential campaign. After Forbes lost, Raymond became executive director of the Republican Leadership Council. Around that time, he set up GOP Marketplace, which served as a middleman for telemarketing services sought by Republican campaigns.

The firm was funded with a $246,000 loan from a group of elite Republicans. One of the investors was Raymond's former boss, Barbour, who said at the time he was ``convinced that GOP Marketplace will not only be a profitable business, but will also give Republicans an edge in the 2000 election." Another investor was lobbyist Ed Rogers , who had served as executive assistant to former White House chief of staff John H. Sununu during the administration of George H.W. Bush.

The firm landed contracts worth nearly $2 million during the first two years, typically involving calls to determine where voters stood on issues and candidates. But it became involved in more aggressive tactics that drew the attention of federal prosecutors. The first sign of the questionable tactics was on Super Bowl Sunday in 2002. Raymond's firm had been hired by the campaign of James Treffinger, a New Jersey Republican. Raymond's company was asked to arrange phone calls that attacked one of Treffinger's opponents on abortion without revealing that Treffinger was paying for the calls and to make those calls during the Super Bowl. ``It was shenanigans," Raymond said. ``You put the call in at 6 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday," which was designed to irk voters who didn't want to be called away from the television. After complaints were raised, prosecutors interviewed Raymond about the matter, but he was not charged.

Ten months later, Raymond received what he called a ``highly unusual" request to jam Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire.

The idea originated with Charles McGee , who was executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, according to court records. McGee, who had served as a helicopter crew chief in the Marine Corps, testified that he learned in the military that ``if you can't communicate, you can't plan and organize," so Democrats would be hampered in their efforts to get voters to the polls if their phones were constantly busy.

But McGee didn't know who could pull it off. ``I had tried two vendors and they both had said no," he testified. So he asked for advice from James Tobin, the Northeast director of the Republican National Committee, who was in New Hampshire to help with Sununu's race against the incumbent Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen .

Tobin suggested hiring Raymond. Tobin had worked with Raymond at the RNC and was Raymond's boss during the Forbes campaign. Raymond said in the interview that Tobin initially called him, asking whether such a plan was feasible. ``Anything can be done," Raymond said he responded. Shortly thereafter, McGee called to set up the plan. The New Hampshire Republican Party paid $15,600 to GOP Marketplace, which in turn sent $2,500 to an Idaho company that agreed to place the computerized calls that would jam Democratic lines. GOP Marketplace pocketed $13,100 as profit.

Raymond said he presumed, based on his experience at the RNC, that Tobin had cleared the matter with the committee's legal advisers. [An RNC attorney, Robert Kelner, said Tobin did not consult committee lawyers ``in connection with any phone-jamming scheme."] Nonetheless, Raymond felt uneasy enough to seek advice from a private lawyer. He said he was told, ``I don't necessarily recommend it, but I don't see anything illegal."

By 7:30 a.m. on Election Day, the phones at five Democratic offices in New Hampshire, along with a firefighters' association office that was offering voters rides to the polls , were being jammed by a relentless series of calls that were terminated as soon as they were answered. But, according to court testimony, while the jamming campaign was underway, McGee received a complaint from a GOP official and decided to pull the plug, sending Raymond an e-mail that said: ``New Hampshire GOP. Urgent, urgent, urgent. Please halt all calls for NH project as soon as possible."

Federal law prohibits making interstate calls ``without disclosing the caller's identity and with the intent to annoy . . . or harass any person at the called number."

McGee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months. Tobin was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months. The RNC has spent nearly $3 million on legal expenses for Tobin. Democrats say in their civil suit that Tobin placed 115 calls to the White House between Sept. 17 and Nov. 22, 2002, suggesting that some Bush administration officials may have been told of the phone-jamming plan. Ken Mehlman, the former White House political director whose office received the calls, has said the calls were not related to phone-jamming.

Senator Sununu, who was elected by about 19,000 votes, said via e-mail that he never knew about the plot until it was reported in the media. Sununu called the phone-jamming scheme ``illegal, wrong, and just plain stupid -- and those responsible are and must be held accountable." Sununu also said he did not know that one of the investors in GOP Marketplace was his father's former executive assistant, Rogers. Raymond, too, said Sununu and the investors did not know about the phone-jamming. Barbour, now the governor of Mississippi, denied knowledge of the scheme, and Rogers declined comment.

The case could go deeper. Justice Department officials say they are still investigating leads, and the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a civil suit requesting documents and asking to interview former White House officials who had talked with participants in the phone-jamming plan before it was carried out.

Raymond, who has switched to real estate investment, said the case cost him $500,000 in lost business and money spent on legal fees. ``Things come up where you need to push the envelope," he said of the New Hampshire case. ``The question is whether you step over the bright line. I took steps to make sure I didn't, but unfortunately that wasn't good enough and I paid a steep price."


Associate Publisher: Public interest in news topics beyond control of mainstream media


The blogosphere has been abuzz. But in the days since Rolling Stone magazine published a long piece that accused Republicans of widespread and intentional cheating that affected the outcome of the last presidential election, the silence in America's establishment media has been deafening.

In terms of bad news judgment, this could turn out to be the 2006 equivalent of the infamous "Downing Street memo," the London Times story that was initially greeted by the U.S. media with a collective yawn.

Robert Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone mega-essay is titled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" It focuses on widespread voting irregularities, questionable tallies and disenfranchising practices, particularly in Ohio, which President Bush won by more than 100,000 votes.

Singling out Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell for much of the blame, Kennedy writes persuasively that enough was awry in that state alone to raise serious questions as to whether Bush really defeated John Kerry in 2004. Blackwell, now a Republican candidate for governor, headed Bush's state re-election campaign at the same time he was constitutionally in charge of the state's voting machinery.

While Kennedy's article perhaps gives far too much weight to suspicious discrepancies between exit polls and the final election outcome, it meticulously asserts and documents questionable methods of purging voter rolls, intentionally created long lines at Democratic polling places, court-defying practices regarding registrations and provisional ballots, a phony terrorist alert on Election Day and final tallies in some counties and precincts that, to Kennedy's way of seeing it, simply don't make sense. Already, it notes, three Cleveland-area election officials have been indicted for illegally rigging the recount.

Kennedy's 11,000-word article was Rolling Stone's cover story, published on Thursday of last week.

But if you were looking in the five or six days afterward for follow-up stories, investigations or even a mention in the P-I, its cross-town competitor or just about any other major U.S. newspaper, you were almost certainly disappointed.

To his credit, CNN's Wolf Blitzer aired a brief and not-very-illuminating interview with Kennedy late the next day after the Rolling Stone issue hit the newsstands. There was a brief mention on the Lou Dobbs report later that same evening and MSNBC got around to mentioning the article's assertions several days later.

But for the most part, national and regional newspapers, the major networks and news services have behaved as if the article was never published, that it broke no new ground and there was nothing of interest or significance in it.

Understandably, some readers are asking why. One Whidbey Island resident e-mailed the news editors of the P-I and The Seattle Times simultaneously, asking "Which one of you has the honesty and guts to investigate and report about the charges that Robert Kennedy Jr. has written about in regards to stolen 2004 presidential election?

"That someone could claim that our American electoral process was criminally thwarted should be BIG news."

P-I News Editor Gil Aegerter answered courteously, telling the reader he would pass his concerns along to our political coverage team. "In the meantime," Aegerter wrote, "I'll direct you to online coverage that the P-I has been doing on this issue, about the original Rolling Stone report and about reaction to it."

Despite the critical tone in his note to Aegerter and his Times counterpart, our reader, and others who have similarly complained, are right.

Aegerter and other P-I editors who have taken time to respond to complaining readers are to be commended. While there is no pretense here that it is adequate, I'm also proud that, having seen no wire-service accounts, political team Assigning Editor Chris Grygiel was smart enough to write and start a blog about it on our Web site.

It is news. It certainly deserves mention, at the very least in stories about the story, reaction to it or even ones debunking it. Any of those choices would be better judgment than simply ignoring it.

Those of us in what bloggers and Internet journalists derisively call "mainstream media" should have learned that lesson last year, when Internet-fueled curiosity about the "Downing Street memo" made us pay attention to a story we were too quick to dismiss as old news. Badly undervaluing the significance and the public's interest in the new disclosures, we thought former Bush administration officials, including ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and White House counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke, had told us a year earlier that the administration had a predisposition for war with Iraq long before the attack, and long before diplomatic pressures had been exhausted. On hindsight, some of us realize now we should have recognized the newsworthiness of the secret memo and the 2002 meeting it chronicled, even if the report only provided corroboration of something we'd already heard.

The P-I's editorial pages noted the secret British memo in columns before news of it was finally published on the news pages of ours and most other U.S. newspapers. But even so, that was nearly two weeks after Times of London's initial report.

The parallels to the Kennedy article are hard to escape.

Like most newspapers our size, the P-I relies on news services for most of its national and international news. Managing Editor David McCumber did what good editors at regional and midsized newspapers often do. He called The Associated Press and asked if a report would be forthcoming. He got back the predictable and disappointing response that the news cooperative's Washington and national editors had looked at Kennedy's report and determined there was "nothing new."

It is true that there have been reports about voting problems in Ohio since election night. But Kennedy's article is not just old news rehashed. Its 11,000 words, not counting the 208 footnotes, most of which contain Web addresses for links to source information, are certainly overreaching at times. For those with mistrust or partisan fervor against Bush, Kennedy's reporting will sound like evidence of fraud and election tampering that rivals the shenanigans of the worst Third World dictators.

For those who read it with a more balanced view, there is plenty to fuel outrage about imperfections and potential for manipulation of the electoral system.

It's too early to tell whether it will become big news in the same delayed manner the British intelligence memo did. But the titans of the news industry still have things to learn about how news becomes news in the present-day media landscape. Editors will always have responsibility for filtering, and helping readers understand the importance and credibility of news reports.

But nowadays, the American discourse is rightfully in hands other than ours.

Friday, June 09, 2006


A new low -- the Senate seeks to "pardon" the President for past lawbreaking

by Glenn Greenwald

Observing and commenting on the behavior of Arlen Specter is one of the most unpleasant obligations a person can have, but for anyone following the NSA eavesdropping scandal specifically, and the Bush administration's abuses of executive power generally, it is a necessary evil. The principal reason that the Bush administration has been able to impose its radical theories of lawbreaking on the country is because Congress, with an unseemly eagerness, has permitted itself to be humiliated over and over by an administration which does not hide its contempt for the notion that Congress has any role to play in limiting and checking the executive branch. And few people have more vividly illustrated that institutional debasement than Arlen Specter, who, along with Pat Roberts, has done more than anyone else to ensure that Congress completely relinquishes its constitutional powers to the President.

Congressional abdication is so uniquely damaging because the Founders assumed that Congress would naturally and instinctively resist encroachments by the executive, and the resulting institutional tension -- the inevitable struggle for power between the branches -- is what would preserve governmental balance and prevent true abuses of power. But for the last five years, Congress has done the opposite of what the Founders envisioned. They have meekly submitted to the almost total elimination of their role in our Government and have quietly accepted consolidation of their powers in the President.

If the Congress is unmoved by their constitutional responsibilities, then at least basic human dignity ought to compel them to object to the administration's contempt for the laws they pass. After all, the laws which the administration claims it can ignore and has been breaking are their laws. The Senate passed FISA by a vote of 95-1, and the McCain torture ban by a vote of 90-9, and it is those laws which the President is proclaiming he will simply ignore. And yet not only have they not objected, they have endorsed and even celebrated the President's claimed power to ignore the laws passed by Congress. And that failure, more than anything else, is what has brought us to the real constitutional crisis we face as a result of having a President who claims the power to operate outside of, and above, the law.

A bill proposed yesterday by Arlen Specter to resolve the NSA scandal -- literally his fifth or sixth proposed bill on this subject in the last few months -- would drag the Congress to a new low of debasement. According to The Washington Post, Specter has introduced a bill "that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency." This proposal is the very opposite of everything Specter has saying for the last several months:

Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

A law which makes it "an option" -- rather than a requirement -- for the Government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping is about as meaningless of a law as can be imagined.

But that complete change of heart by Specter is not even nearly the most corrupt part of his proposed bill. For pure corruption and constitutional abdication, nothing could match this:

Another part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law.

The idea that the President's allies in Congress would enact legislation which expressly shields government officials, including the President, from criminal liability for past lawbreaking is so reprehensible that it is difficult to describe. To my knowledge, none of the other proposed bills -- including those from the most loyal Bush followers in the Senate -- contained this protective provision. And without knowing anywhere near as much as I would need to know in order to form a definitive opinion, the legality of this provision seems questionable at best. It's really the equivalent of a pardon, a power which the Constitutional preserves for the President. Can Congress act as a court and simply exonerate citizens from criminal conduct?

The sole provision of this rancid bill which seems to have any value or purpose is this one: one which "would consolidate the 29 cases that have been filed in various federal district courts challenging the legality of the NSA program and give jurisdiction over them to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which was established by FISA. Any decision of that court would be subject to Supreme Court review and otherwise would be binding on all other courts." While a judicial ruling on the legality of the administration's conduct would be nice and all, it is a somewhat empty gesture if those who broke the law are first immunized from liability for their misconduct.

What makes this proposed amnesty so particularly indefensible is that Specter himself has spent the last two months loudly complaining about the fact that he -- along with the rest of the country -- has been denied any information about how this illegal, secret eavesdropping has been conducted. Has that power been abused? Has it been exercised for political, rather than national security, reasons? Before one even considers shielding those responsible for this lawbreaking from liability, wouldn't one have to at least know the answer to those questions?

Excess attention on Specter's role in all of this should be avoided. As easy -- and as justifiable -- as it is to express contempt for Specter's inevitable, craven submission to the dictates of the Bush administration, it is also indisputably true that no Senator other than Russ Feingold has done more than Specter to keep the issues of the president's lawbreaking in the news and to prevent a quick sweeping under the rug by the administration of this scandal. Specter's constant complaints have at least kept reporters talking about these issues. If one wants to really attack Specter, one should first answer this question -- where are all the great, heroic Senate Democrats who are standing up to the administration on these issues in a way that Specter isn't? They don't exist. While Specter does nothing more than make some noise, at least he has been doing that.

And while Specter always falls obediently into line with the administration in the end, most Senators, of both parties, begin from that position, particularly with regard to matters of national security and executive power. Specter is the most vivid illustration of Congressional debasement, but he is hardly the only example. Anyone with doubts about that should go and review how the Democrats reacted to Sen. Feingold's introduction of an extremely mild resolution to simply censure the President for breaking the law.

Specter receives substantial criticism because of the flamboyant way in which he engages in what can only be described as sado-masochistic rituals with the administration. He pretends to exercise independence only to get beaten into extreme submission, and then returns eagerly for more. It is as unpleasant to watch as it is damaging to our country. But Specter's unique psychological dramas should not obscure the fact that it is the entire Congress which has failed in its responsibilities to take a stand against this President's lawbreaking and abuses, and there is plenty of blame to go around in both parties. The reason the President has been allowed to exert precisely the type of unrestrained power which the Founders sought, first and foremost, to avoid, is because the Congress has allowed him to.

The Post article suggests that the Specter bill is likely to attract the support of the President's loyalists in the Senate such as John Kyl, as well as the administration itself. Will any Democrats other than Russ Feingold object to the effort by the Senate to shield the President and his administration from liability for past lawbreaking? Will the media discuss in any meaningful way the rather extraordinary development of the Senate literally placing the President above the law by declaring that he cannot be punished for his patently illegal acts against Americans? We are at the point we're at because the Congress and the media have been so eager to allow the President free reign to do what he wants. This new Specter bill drags the country to a still new level of lawlessness. We will soon see if there are any limits to the willingness of Congress and the media to tolerate and endorse transparent attacks on our system of government.


Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites

"I AM continually shocked and appalled at the details people voluntarily post online about themselves." So says Jon Callas, chief security officer at PGP, a Silicon Valley-based maker of encryption software. He is far from alone in noticing that fast-growing social networking websites such as MySpace and Friendster are a snoop's dream.

New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology - specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the web standards organisation W3C - to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

Americans are still reeling from last month's revelations that the NSA has been logging phone calls since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The Congressional Research Service, which advises the US legislature, says phone companies that surrendered call records may have acted illegally. However, the White House insists that the terrorist threat makes existing wire-tapping legislation out of date and is urging Congress not to investigate the NSA's action.

Meanwhile, the NSA is pursuing its plans to tap the web, since phone logs have limited scope. They can only be used to build a very basic picture of someone's contact network, a process sometimes called "connecting the dots". Clusters of people in highly connected groups become apparent, as do people with few connections who appear to be the intermediaries between such groups. The idea is to see by how many links or "degrees" separate people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation.

By adding online social networking data to its phone analyses, the NSA could connect people at deeper levels, through shared activities, such as taking flying lessons. Typically, online social networking sites ask members to enter details of their immediate and extended circles of friends, whose blogs they might follow. People often list other facets of their personality including political, sexual, entertainment, media and sporting preferences too. Some go much further, and a few have lost their jobs by publicly describing drinking and drug-taking exploits. Young people have even been barred from the orthodox religious colleges that they are enrolled in for revealing online that they are gay.

"You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your resumé. People don't realise you get Googled just to get a job interview these days," says Callas.

Other data the NSA could combine with social networking details includes information on purchases, where we go (available from cellphone records, which cite the base station a call came from) and what major financial transactions we make, such as buying a house.

Right now this is difficult to do because today's web is stuffed with data in incompatible formats. Enter the semantic web, which aims to iron out these incompatibilities over the next few years via a common data structure called the Resource Description Framework (RDF). W3C hopes that one day every website will use RDF to give each type of data a unique, predefined, unambiguous tag.

"RDF turns the web into a kind of universal spreadsheet that is readable by computers as well as people," says David de Roure at the University of Southampton in the UK, who is an adviser to W3C. "It means that you will be able to ask a website questions you couldn't ask before, or perform calculations on the data it contains." In a health record, for instance, a heart attack will have the same semantic tag as its more technical description, a myocardial infarction. Previously, they would have looked like separate medical conditions. Each piece of numerical data, such as the rate of inflation or the number of people killed on the roads, will also get a tag.

The advantages for scientists, for instance, could be huge: they will have unprecedented access to each other's experimental datasets and will be able to perform their own analyses on them. Searching for products such as holidays will become easier as price and availability dates will have smart tags, allowing powerful searches across hundreds of sites.

On the downside, this ease of use will also make prying into people's lives a breeze. No plan to mine social networks via the semantic web has been announced by the NSA, but its interest in the technology is evident in a funding footnote to a research paper delivered at the W3C's WWW2006 conference in Edinburgh, UK, in late May.

That paper, entitled Semantic Analytics on Social Networks, by a research team led by Amit Sheth of the University of Georgia in Athens and Anupam Joshi of the University of Maryland in Baltimore reveals how data from online social networks and other databases can be combined to uncover facts about people. The footnote said the work was part-funded by an organisation called ARDA.

What is ARDA? It stands for Advanced Research Development Activity. According to a report entitled Data Mining and Homeland Security, published by the Congressional Research Service in January, ARDA's role is to spend NSA money on research that can "solve some of the most critical problems facing the US intelligence community". Chief among ARDA's aims is to make sense of the massive amounts of data the NSA collects - some of its sources grow by around 4 million gigabytes a month.

The ever-growing online social networks are part of the flood of internet information that could be mined: some of the top sites like MySpace now have more than 80 million members (see Graph).

The research ARDA funded was designed to see if the semantic web could be easily used to connect people. The research team chose to address a subject close to their academic hearts: detecting conflicts of interest in scientific peer review. Friends cannot peer review each other's research papers, nor can people who have previously co-authored work together.

So the team developed software that combined data from the RDF tags of online social network Friend of a Friend (, where people simply outline who is in their circle of friends, and a semantically tagged commercial bibliographic database called DBLP, which lists the authors of computer science papers.

Joshi says their system found conflicts between potential reviewers and authors pitching papers for an internet conference. "It certainly made relationship finding between people much easier," Joshi says. "It picked up softer [non-obvious] conflicts we would not have seen before."

The technology will work in exactly the same way for intelligence and national security agencies and for financial dealings, such as detecting insider trading, the authors say. Linking "who knows who" with purchasing or bank records could highlight groups of terrorists, money launderers or blacklisted groups, says Sheth.

The NSA recently changed ARDA's name to the Disruptive Technology Office. The DTO's interest in online social network analysis echoes the Pentagon's controversial post 9/11 Total Information Awareness (TIA) initiative. That programme, designed to collect, track and analyse online data trails, was suspended after a public furore over privacy in 2002. But elements of the TIA were incorporated into the Pentagon's classified programme in the September 2003 Defense Appropriations Act.

Privacy groups worry that "automated intelligence profiling" could sully people's reputations or even lead to miscarriages of justice - especially since the data from social networking sites may often be inaccurate, untrue or incomplete, De Roure warns.

But Tim Finin, a colleague of Joshi's, thinks the spread of such technology is unstoppable. "Information is getting easier to merge, fuse and draw inferences from. There is money to be made and control to be gained in doing so. And I don't see much that will stop it," he says.

Callas thinks people have to wise up to how much information about themselves they should divulge on public websites. It may sound obvious, he says, but being discreet is a big part of maintaining privacy. Time, perhaps, to hit the delete button.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The Department of Precrime and The Thought Police.

While the media spends the next few days breathlessly heralding the story of Goldstein's Zarqawi's latest death. I am sure Rumsfeld, Bush and others will be quick to overstate the importance of this latest development, especially when it comes to justifying the next round of supplemental appropriations for this "central front" on the War On Terror.

Instead of being distracted by this, I think it's important to consider recent reports from the most important "central front" of this global war -- the home front. I'm specifically talking about a recent case where secret evidence was used to charge people with crimes the jury didn't think they committed, yet they were still convicted and sentenced to terms the judge felt were unjustified.

You read that right. The department of pre-crime is handing out warrants to the thought police, and they're forcing courts to hand out life sentences.

Most people, haven't followed the "Virginia Jihad" case, sometimes referred to as "the paintball gang" case. You probably think it was about a group of American Muslims who were training for terrorist activities against the United States. A less compelling tale emerges if you look at the actual convictions. To begin with, no one was charged with anything representing a threat to the United States. That didn't keep some of them from getting sentenced to life in prison without parole.

None of the convictions handed down were for planning an act of terrorism. Prosecutors presented no evidence that any of the 11 convicted men had planned U.S. attacks. At best they were convicted for being pro-terrorist. That may seem like a fine point to some, but I will let a supporter of this trial and its verdict demonstrate the real threat this represents -- to all of us right here in the USA:

"We're arresting people for talking about things, thinking about things, training for things," said Andrew McBride, a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria. "I think you will see more of it as the government moves from a traditional criminal law model of post-event reaction to pre-event interdiction.

When you consider this in the context of the NSA's data mining program, it is clear we are looking at a department of pre-crime dedicated to convicting suspects of thought crimes. As one anonymous source told the Washington Post:

"They were walking around the national capital area with training in small arms, infantry tactics, any number of skills that could be used to mount a strike," the official said. "It has to be unacceptable to wait until there is a threat of actual direct violence to take action."

On the face of it, that sounds ominous. No one suggests waiting until the Mall is littered with bodies, but the key point that gets glossed over here is the doctrine of pre-emption has come home to roost. They are not going to even wait until there is a threat. That is a far cry from what happened in Canada recently. Those guys tried to buy three tons of ammonium nitrate. The magnitude of this shift becomes obvious when you consider the description of these guys used to justify their prosecution describes virtually anyone who has ever had military training, or hunting experience.

It is true six guys plead guilty to conspiracy charges. Some would point to that as clear evidence that they were terrorists. Others might point to that as evidence that they didn't want to roll the dice in the Rocket Docket or risk being reclassified as enemy combatants with no rights at all. That's a problem when secret evidence is used to make decisions about people who are convicted because they were considered potential threats. Consider the most recent conviction:

Ali Asad Chandia, was convicted on three counts of providing material support to Lashkar [a Pakistani group fighting India over Kashmir] or conspiring to do so and acquitted on a fourth. He faces up to 45 years in prison. Prosecutors said Chandia trained at a Lashkar camp in Pakistan and worked with others to help the group acquire equipment with possible military applications.

A juror, Robert Stosch, said yesterday that most panel members did not believe Chandia attended the camp but convicted him primarily because he had helped another defendant ship 50,000 paintballs for use by Lashkar.

But Stosch added that he thought the case "shouldn't have been brought at all. It was very insignificant." And he said the whole investigation was "way too minor, regardless of whether they convicted 11 people."

I am all for going after terrorists and criminals. However, something is terribly wrong when the jury convicting you doesn't believe you did the crime you are being charged with committing. The problem I have is that new mandatory sentencing guidelines put the prosecutors in the drivers seat by effectively removing judicial prerogatives. Here's what the judge reportedly said about this case when she reduced the sentences:

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said at the time she imposed those sentences that they were "draconian" and "sticking in my craw" but that she had no choice because of congressionally mandated minimum sentences for certain firearms convictions.

At Friday's hearings, Brinkema repeated her assertion that the sentences were draconian, but said she had limited ability to alter them. That's because the Supreme Court ruling affects only the federal sentencing guidelines and not the mandatory minimums imposed by Congress that drove the lengthy terms imposed on Khan and Chapman.

As a result, Khan's sentence was reduced only to life plus 45 years. Chapman, 32, had his sentence reduced from 85 years to 65 years. There is no parole in the federal system, so both will have to serve the vast majority of their terms.

"I have a limited ability to impose what I consider to be an appropriate sentence," Brinkema said. "These statutes are really draconian. I've said it before and I'll say it again."

What does it mean when the judge who convicted two of the men on weapons charges also acknowledged they both have a strong argument on appeal for getting the firearm counts overturned? If you think that means these guys get treated like Fastow, Skilling, and Lay, who get to stay out of jail until their appeals are exhausted - think again.

For those who want to paint this as a limp-wristed terrorist sympathizer who is in bed with the anti-American commies at the ACLU, consider this: If the government can put people in jail for life for exercising their second amendment rights based on what they were thinking... what makes you think they can't put you in jail for exercising any other right based on what they believe you are thinking?


FBI confidential informant also said to be provocateur

Jennifer Van Bergen

According to activists from Des Moines, Philadelphia, Miami, Sacramento, and other locations, a young woman named "Anna" allegedly infiltrated peace and justice rallies and anarchist meetings, and even attempted to join protests against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) ahead of the DNC's national convention last year as a paid FBI confidential "informant." Activists say that she has tried to provoke conflict at various advocacy events and violent incidents with police to get people arrested. In other words, Anna is not just an informant, she may be a provocateur.

Although she is known among activist groups as either Anna Davies or Anna Davidson, others know her as Grai Damiani. She focuses her efforts largely on "anarchist" groups.

The McDavid Case

In January 2006, Eric McDavid, Lauren Weiner, and Zachary Jenson were arrested in California and charged with knowingly conspiring to use fire or explosives to damage property. Their arrest was the direct result of work by Anna, who was "deeply embedded within the subjects' cell," according to FBI documents.

The FBI affidavit in support of the complaint against the three defendants states that they planned on their own to engage in "direct action" – which the FBI agent equated with criminal activity – apparently without Anna's input or guidance. The direct action involved bombing one or several locations in California.

However, McDavid's attorney, Mark Reichel, states that Anna was always pushing McDavid to do something criminal, taught the three how to make the bombs, supervised their activities, and repeatedly threatened to leave them if they didn't start doing "something."

McDavid allegedly wanted to target banks, commercial trucks, mountaintop removal projects in West Virginia, Communist party office, and the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Forest Genetics in California, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit, which was written by FBI Special Agent Nasson Walker, shows that the agency has identified the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) as "a recognized eco-terrorist group," which Walker states has been involved in over $100 million dollars worth of damage since 1997. Walker further notes that: "Environmental extremists under the ELF banner have been known to use arson and/or explosives to damage or destroy or attempt to damage or destroy government, commercial, and residential facilities." Walker also states that "ELF adherents share a strong philosophical connection to the anarchist movement," which he notes "seeks to end the current system of government, economy and replace them with systems characterized by a lack of authoritarian/hierarchical relationships." Walker states that all three of the defendants are anarchists.

The FBI claims that Anna has "provided information that has been utilized in at least twelve separate anarchist cases" and that her "information has proved accurate and reliable."

But just who is Anna and what makes her reliable?

Organization of American States (OAS) Protests

In June of last year, according to witnesses, Anna showed up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for an anti-OAS protest which drew approximately 1200 people. Wearing a shirt with a red cross on it and carrying a bag with the same logo, she appeared on the day the protests began and identified herself as a "medic" from California.

One protester who had become ill during the event was treated by Anna. "She was pushy," said Barbara Collins, a retired Miami resident who says Anna gave her Gatorade with water and then left. "She gave me that drink that made me sick, but later on she didn't seem that interested in treating me. She wanted to get back to the others." Collins was subsequently hospitalized for heat stroke.

Linda Belgrave, a sociology professor at University of Miami, who assisted Collins that day, had to go find Anna again when Barbara got worse. According to Belgrave, Anna told her she was "busy." Belgrave did not see Anna attending to any other person in need of medical attention. She was simply "hanging out" with the "kids."

Indeed, Anna was busy, according to other protesters at the OAS rally.

During the march to the rally where Collins fell ill, one Miami resident, who asked that her name not be used, heard people talking about doing a sit-in. Since the coalition had decided against sit-ins and had negotiated carefully with the police about routes and activities, she warned people individually not to participate in the sit-in. Most did not, but Ray Del Papa from Ft. Lauderdale subsequently saw Anna directing young people to sit down on the street directly in front of a line of police in riot gear. In describing what he saw, Del Papa motions with his arms to show how Anna instructed individuals to sit here and there. Del Papa felt that it was a "set-up," a "trap, similar to what the police did during the protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) in Miami in 2003."

The fences penned the protesters in completely except where the riot police were, which was exactly where Anna instructed the young people to do their sit-in, according to Del Papa.

"She knew they could get their heads bashed in," notes Mark Reichel, based on conversations with the activists. "If you saw their faces as well, you would understand that these people were not lying."

Under the Attorney General's Guidelines, the FBI and prosecutors are required to keep secret the identity of a confidential informant. However, Anna was seemingly "outed" last year by activists who recognized what they saw as disruptive and provocative tactics and posted pictures of her on the internet.

The allegations were later confirmed by Reichel, who identified the unnamed FBI confidential source cited in the January 2006 complaint affidavit for the McDavid case as Anna.

Reichel also viewed hundreds of hours of surveillance tapes of Anna and McDavid and his cohorts. He notes that Anna's forte is identifying "radical" young men and women and "getting them" to fall in love with her.

The FBI will not discuss Anna's status or the specifics of her training or operations but denies that informants are trained to provoke. In response to RAW STORY's queries about Anna, FBI media representative Karen Ernst said that "Sources are admonished not to provoke criminal activity,"

"Sources operated by the FBI are closely monitored and the information received from them is corroborated through other investigative techniques."

Additionally, Ernst explains that the FBI corroborates information obtained from an informant "before charges are brought" against an individual. "Charges are brought when the totality of the evidence is sufficient for either a criminal complaint or indictment. Information from a source would never be the only evidence used to bring charges; other evidence would include recordings, surveillance video, results of witness testimony, etc.," adds Ernst.

Despite being outed, Anna continues to infiltrate groups and presently is living in a collective home with some young people in Iowa, according to Reichel.

Criminal Activity Plus Salary

According to the "Attorney General's Guidelines Regarding the Use of Confidential Informants" (AG Guidelines), a "Confidential Informant" or "CI" is "any individual who provides useful and credible information to [the FBI] regarding felonious criminal activities, and from whom the [FBI] expects or intends to obtain additional useful and credible information regarding such activities in the future."

The FBI conducts a "suitability determination" for each informant, which includes consideration of the candidate's age, affiliations, motivations, reliability, truthfulness, and criminal and drug history.

Every informant receives and must acknowledge her understanding of a written set of instructions, which are reviewed by an agent with the CI. The CI is not allowed to engage in criminal activity without authorization. A CI who is authorized to engage in "Tier 1 Otherwise Illegal Activity" – which includes involvement with violent activities by other persons, corrupt conduct by officials, and trafficking of controlled substances – becomes a "High Level Confidential Informant."

Given Anna's involvement in the McDavid case, where she was involved in allegedly planning violent activities, she became a High Level CI.

According to Ernst, all sources are operated in accordance with the Attorney General's Guidelines. Sources are required to meet on a regular basis with an agent who provides them guidance and instructions.

Yet in a scathing report released by the Department of Justice in September of last year, DOJ inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, found "that FBI agents violated procedures in 87 percent of the cases, including some in which informants allegedly engaged in illegal activity without proper oversight or permission."

As for Anna, she receives about $37,500 a year, plus expenses, for her work. In the McDavid case, for example, in addition to her salary, the FBI paid for Anna to rent a house in California, paid for helicopter surveillance at her behest, and ostensibly also paid for the audio and video surveillance rigged in the rental house.

Are there other Annas?

Although the FBI states that it does not target lawful activity or activity protected by the First Amendment, in Florida alone, groups advocating against the invasion of Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, the OAS, and the FTAA have all been infiltrated, according to participants -- who cannot prove that the suspicious persons were infiltrators or informants. But documents released last year show that a counter-recruitment meeting at the Quaker House in Lake Worth, Florida was infiltrated by the Department of Defense. And the revelations about Anna, who participated in at least two of the major protests in Florida, further confirm activists' fears.

While officials have claimed that anarchists advocate violence, Fred Frost, President of the Florida AFL-CIO, stated in 2004 at public hearings after the FTAA demonstrations that anarchists "may look different from you and me, but they are some of the nicest, most peaceful people I've ever met, helping everyone – I have a great deal of respect for them."

None of the above-mentioned peace and justice groups advocates violence; all advocate using peaceful and lawful means of expression.


Father of beheaded man blames Bush, not Zarqawi

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Michael Berg, whose son Nick was beheaded in Iraq in 2004, said on Thursday he felt no sense of relief at the killing of the al Qaeda leader in Iraq and blamed President Bush for his son's death.

Asked what would give him satisfaction, Berg, an anti-war activist and candidate for U.S. Congress, said, "The end of the war and getting rid of George Bush."

The United States said its aircraft killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the insurgent leader who masterminded the death of hundreds in suicide bombings and was blamed for the videotaped beheading of Nick Berg, a U.S. contractor, and other captives.

"I don't think that Zarqawi is himself responsible for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq," Berg said in a combative television interview with the U.S. Fox News network. "I think George Bush is.

"George Bush is the one that invaded this country, George Bush is the one that destabilized it so that Zarqawi could get in, so that Zarqawi had a need to get in, to defend his region of the country from American invaders."

Berg said Bush was to blame for the torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"Yeah, like George Bush didn't OK the torture and death and rape of people in the Abu Ghraib prison for which my son was killed in retaliation?" he told his Fox interviewers.

In a telephone interview with Reuters from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, the father said: "I have no sense of relief, just sadness that another human being had to die."

Berg, who is running as a Green Party candidate, has repeatedly blamed Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his 26-year-old son's death.

Nick Berg's videotaped beheading by hooded captors was posted on the Internet, and the father said he could understand what Zarqawi's family was going through.

"I have learned to forgive a long time ago, and I regret mostly that that will bring about another wave of revenge from his cohorts from al Qaeda," he told Fox.

Zarqawi's organization took responsibility for the execution of Nick Berg in May 2004. The video was published with a caption saying: "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughtering an American."

When an Islamist Web site showed the video of a man severing Berg's head, the CIA said Zarqawi was probably the one wielding the knife. The father said he was not convinced.

"I have been lied to by my own government," he told Reuters on Thursday.


Craigslist is being blocked by Cox Interactive - is this a net neutrality issue?

By Tom Foremski for Silicon Valley Watcher
Is this what the loss of net neutrality will bring?

An SVW reader left this tip:

I use Cox cable internet, Cox's media empire printed classifieds is one of their big revenue drivers. Guess what? If you try to access Craigslist over Cox Cable internet... its nearly impossible! It appears that they throttle access to craigslist - as a matter of fact there have been a zillion complaints but hey, who can blame Cox? They're trying to stop the opening cap in their money dam! Maybe you should investigate this tip further. Cheers

I did investigate further, I walked out of my apartment and across Alamo Square and popped in on Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist. Jim was just getting back from work and I spoke with Susan Best, publicist for Craigslist. Susan said they have known about the problem with Cox.

Jim soon arrived and said the problem of access had been going on since late February. It had something to do with the security software that Cox isusing from a company called Authentium.

Cox has been collaborating with Authentium since April 2005 to develop the security software suite.

Back on February 23rd Authentium acknowledged that their software is blocking Craigslist but it still hasn't fixed the problem, more than three months later. That's a heck of long time to delete some text from their blacklist. And this company also supplies security software to other large ISPs.

Craigslist has approached Authentium several times to get it to stop blocking access by Cox internet users but it has been unresponsive. Jim wasn't aware that Cox had its own classified ads service. "That changes things, " he said.

This situation does not look good in the context of the net neutrality debate. This is exactly the kind of scenario that many people are concerned about, that the cable companies and the telcos will make it difficult for their internet users to access competing services.

Here are Craigslists' system reports: If you scroll down you can see the Cox problem, and there are quite a few problems with others too: email with SBC, and also with Yahoo and BT Internet. Are those problems also related to the telcos using software that discriminates against Craigslist?

Some more related links:
From Newspapers and Technology: Cox papers adding interactive features to classifieds Sept 2005

Take a look at this story about Cox refusing to run AP video. Is it fighting for open standards are is it fighting off a competitor with a poor revenue split?
From Mark Glaser's MediaShift: Cox Newspapers Says No to AP Video

Are the telcos funding an online campaign against net neutrality? Take a look at this recent post from Mark Glaser's MediaShift: Bloggers Must Be Vigilant Against Astroturf Comments

Here is the Cox Communications site, it's called Safe is Beautiful(!)

Here is a video sent to me by writer/director Stefano Boscutti:


The Progressive Answer to Illegal Immigration: DEVELOP MEXICO - Update: Begin w/90 "micro-regions"!

The NW Progressive Institute has the real answer to illegal immigration, now at 3 million per year: develop the Mexican economy and educational system. Not only would this keep Mexican workers at home, it eventually creates new markets for our exports. The important beginning is to let them produce their own food and other items profitably and let wages rise down south as the economy and infrastructure develops.

American exports of corn have tripled, while real prices of corn in Mexico have fallen 70% since 1994! This has affected 15 million Mexican farm families.

The advantages to this approach are numerous, beginning with the avoidance of silly spending on low-wage soldiers running around in the desert trying to catch an evil tide of Jack-in-the-Box counter clerks. If the same dollars were spent on schools, it would give the carpenters among those counter clerks work on that side of the border. Second, and more importantly, it would generate human capital there. And both sooner and later it would generate well-being, a truly indigenous economy, and even real demand for US goods.

Sustainable Development of Mexico is the REAL ANSWER that Progressives should repeat endlessly until the November election. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than building a 1,000 mile fence and spending all that salary and gasoline driving around trying to catch 3 million people a year sneaking over the border.

Non-answers to the immigration problem begin with those of Charles Krauthammer, which include erecting a wall along the entire border and in one motion legalizing those inside the country and slamming a miracle door that keeps everybody else out. This goofiness follows directly after Krauthammer lampoons Bush for thinking he can close the border with a military style action. And of course, there is no shortage of liberal straw men in Krauthammer's analysis.

In fact, liberals like Thom Hartmann have made the case that illegal immigration is a favor to Corporate America because it depresses the price of labor by increasing its supply. He and others have correctly pointed out that if employers of illegals were jailed for hiring them, the flow would be stanched quicker than any size electric fence could accomplish. (Notably, Krauthammer fails to mention this central alternative to the Berlin Wall of the South.)

But the real answer, the economic answer is to provide development support for the populations where they currently reside: Basic investment in roads, utilities and education, not subsidies to factories on the edge of town, whose only mission is to exploit cheap labor before it has to cross the border.


Lock them out! Deport them! It is an immigration problem!

In fact, it is an economic problem, a trade problem. To a very real extent, people flood into the US because the economies of their native countries have been decimated by a trade regime instituted by the US. The agriculture that has been the backbones of many of their economies and provided the framework for their societies has been wiped out by cheap American imports.

The point is often made that menials can earn four times the wage here in the United States that they can in Mexico. First, Four times nothing is still not a living wage. Second, People only need self-determination and a chance for survival, not big bucks, and it is these minimum conditions that are becoming scarce.

Since the 1970s the economies of the developed and newly industrial countries have increased steadily, if in some cases not spectacularly. Economies of underdeveloped countries have contracted by one-third. It is not material extravagance these folks are rushing into when they come across the border, it is want they are fleeing. All for the benefit of the industrial farm that has already wiped out the family farm here at home.

Please recommend so we can start up the Echo Chamber on this way to frame the solution. Even Lou Dobbs never mentions this! Let's start with an e-mail campaign to Dobbbs and all the Cable news that this is the REAL ANSWER.

The development must be progressive and sustainable. Regenerate the ability of the land to grow, cut off the agribusiness cheaper food supply as the land regenerates and farming comes back in central and southern Mexico and regenerate the economy and the culture. Mexicans don't WANT to leave their homes. If they could eat and prosper down there, they would stay at home and not come over the border in droves.

Progressive candidates must start speaking the truth on the illegal immigration issue or risk not taking the House and Senate back in November, as Busby proved.

Update [2006-6-8 12:18:40 by RegenerationMan]: Serrano writes:

Early in the now-disappointing Fox Presidency, I met w/Juan Hernandez, then his righthand man and former campaign manager, who lived a fair amount of his life in Fort Worth. We had preliminary discussions about such a framework of cooperation.

To make this even more effective in stemming migration, he indicated that they had already identified a list of 90 "micro-regions" from which the vast majority of migrants had emanated. This simultaneously highlighted the areas where need was apparently the greatest, and the areas that spawned migration. Unfortunately, as with much of the original hope and promise of the Fox era, not much was ever done w/this plan.

IMHO, however, it remains a good idea, and, if anything, is much urgent and thus might be more willingly embraced on both sides of the border.

The idea of regional development in the micro-regions where most of the illegals are coming from is perhaps the most important concept here. That makes this whole thing practical and understandable to the voters and maybe even liberal Dem politicians.

Regeneration works by a regional development plan that emphasizes first food self-sufficiency and then moves on from there. (invented by Robert Rodale in the 1980s)


Block the Vote, Ohio Remix

If there was ever a sign of a ruling party in trouble, it is a game plan that calls for trying to win by discouraging voting.

The latest sign that Republicans have an election-year strategy to shut down voter registration drives comes from Ohio. As the state gears up for a very competitive election season this fall, its secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, has put in place "emergency" regulations that could hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices. The rules are so draconian they could shut down registration drives in Ohio.

Mr. Blackwell, who also happens to be the Republican candidate for governor this year, has a history of this sort of behavior. In 2004, he instructed county boards of elections to reject any registrations on paper of less than 80-pound stock — about the thickness of a postcard. His order was almost certainly illegal, and he retracted it after he came under intense criticism. It was, however, in place long enough to get some registrations tossed out.

This year, Mr. Blackwell's office has issued rules and materials that appear to require that paid registration workers, and perhaps even volunteers, personally take the forms they collect to an election office. Organizations that run registration drives generally have the people who register voters bring the forms back to supervisors, who can then review them for errors. Under Mr. Blackwell's edict, everyone involved could be committing a crime. Mr. Blackwell's rules also appear to prohibit people who register voters from sending the forms in by mail. That rule itself may violate federal elections law.

Mr. Blackwell's rules are interpretations of a law the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature passed recently. Another of the nation's most famous swing states, Florida, has been the scene of similar consternation and confusion since it recently enacted a law that is so harsh that the Florida League of Women Voters announced that it was stopping all voter registration efforts for the first time in 67 years.

Florida's Legislature, like Ohio's, is controlled by Republicans. Throughout American history both parties have shown a willingness to try to use election law to get results they might otherwise not win at the polls. But right now it is clearly the Republicans who believe they have an interest in keeping the voter base small. Mr. Blackwell and other politicians who insist on making it harder to vote never say, of course, that they are worried that get-out-the-vote drives will bring too many poor and minority voters into the system. They say that they want to reduce fraud. However, there is virtually no evidence that registration drives are leading to fraud at the polls.

But there is one clear way that Ohio's election system is corrupt. Decisions about who can vote are being made by a candidate for governor. Mr. Blackwell should hand over responsibility for elections to a decision maker whose only loyalty is to the voters and the law.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


From logistics to turning a blind eye: Europe's role in terror abductions

Stephen Grey and Ian Cobain
Wednesday June 7, 2006
The Guardian

The full extent of European collusion with the CIA during operations to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured is laid bare today by the continent's most authoritative human rights body.

Several states have allowed the agency to snatch their own residents, others have offered extensive logistical support, while many have turned a blind eye, according to the Council of Europe.

The UK stands accused of not only allowing the use of British airspace and airports, but of providing information that was used during the torture of one suspect. The report adds that there is strong evidence to suspect two European states, Poland and Romania, of permitting the CIA to operate secret prisons on their soil, despite official denials.

'Active participation'

The report follows an investigation by Dick Marty, chairman of the Council's legal affairs and human rights committee. It has been obtained by the Guardian ahead of its publication in Paris today. Mr Marty says that far from being hoodwinked by a "CIA plot", 14 European states were fully aware of much of what was going on. "It is now clear - although we are still far from having established the whole truth - that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities. Other countries ignored them knowingly, or did not want to know."

Although Mr Marty concludes that the US must bear responsibility for the extraordinary rendition, he says the programme could operate only with "the intentional or grossly negligent collusion of the European partners".

The inquiry was launched in November amid political outrage over reports, first published in the Washington Post, of the existence of CIA detention centres in Eastern Europe. Other media investigations, including one by the Guardian, had uncovered evidence of the use of British and other European airports by aircraft that have been involved in renditions.

A breakthrough in Mr Marty's inquiry came with agreement by EuroControl, the air traffic agency, to hand over thousands of records of flight plans filed electronically with controllers by the pilots of alleged CIA planes since 2001. While the majority of the flights had nothing to do with prisoner operations, Mr Marty's report provides the first official confirmation that some flights correspond with the accounts given by prisoners of their abduction and transfer to secret jails by the CIA.

His report highlights the movement of 18 suspects, all of which used European facilities or airspace, which are part of a series of "rendition circuits" which he likens to a "spider's web spun across the globe". He warns that the US, believing that "neither conventional judicial instruments nor those established under the framework of the laws of war could effectively counter the new forms of international terrorism" has decided to "develop new legal concepts" that have left hundreds of terrorist suspects deprived of their liberty, outside US territory but under US control and denied any access to their fundamental legal rights. "This legal approach is utterly alien to the European tradition and sensibility, and is clearly contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Mr Marty says that while Spain, Turkey, Germany and Cyprus have provided staging posts for rendition operations, Italy, Sweden, Bosnia, and Macedonia have all allowed the rendition of their residents from their soil. He accuses the latter of covering up its involvement in the CIA rendition of a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, to Afghanistan, after he arrived in Macedonia in January 2004. Britain - like Ireland, Portugal, and Greece - is described as providing stopovers for CIA planes, but the greatest criticisms levelled against London are about the handing over of information about its residents and former residents that has, says Mr Marty, led to renditions and torture. For instance, information about a former London student, Benyam Mohammed, 27, is alleged to have been used during his torture in Morocco, where he was taken following his arrest in Pakistan.

Finally, Mr Marty alleges there is enough concrete evidence, mainly consisting of flight data, to support suspicions that Romania and Poland have allowed the operation of secret CIA detention centres on their soil, despite official denials.

Detention centres

The evidence against Romania, he says, comes from a "rendition circuit" involving a CIA Boeing 737 with registration N313P, that began in Cyprus on January 21 2004. The plane and the CIA team on board went from Cyprus to Morocco the following day to pick up Benyam Mohammed and take him to Afghanistan. The plane then returned to Europe to render el-Masri, on January 24, also to Afghanistan. Finally, Mr Marty believes, the pattern of the flight indicates it transferred another suspect from Afghanistan to a secret detention place in Romania.

The drop-off in Romania could not be explained, says Mr Marty, by any need to refuel. "The most likely hypothesis is that the purpose of this flight was to transport one or several detainees from Kabul to Romania," he concludes. He adds that although he has not uncovered definitive evidence of a secret detention centre in Romania, his findings justify further investigation. Romania, he adds, "is thus far the only Council of Europe member state to be located on one of the rendition circuits we believe we have identified, and which bears all the characteristics of a detainee transfer or drop-off point".

Mr Marty also highlights a number of flights from Afghanistan to Poland at times when it is now known that terrorism suspects were being transferred from Kabul to unknown destinations. His suspicions were fuelled by the Polish authorities' failure to cooperate: while EuroControl's records detailed a series of flights into the country, including a number to the Szymany air base, north east of Warsaw, local officials claimed they had no records of the visits. Mr Marty describes that as "highly unusual", and adds: "Poland cannot be considered to be outside the rendition circuits simply because it has failed to furnish information corroborating my data from other sources."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


"Fifth Beatle" Billy Preston Dies

by Josh Grossberg
Jun 6, 2006, 3:00 PM PT

Billy Preston, the singer-songwriter famous for his collaborations with Ray Charles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, among others, as well as for the Grammy-winning solo hits "Outta Space" and "Nothing From Nothing," died Tuesday from complications due to chronic kidney failure. He was 59.

Preston's sister, Lettie Preston, told Reuters the legendary entertainer had been in a coma at a Scottsdale, Arizona, hospital since last November after his kidneys failed as the result of a long series of ailments he had battled over the years, including drug addiction.

His health on the decline, he underwent a kidney transplant in 2002, but the organ subsequently failed and he was placed on dialysis. Published reports list the cause of Preston's death as kidney failure brought on by "malignant hypertension."

A virtuoso keyboard player, Preston was the only sideman to ever share label credit with the Beatles and was dubbed the "Fifth Beatle" after contributing soulful piano lines to the Fab Four's landmark White Album and Abbey Road, as well as to such gems as "Get Back" and "Let It Be." Aside from helping to ease the strain developing between the Beatles, he also appeared in the film Let It Be and performed with the moptops during their historic rooftop final concert in London.

The Afro-wearing Preston also worked extensively with the Stones on the albums Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and It's Only Rock and Roll, playing piano and clarinet on such tracks as "Heartbreaker," "If You Can't Rock Me" and "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'?" During subsequent tours, the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band gave him the honor of playing two of his own songs halfway through the shows, with the Stones serving as his band.

Other notable artists with whom he colloborated included Sly and the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson Five and Barbra Streisand.

In the 1970s, Preston finally grabbed the spotlight for himself and never looked back. As a solo artist, he penned the Grammy-winning 1973 instrumental "Outta Space," as well as such ditties as "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing." He also wrote Joe Cocker's tearjerker "You Are So Beautiful." Miles Davis even named a song after him.

During the '80s, he stumbled due to a series of personal problems, including a nasty drug and alcohol addiction, which led to him pleading no contest in 1992 to cocaine and assault charges. He was handed a suspended jail term and spent nine months in rehab. Six years later, he found himself in trouble again, and this time pleaded guilty to insurance fraud after trying to bilk insurers out of $1 million by setting fire to his own house.

However, in his later years he bounced back, touring with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood as well as appearing in the movie The Blues Brothers 2000.

Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, remembered Preston in a statement issued Tuesday, calling him a "teen prodigy" on both the organ and piano with an "enviable reputation" as a musician.

"Our thoughts go out to his family and friends as we mourn the loss of a truly talented musician," Portnow said.

Born Sept. 9, 1946 in Houston, Texas, Billy Preston spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles after his parents divorced. By the time he entered his teens, he had become an accomplished piano and organ musician, backing the likes of Little Richard, Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. He also earned his first feature-film credit, portraying a young W.C. Handy in the 1958 biopic St. Louis Blues.

In January, 1969, he signed with the Beatles' Apple Records, joining them in the studio for the Let It Be film and studio project.

After their split, George Harrison recruited him for his solo album, All Things Must Pass, and he performed at 1972's The Concert For Bangladesh. Paying tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo, he played a rollicking version of "Get Back" in the Beatles tribute film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Despite his myriad personal battles, Preston remained a major force to the end, playing on Ray Charles final album, the Grammy-winning Genius Loves Company, and contributing some gospel stylings to Neil Diamond's latest disc, 12 Songs and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' just-released Stadium Arcadium.

Funeral arrangements are pending in Los Angeles.


United States Poised To Implement Mandatory Draft?

Halifax Live, Canada

United States Congressman Charles Rangel (Dem/NY) re-introduced a bill in February, 2006 which if passed will implement a mandatory military draft for all men and women in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 42.

Titled the 'Universal National Service Act of 2006', the bill will be introduced on Tuesday June 6, 2006 in the next sitting of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The purpose of a mandatory draft bill is, "to provide for the common defense by requiring all persons in the United States, including women, between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes."

Rangel first introduced the draft legislation in January 2003 but the bill was defeated in October of 2004. Rengel stated, "The longer we stay in Iraq and the more Americans are killed, and the less attractive military service appears to potential recruits, the closer the country will move toward a decision on the draft."


Right Wingers Take a Page Out of Hitler's Playbook.

Of course the people don't want war... That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

- Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's Deputy Chief and Luftwaffe Commander, at the Nuremberg trials, 1946.


Anne Coulter says 9/11 Widows "Enjoyed Their Husbands Deaths." Why does the Liberal Media still give her a forum?

You have to wonder why anyone would ever have Ann Coulter on their show. Apparently being a blowhard rightwing fake who's shilling her latest book qualifies you to speak about issues affecting America but being a widow of a 9/11 Victim means you should shut the fuck up.

Ann doesn't even want to discuss WHAT 9/11 Widows are saying, she simply hates them for WHO THEY ARE. Apparently they've gotten some kind of UNDESERVED media attention while poor Annie had to work decades to become the repulsive right-wing shill that she is.

Somebody really should give this poor whiney bitch a cookie.

I really want to ask the media members who put this putrescent hag on their shows why they feel she's qualified to discuss anything on TV when all she's ever done is write a bunch of bile inducing poorly researched hatchet job books? What's the fucking point of having her on your show Matt? Or did you just now figure out she's a pathetic attention-whore?

Here's the transcript:

LAUER: On the 9-11 widows, an in particular a group that had been critical of the administration:

" These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing bush was part of the closure process."

And this part is the part I really need to talk to you about:

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much."

Because they dare to speak out?

COULTER: To speak out using the fact they are widows. This is the left's doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we are allowed to respond to> No-No-No. We always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die--

LAUER: But aren't they in the middle of the story?...

COULTER: ...Because then if we respond, oh you are questioning their authenticity. No, the story is...

LAUER: So grieve but grieve quietly?

LAUER: What I’m saying is I don’t think they have ever told you, you can't respond.

COULTER: Look, you are getting testy with me.

THE PUNISHER: Ahh poor baby. You need a cookie?


A Shameful Political Ploy

Tue Jun 06, 2006 at 07:59:13 AM PDT

The federal marriage amendment, which would write discrimination into the Constitution, is an obvious attempt to change the subject from topics that the Congress should be addressing to a hot button social issue intended to appeal to certain factions. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Frist plans to hold a vote on this mean-spirited proposal. It has no chance of receiving the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments. The only thing bringing it up now will accomplish is to push Congress further away from the issues it should be addressing and engage the Senate of the United States in a shameful political ploy.

The last thing we should be doing right now is playing politics with the Constitution, or with the lives of gay and lesbian Americans, who see this proposal for what it is - discrimination, pure and simple. Gay and lesbian Americans are our friends, our family members, our neighbors, and our colleagues. They should not be used as pawns in a political exercise.

Backers of the proposal say they want to support marriage. But this debate is not about supporting marriage. Everyone agrees that good and strong marriages should be supported and celebrated. The debate in the Senate is also not about whether states should permit same sex marriage. I happen to believe that two adults who love each other and want to make a lifelong commitment to each other with all of the responsibilities that commitment entails should be able to do so. Others may disagree. But the Senate debate is about whether we should amend the Constitution of the United States to try to define marriage, and restrict, rather than expand, the rights of our citizens. The answer to that question has to be "no."

It's deeply disappointing to see the Senate consider this proposed constitutional amendment, and for such cynical reasons. But it's not enough to just shake our heads at what the Republicans are doing here. I applaud people in the online community for standing up and speaking out against this proposal. This attempt to pass this constitutional amendment isn't about values. It's an attempt to stir up prejudice and fear, but I think it's going to stir up something else - outrage at Republican leaders. The proposal itself is an outrage, and so is its consideration at the expense of so many other important issues, from health care to gasoline prices to Iraq.

A colleague of mine asked me if I was taking a lot of heat for announcing my support for the right of gays and lesbians to marry. And, frankly, the question doesn't surprise me because I suppose many of my colleagues might be wary of taking a strong stand on an issue meant to divide Americans. The Washington Post today called this "a tricky issue for Democrats" but it doesn't have to be. All Americans should stand up and say no to the federal marriage amendment, no to discrimination targeted at some of our finest citizens, and no to this narrow-minded attempt to score political points in an election year.

Thanks for the opportunity to pass on some of my thoughts on this issue. I look forward to reading your comments.


Torture is Neither Justified nor Effective

by Michael Smith - The Sunday Times

Concern over the arbitrary way in which the US administration attempts to justify its abuse of prisoners as in Extraordinary Renditions and Guantanamo Bay had eased recently with clear signs that under pressure from its allies, and in particular Britain, the White House was looking to find a way to get rid of the Guantanamo problem. But it is now clear such optimism was misplaced.

The Pentagon has decided that a new army interrogation manual on the use of torture won't include a key tenet of the Geneva Conventions, that prisoners should not be subject to "humiliating and degrading treatment”. Military lawyers had attempted to make Article 3 of the conventions, which covers this issue, a key part of the manual in an attempt to prevent a recurrence of the abuses meted out to Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

But Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld intervened, through their sidekicks David Addington, the vice-president’s chief of staff, and Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s protégée and defence under-secretary for intelligence. Their argument was that including a clause banning "humiliating and degrading treatment” would restrict America’s ability to question detainees. Yes. I know. That's the whole point. But in an atmosphere where senior officials think anything goes it is perhaps unsurprising that scandals such as Abu Ghraib occur. It might even be argued that the alleged massacre at Haditha can be traced back to this "anything goes" attitude from on high.

The Bush administration has performed a series of somersaults in its attempts to show that it “does not torture" prisoners, carefully articulating its own definition of what is and is not torture. In August 2002, the Department of Justice issued a memo which said that the Geneva Conventions preventing interrogators inflicting “severe pain” only referred to pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." It added that “humiliating and degrading treatment” was only such if it caused long-term psychological damage to the victim.

This provided a wonderful Catch-22 situation of course. Unless the prisoner died, he could not be subject to “severe pain” and since there was no way of knowing if any “humiliating and degrading treatment” was causing long-term psychological damage, the prisoner could effectively be subjected to any form of humiliating and degrading treatment until the point where he became a gibbering wreck.

That memo was eventually withdrawn, in December 2004. But between August 2002 and December 2004 it was the official position of the US administration that it could administer both “severe pain” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” to prisoners so long as they did not die and remained sane. Last week, an Army dog handler became the 11th US soldier to be convicted in relation to the Abu Ghraib scandal, in which Iraqi prisoners were subjected to humiliating treatment during late 2003 and early 2004. You will not however see any Department of Justice officials in the dock.

The August 2002 Department of Justice memo at least placed a limit of sorts on the use of “humiliating and degrading treatment”. The new Army interrogation manual does not even do that. But rest assured that when a prisoner is sent insane by such treatment Messrs Addington and Cambone, and for that matter Cheney and Rumsfeld, will be perfectly safe from prosecution.

There will be some of course who will argue that such methods are justified in the new war we are fighting, the war on terror, or the Long War as it is now apparently known. Any means of getting terrorists to talk is justified in order to get the intelligence we need. Well by coincidence, just as the Pentagon was reaffirming that it doesn’t need to worry about the niceties of the Geneva Convention, the CIA was releasing a 1996 interrogation manual, which states:

“The question of torture should be disposed of at once. Quite apart from moral and legal considerations, physical torture or extreme mental torture is not an expedient device. Maltreating the subject is from a strictly practical point of view as short-sighted as whipping a horse to his knees before a thirty-mile ride. It is true that almost anyone will eventually talk when subjected to enough physical pressures, but the information obtained in this way is likely to be of little intelligence value.”

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