Friday, February 6, 2009


1. The Worst Food in America of 2009

Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake
2,600 calories
135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium

We didn't think anything could be worse than Baskin Robbins' 2008 bombshell, the Heath Bar Shake. After all, it had more sugar (266 grams) than 20 bowls of Froot Loops, more calories (2,310) than 11 actual Heath Bars, and more ingredients (73) than you'll find in most chemist labs.

Rather than coming to their senses and removing it from the menu, they did themselves one worse and introduced this caloric catastrophe. It¹s soiled with more than a day's worth of calories and three days worth of saturated fat, and, worst of all, usually takes less than 10 minutes to sip through a straw.

Eat This Instead! (and ask for two spoons)
2-Scoop Hot fudge Sundae
Chocolate and Vanilla
530 calories
29 g fat (19 g saturated fat)
52 g sugars

The Key to Happiness That No One -- Not Even the Happiness Gurus -- Are Discussing

Health & wellness

By Frances Moore Lappe,

"What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome."

So wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1895.

I'm guessing that many of you would feel uncomfortable embracing this definition of happiness, especially coming from one of history's most famous curmudgeons. If so, maybe in part it's because too often we've nodded in agreement with Lord Acton's catchy caveat, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And who would want to risk corruption?

But what if we were to dig to the root, Latin meaning of power, "to be able"? Suddenly, the word's hard edge dissolves; power simply means efficacy -- our capacity, as philosopher Erich Fromm put it, to "make a dent."

Over the last decade, the happiness quest has spawned best-selling books, college courses, retreats and even a "happiness conference." Most seem to offer similar advice: Once our basic physical needs are covered, more stuff does little to boost our happiness. Friendships, family, self-acceptance and meaning in our lives are the core determinants of our happiness.

I'm happy we're talking about happiness, but disturbed, too, because I've noticed that most happiness gurus fail to mention power. And why is that a big mistake? Because most human beings are not couch potatoes and whiners. We are doers and creators.

In fact, the human need to "make a dent" is so great that Fromm argued we should toss out René Descartes' "I think therefore I am" and replace it with "I am, because I effect."

Even much of what we call "materialism" is, I think, not about "things" at all. It is a distorted, ultimately unsatisfying attempt to feel powerful, with status through possessions forced to stand in for power. If true, then addressing powerlessness is a direct way both to foster happiness and to overcome planet-destroying materialism.

There's just one pathway to happiness in which this deep, human need for power is given pride of place: democracy. By this I mean democracy as a living practice that enables us to have a real say in every dimension of our public lives, from school to workplace and beyond.

Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland

Officials warn of 'destruction of all means of life' after the three-week conflict leaves agriculture in the region in ruins

According to the World Food Programme, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.

Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, the World Food Programme's country director, said: "We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north - where the farming was most intensive - may not be exploitable again. It looks to me like a disaster. It is not just farmland, but poultry as well.

"When we have given a food ration in Gaza, it was never a full ration but to complement the diet. Now it is going to be almost impossible for Gaza to produce the food it needs for the next six to eight months, assuming that the agriculture can be rehabilitated. We will give people a full ration."

The FAO estimates that 13,000 families who depend directly on herding, farming and fishing have suffered significant damage. "Before the blockade and the attack," said Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, which runs programmes with charities such as Britain's Christian Aid, "Gaza produced half of its own food. Now that has declined by 25%. In addition, a quarter of the population depends on agriculture for income. What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.

Cutting a rug

Executive Order -- Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and sections 3301 and 7301 of title 5, United States Code, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Ethics Pledge. Every appointee in every executive agency appointed on or after January 20, 2009, shall sign, and upon signing shall be contractually committed to, the following pledge upon becoming an appointee:

"As a condition, and in consideration, of my employment in the United States Government in a position invested with the public trust, I commit myself to the following obligations, which I understand are binding on me and are enforceable under law:

"1. Lobbyist Gift Ban. I will not accept gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations for the duration of my service as an appointee.

"2. Revolving Door Ban All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

"3. Revolving Door Ban Lobbyists Entering Government. If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment, in addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 2, I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment:

(a) participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment;

(b) participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls; or

(c) seek or accept employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment.

"4. Revolving Door Ban Appointees Leaving Government. If, upon my departure from the Government, I am covered by the post employment restrictions on communicating with employees of my former executive agency set forth in section 207(c) of title 18, United States Code, I agree that I will abide by those restrictions for a period of 2 years following the end of my appointment.

"5. Revolving Door Ban Appointees Leaving Government to Lobby. In addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 4, I also agree, upon leaving Government service, not to lobby any covered executive branch official or non career Senior Executive Service appointee for the remainder of the Administration.

"6. Employment Qualification Commitment. I agree that any hiring or other employment decisions I make will be based on the candidate's qualifications, competence, and experience.

Converting the Taliban

by Tony Seton

Not long before we invaded Afghanistan, we gave their Taliban leaders $43 million for cultural development. This was around the time that these Islamic extremists dynamited the extraordinary Bamyan statues of Buddha that were carved out of sandstone cliffs in the Sixth Century.

This act of cultural terrorism was reminiscent of the sacking of the library in Alexandria, and similar desecrations over the centuries that have wiped out extraordinary creative works of man. I remember watching the film "The Music Man" around the time the statues were blown up and noting the enormous gulf between our culture and theirs. The Taliban were staunchly opposed to music, dancing, photography, and women doing anything but remaining hidden. The film celebrated all of it.

I reprise this because now the Taliban are on that warpath again. Though not in control in Kabul, they wield considerable and destructive power on the region, dominating areas of Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. Enough power so that just a warning to bus drivers in the Peshawar area that playing music or movies would invite bombings has been enough to induce the removal of audio-visual equipment from their vehicles.

Of course, this is hardly a matter of great importance in a world gone mad, particularly in the most backward corner of the planet, but it does illuminate two critical issues which the new administration will have to face. One is that the United States won't be able to "win" in Afghanistan. Even if all the allies agreed to put in more troops, there would never be enough to achieve a military victory.

And that points to the second matter. The only way the Taliban can be defeated is culturally. Those people who would support them have to be persuaded to follow a different course.

YouTube's January Fair Use Massacre

This is what it's come to. Teenagers singing "Winter Wonderland" being censored off YouTube.

Fair use has always been at risk on YouTube, thanks to abusive DMCA takedown notices sent by copyright owners (sometimes carelessly, sometimes not). But in the past several weeks, two things have made things much worse for those who want to sing a song, post an a capella tribute, or set machinima to music.

First, it appears that more and more copyright owners are using YouTube's automated copyright filtering system (known as the Content ID system), which tests all videos looking for a "match" with "fingerprints" provided by copyright owners.

Second, thanks to a recent spat between YouTube and Warner Music Group, YouTube's Content ID tool is now being used to censor lots and lots of videos (previously, Warner just silently shared in the advertising revenue for the videos that included a "match" to its music).

EFF, along with many other public interest groups, have repeatedly expressed our concerns to both copyright owners and YouTube about the dangers of automated filtering systems like the Content ID system. These systems are still primitive and unable to distinguish a tranformative remix from copyright infringement. So unless they leave lots of breathing room for remixed content, these filters end up sideswiping lots of fair uses.

And that's exactly what has happened these past few weeks. And while today it's Warner Music, as more copyright owners start using the Content ID tool, it'll only get worse. Soon it may be off limits to remix anything with snippets of our shared mass media culture -- music, TV, movies, jingles, commercials. That would be a sad irony -- copyright being used to stifle an exciting new wellspring of creativity, rather than encourage it.

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Economic Death Spiral at the Pentagon

Recently, reviewing lobbying disclosure reports, the Washington Times discovered "that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress, and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008." Citibank alone, according to the New York Times, fielded "an army of Washington lobbyists," plunking down $1.77 million in lobbying fees just in the fourth quarter of last year.

And it isn't only sinking financial institutions begging for federal dollars that have bolstered their Washington lobbying corps. So have the biggest U.S. armaments companies -- "drastically," according to reporter August Cole of the Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he found, Northrop Grumman almost doubled its lobbying budget to $20.6 million (from $10.9 million the previous year); Boeing upped its budget from $10.6 million to $16.6 million in the same period; and Lockheed-Martin, the company that received the most contracts from the Pentagon last year, hiked its lobbying efforts by a whopping 54% in 2008.

If you want to get a taste of what that means, then click here to view an ad for that company's potentially embattled boondoggle, the F-22, the most expensive jet fighter ever built. What you'll discover is not just that it will "protect" 300 million people -- that's you, if you live in the USA -- but that it will also employ 95,000 of us. In other words, the ad's threatening message implies, if the Obama administration cuts this program in bad times, it will throw another 95,000 Americans out on the street. Now that's effective lobbying for you, especially when you consider, as Chalmers Johnson does below, that for any imaginable war the U.S. might fight in the coming decades, the F-22 will be a thoroughly useless plane.

We don't usually think of the Pentagon as a jobs-and-careers scam operation, a kind of Mega-Madoff Ponzi scheme that goes BOOM!, though it is clearly designed for the well-being of defense contractors, military officers, and congressional representatives; nor do we usually consider the "defense" budget as a giant make-work jobs racket, as arms experts Bill Hartung and Christopher Preble recently suggested, but it's never too late.

Chalmers Johnson, author of the already-classic Blowback Trilogy, including most recently Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, makes vividly clear just how little the Pentagon is organized to consider the actual defense needs of the United States. In many ways, it remains a deadly organization of boys with toys that now poses a distinct economic danger to the rest of us. (Check out, as well, a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon's economic death spiral by clicking here). Tom

The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon

How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars
By Chalmers Johnson

Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment -- and that's to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable.

Army official: Suicides in January 'terrifying'

From Barbara Starr and Mike Mount
If reports of suicides are confirmed, more soldiers will have taken their lives in january than died in combat.WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after the U.S. Army announced record suicide rates among its soldiers last year, the service is worried about a spike in possible suicides in the new year.

If reports of suicides are confirmed, more soldiers will have taken their lives in January than died in combat.

The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.

The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.

If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.

"This is terrifying," an Army official said. "We do not know what is going on."

Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, said that the long, cold months of winter could be a major contributor to the January spike.

"There is more hopelessness and helplessness because everything is so dreary and cold," she said.

The wrong side of history

No-fly list: $100 million a year pissed away

From the journal Homeland Security Affairs, a chunky, stat-rich article entitled 'Just How Much Does That Cost, Anyway? An Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the "No-Fly" List.' Bottom line? We're probably paying $100 million/year for the no-fly list and so far, there's no evidence it's doing anything to fight terrorism.
As will be analyzed below, it is estimated that the costs of the no-fly list, since 2002, range from approximately $300 million (a conservative estimate) to $966 million (an estimate on the high end). Using those figures as low and high potentials, a reasonable estimate is that the U.S. government has spent over $500 million on the project since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Using annual data, this article suggests that the list costs taxpayers somewhere between $50 million and $161 million a year, with a reasonable compromise of those figures at approximately $100 million. Clearly the no-fly list is a program that is not without substantial cost. It represents, at least financially, a large part of the government's protection of air travel. 4 In order to begin to analyze whether or not the benefits are worth the costs, both must be identified and analyzed. It is that task to which the article will now turn...

One of the ramifications of the no-fly list over the last several years has been the number of flight diversions and delays due to list operations. A KLM flight from Amsterdam to Mexico, on April 10, 2005, is a representative example. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Mexico and was due to cross over U.S. airspace. The U.S. government ordered the plane to return to the Netherlands before reaching the United States because it said two of its passengers were barred from entering U.S. territory. 45 The plane had been in the air for more than four hours before returning to Europe and caused 278 passengers delays of approximately twenty-four hours. The Washington Post reported, in July, 2005, that the two men removed from the flight were questioned but not arrested. In sum there have been seven total diversions, and presumably countless delays, due to no-fly list processing incidents that are not reported. The aim of this section is to assess the costs of these delays...

The problem with the first claim, that the no-fly system works, is that it is relatively easy to bypass the system with a little ingenuity. For instance, the no-fly list's core mechanism is a matching a name to photograph identification. 50 As noted above, the process is for a passenger's name to be cross-checked against the list and then verified as the name matching the individual by checking photo identification. This process assumes a number of key points. First, an assumption is made that the ticket was purchased using the passenger's real name. If a would-be terrorist knows that he or she is on the no-fly list, the next logical step would be to purchase the ticket under an assumed name that is not on the list. Second, the process also assumes that the photo ID is real and represents the true identity of the individual in question. It would be relatively easy, for instance, for someone to make a reservation under an assumed name and either manufacture an ID or use the real identification of the assumed individual. Third, this process is made easier by the increase in "print-at-home" boarding passes, which are easy to forge and allow would-be terrorists to put any name they like on the boarding pass. These three aspects of the no-fly list make it simple for an individual to purchase a ticket under someone else's name, use a real ID to enter the boarding terminal with a forged boarding pass, and then fly on the ticket that has someone else's name. 51 Some security experts have gone so far as to create a "fake boarding pass generator" on the Internet to illustrate how easy it is to forge a boarding pass. 52 Importantly, this is not just a theoretical exercise. A CBS affiliate in Kansas City, in an undercover investigation, was able to enter the TSA secure area by producing a fake ID. 53 The undercover individual was not stopped or asked any additional questions. Thus, if the no-fly list is stopping individuals who wish to commit terrorist attacks, those individuals have not employed all of the strategies that are at their disposal; this should raise questions as to whether or not the no-fly list achieves the benefits its administrators claim. The second claim made of the no-fly list is that it does stop terrorist events, or at least dangerous individuals, on a routine basis; we do not hear about them because the government keeps that information close to the vest (except when questioned, such as in the Schneier interview). Three questions arise from this claim. First, why would the government want to keep such information secret? Perhaps more importantly, why does the empirical record of other terrorist prevention activities suggest that the government's strategy is very often the opposite? It lets everyone know about potential activities before they are well formed. Finally, if what Hawley claims is true, are there many more potential terrorists in this country than is commonly believed (since they are being stopped several times a week) or is the no-fly list ineffective at stopping terrorists? Is it casting a much wider net and catching non-dangerous individuals as well?

Just How Much Does That Cost, Anyway? An Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the "No-Fly" List (via Schneier)

The South Vs. Obama

by Michael Lind

The votes against Obama's stimulus package came from a Southern confederacy of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Their message to America? Drop dead.

Confederate flagOn Wednesday, January 28, 2009, President Barack Obama's $819 billion stimulus plan passed the House of Representatives, despite the solid opposition of the Confederates.

By the Confederates I mean the Republican Party and their allies among Southern conservative Democrats. The battle in Washington is not between liberals and conservatives; it is between the Union and the South.

The Republican Party that voted unanimously against the stimulus bill is, in essence, the party of the former Confederacy. In the House of Representatives, there is not a single Republican representative from New England. In the U.S. Senate, there is not a single Republican from the Pacific Coast.

The battle in Washington is not between liberals and conservatives;
it is between the Union and the South.

The Republican congressional delegation is disproportionately Southern. Half of the four congressional leaders of the Republican Party are Southerners: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Virginia). (Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl is from Arizona and House Minority Leader John Boehner is a relic of the dying Midwestern wing of the GOP). The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mike Duncan, is from Kentucky. Half of the candidates for the RNC chairmanship are Southerners: Duncan himself, Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and Chip Saltsman, former chairman of the Republican Party of Tennessee. (The other three are Michael Steele of Maryland, Ken Blackwell of Ohio and, Saul Anuzis of Michigan.) If you think most GOP spokesmen on TV seem to speak with a drawl, you're not imagining things.

National Idiot's Convention

Actually it's the moron's convention.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

I hear you get a bonus for that...

US threat to withhold intelligence from Britain over Guantanamo evidence by Richard Ford and Francis Elliott THE US has threatened to withhold inte

by Richard Ford and Francis Elliott

THE US has threatened to withhold intelligence from Britain if evidence of the alleged torture of a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay is made public.

Details of how the "terrorist" detainee was allegedly tortured - and what British intelligence services knew about it - must remain secret because of the American threats, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Lord Justice Thomas and Justice Lloyd Jones said lawyers for the Foreign Secretary had told them that the threat by the US still applied under President Barack Obama. Oppostion MPs accused the Government of giving in to blackmail.

The disclosure that the US has threatened to re-evaluate sharing intelligence with Britain came just 24 hours after new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavished praise on the special relationship between the two countries.,25197,25010986-2703,00.html

Attorney General suggests he may make secret Bush memos public

by John Byrne

Obama's freshly-confirmed Attorney General, Eric Holder, has opened the door to shedding light on a raft of clandestine legal memoranda issued in the name of the 'War on Terror' under President George W. Bush.

Holder told senators in written responses to questions before his confirmation that he would consider declassifying controversial White House legal memos from the Bush era if no support for their original classification could be found, according to transcripts provided by the Senate. Declassified briefs could then be made public.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment when asked directly about a new report detailing some three dozen secret memoranda issued by officials employed by President Bush. In secret memos, Bush's legal team outlined the defense of myriad controversial practices, such as the indefinite detention of enemy combatants, US policy on torture and the legality of domestic surveillance projects.

A chart created by the nonprofit reporting organization Pro Publica recently found that 40 of these memos remain secret, while just 12 have been made public. The ratio of private to public memos remains unparalleled by the standard of recent US presidents.

Holder, who was confirmed by the Senate 75-21 on Monday, was responding to questions about "Secret Law" raised by civil liberties advocate, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), when he addressed the memos directly.

"I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government," Holder said. "Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law. Public scrutiny also provides an important check against unpersuasive legal reasoning -- reasoning that is biased toward a particular conclusion."

US passports can be read and copied from a moving car using a $250 rig

Meet Chris Paget, a hacker who believes that people shouldn't be tagged with RFIDs. He spent a productive day driving around San Francisco, sniffing and cloning mountains of RFID-equipped US passports and driver's licenses. The equipment to accomplish this feat cost him $250. When we debate the risks associated with RFID-equipped IDs, we usually focus on what happens when the government can follow us around everywhere -- but the real risk may be that crooks, marketing creeps and various unaffiliated snoops will do this instead.

Cloning passport card RFIDs in bulk for under $250

Cash4Gold Will Offer One-Third of the Actual Value for your Gold

Cash4Gold is nice enough to admit when they were trying to rip you off.

Since I saw the first commercial, I had a feeling that Cash4Gold might be a rip-off. They advertise during late-night cable television programming and on sports radio. This time slot is pretty crowded with what I call "red-flag" advertising. Another hint is that their DBA sounds more like a text message than an actual business name.

You are encouraged to send your "scrap" gold in a plastic bag, and to trust they will handle it securely and send a reasonable, near market-rate payment for the precious metal therein. They'll take whatever gold items you have, so maybe it would be too complicated to offer actual prices posted on their website.

So, a little test was in order.

As I've mentioned earlier, I don't have any scrap gold, so I was not really able to determine the strength of their cash offers. You know? How much Cash are we talking about 4 this gold?

Luckily, someone else had gold.

Brent K. was also interested in doing a little Gold kit price evaluation, so he gathered up his family fortune of gold scraps and prepared to do some comparison shopping. He had some 14K gold and some 10 karat gold.

Ok, so he was a pirate.

First, he took the pile of gold to a local pawn shop. The pawn shop prices were as follows:

Apparently precious metal items are measured in "Pennyweight" also known as "DWT". The "D" stands for "Penny", actually "Denarius" from the name of a Roman coin, and WT is short for "Weight". One DWT is approximately 1.555 grams.

The pawn shop weighed Brent's gold and let him know that his scrap was about 11 DWT of 14K and 11 DWT of 10K gold.

How much does this gold look like it is worth to you?

The pawn shop prices were as follows:
$10 per DWT for 14K gold.
$8 per DWT for 10K gold.

With these prices, Brent's booty was worth $198.
He had $110 worth of 14 K gold plus $88 worth of 10 K gold.

Brent had initially noted prices on the Cash4Gold site as:
$15 per DWT for 14K gold.
$13 per DWT for 10K gold.

Better, but all any prices had been removed from the Cash4Gold site by the time he was ready to send in his gold.

What we've learned in 2008

Amanda Leigh Mascarelli looks at how far our understanding of climate change has come in the past twelve months.

1. Other greenhouse gases are also worrying

What we've learned in 2008Scientists have long been aware of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, but CO2 has received most of the scientific and public attention owing to its prevalence in fossil fuel emissions and its long atmospheric life. However, scientific research published this year suggests that other heat-trapping gases also provide cause for concern. In July, scientists led by Michael Prather at the University of California, first proposed that nitrogen trifluoride, a gas produced in the manufacture of gadgets such as MP3 players and flat screen TVs, was likely to become a much greater contributor to climate change than previously assumed, mainly because of the growing demand for such products (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L12810; 2008). Their hypothesis was confirmed in October when Ray Weiss at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California, and colleagues found that the atmospheric concentration of the gas has increased 20-fold over the past three decades (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L20821; 2008). Also this year, several independent research groups reported a surge in emissions of methane (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22805; 2008 and Nature 456, 628–630; 2008), a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than CO2. The exact source of the methane emissions remains a mystery.

2. Arctic summer sea ice is in rapid decline

Arctic sea ice saw some recovery this summer, compared with the record-breaking low set in 2007. However, the 2008 summertime minimum was still the second lowest level recorded since 1979, when the first satellite data of sea ice became available (National Snow and Ice Data Center 16 September 2008; In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that at the current level of emissions, summer sea ice could vanish completely anytime from 2040 to beyond 2100. But the extensive losses during the past two summers have led scientists to speculate that the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in the summertime much sooner than anticipated. In October, scientists reported that the thickness of winter sea ice plummeted after the 2007 minimum, showing that the ice pack is not only shrinking but is decreasing in overall volume (Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22502; 2008). This is worrying because thin ice is more vulnerable to melting and creates a feedback effect: as the ice melts, dark, open water soaks up more of the sun's rays and further accelerates melting. Loss of Arctic summer sea ice could have not only regional, but global, effects and is widely regarded as a potential 'tipping element', in which a 'kick' to the system, driven even by natural variability, could lead to rapid, runaway warming.

3. Warming is already having an impact

The effect of human-induced warming on biological and physical systems, such as patterns of species migration and seasonal shifts, came into clear focus this year. An international team of researchers conducted a sweeping analysis of nearly 30,000 biological species and physical phenomena, such as timing of pollen release and bird nesting, and trends in ice melting. For the first time, researchers attributed pronounced, worldwide changes in these systems to human-caused climate change (Nature 453, 353–357; 2008). Spurred on by concerns that species and ecosystems may not survive such shifts, conservationists began to talk seriously about relocating species to help them adapt (Science 321, 345–346; 2008). And threatened by the loss of its icy habitat, the polar bear became the first species to be listed as climate-threatened under the Endangered Species Act, following a protracted legal battle by environmentalists.

Controversial Bestseller Shakes the Foundation of the Israeli State

By Joshua Holland

What if the Palestinian Arabs who have lived for decades under the heel of the modern Israeli state are in fact descended from the very same "children of Israel" described in the Old Testament?

And what if most modern Israelis aren't descended from the ancient Israelites at all, but are actually a mix of Europeans, North Africans and others who didn't "return" to the scrap of land we now call Israel and establish a new state following the attempt to exterminate them during World War II, but came in and forcefully displaced people whose ancestors had lived there for millennia?
What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora -- the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews' exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh's clutches -- is all wrong?
That's the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year. After 19 weeks on the Israeli best-seller list, the book is being translated into a dozen languages and will be published in the United States this year by Verso.
Its thesis has ramifications that go far beyond some antediluvian academic debate. Few modern conflicts are as attached to ancient history as that decades-long cycle of bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians. Each group lays claim to the same scrap of land -- holy in all three of the world's major Abrahamic religions -- based on long-standing ties to that chunk of earth and national identities formed over long periods of time. There's probably no other place on Earth where the present is as intimately tied to the ancient.

Calvin and Hobbes: Supply and Demand

Renditions Buffoonery

By Scott Horton

In a breathless piece of reporting in the Sunday Los Angeles Times, we are told that Barack Obama "left intact" a "controversial counter-terrorism tool" called renditions. Moreover, the Times states, quoting unnamed "current and former U.S. intelligence figures," Obama may actually be planning to expand the program. The report notes the existence of a European Parliament report condemning the practice, but states "the Obama Administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush Administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard."

The Los Angeles Times just got punked. Its description of the European Parliament's report is not accurate. (Point of disclosure: I served as an expert witness in hearings leading to the report.) But that's the least of its problems. It misses the difference between the renditions program, which has been around since the Bush 41 Administration at least (and arguably in some form even in the Reagan Administration) and the extraordinary renditions program which was introduced by Bush 43 and clearly shut down under an executive order issued by President Obama in his first week.

There are two fundamental distinctions between the programs. The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.

Madoff Whistle-Blower Testifies, Blasts SEC

Independent financial fraud investigator harry markopolos testifies on capitol hill.

When Bernard Madoff was arrested and charged with running a giant Ponzi scheme many people were shocked — but not Harry Markopolos.

He's the man who looked at Madoff's investment returns a decade ago and figured they didn't add up. Markopolos made several attempts to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate, all for naught. He had no trouble Wednesday getting people to listen. He told a congressional panel in Washington that the SEC is a failed regulator that was unable to protect investors.

'The Key Tip-Off'

Markopolos said it took him just five minutes to figure out that Madoff was running a scam. He only had to look at a performance chart for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

"It was a 45-degree angle without any variation," he said. "It went in only one direction: up. It never had variation like the market does, like this. And that was the key tip-off."

Markopolos and his staff did some more digging and came to the conclusion that Madoff was cheating his investors. As that investigation went on, Markopolos says he feared for his safety and that of his family. So he presented his findings anonymously to the SEC; only a few officials knew his real name. He said he kept returning to the SEC to urge it to take up the case and was repeatedly ignored.

"Unfortunately, as they didn't respond to my written submissions in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008, here we are today," Markopolos said.

Warnings Ignored

Meanwhile, Madoff's operations grew bigger and he attracted more investors, Markopolos said. He made it clear to the congressional panel that he thinks the SEC fell down on the job.

"I gift-wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to them and somehow they couldn't be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation because they were too busy on matters of higher priority," he said. "If a $50 billion Ponzi scheme doesn't make the SEC's priority list, then I want to know who sets their priorities."

We gots to get us a Negra

The War on Terror is a Hoax

By Paul Craig Roberts

According to US government propaganda, terrorist cells are spread throughout America, making it necessary for the government to spy on all Americans and violate most other constitutional protections. Among President Bush's last words as he left office was the warning that America would soon be struck again by Muslim terrorists.

If America were infected with terrorists, we would not need the government to tell us. We would know it from events. As there are no events, the US government substitutes warnings in order to keep alive the fear that causes the public to accept pointless wars, the infringement of civil liberty, national ID cards, and inconveniences and harassments when they fly.

The most obvious indication that there are no terrorist cells is that not a single neocon has been assassinated.
I do not approve of assassinations, and am ashamed of my country's government for engaging in political assassination. The US and Israel have set a very bad example for al Qaeda to follow.

The US deals with al Qaeda and Taliban by assassinating their leaders, and Israel deals with Hamas by assassinating its leaders. It is reasonable to assume that al Qaeda would deal with the instigators and leaders of America's wars in the Middle East in the same way.

Today every al Qaeda member is aware of the complicity of neoconservatives in the death and devastation inflicted on Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza. Moreover, neocons are highly visible and are soft targets compared to Hamas and Hezbollah leaders. Neocons have been identified in the media for years, and as everyone knows, multiple listings of their names are available online.

Neocons do not have Secret Service protection. Dreadful to contemplate, but it would be child's play for al Qaeda to assassinate any and every neocon. Yet, neocons move around freely, a good indication that the US does not have a terrorist problem.

If, as neocons constantly allege, terrorists can smuggle nuclear weapons or dirty bombs into the US with which to wreak havoc upon our cities, terrorists can acquire weapons with which to assassinate any neocon or former government official.

Yet, the neocons, who are the Americans most hated by Muslims, remain unscathed.

The "war on terror" is a hoax that fronts for American control of oil pipelines, the profits of the military-security complex, the assault on civil liberty by fomenters of a police state, and Israel's territorial expansion.

Too big to fail, too big to jail


Karl Rove recently described George W. Bush as a book lover, writing, "There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one." There will be many histories written about the Bush administration. What will they use for source material?

The Bush White House was sued for losing e-mails, and for skirting laws intended to protect public records. A federal judge ordered White House computers scoured for e-mails just days before Bush left office. Three hundred million e-mails reportedly went to the National Archives, but 23 million e-mails remain "lost." Vice President Dick Cheney left office in a wheelchair because of a back injury suffered when moving boxes out of his office. He has not only hobbled a nation in his attempt to sequester information -- he hobbled himself. Cheney also won court approval to decide which of his records remain private.

Barack Obama was questioned by George Stephanopoulos about the possibility of prosecuting Bush administration officials. Obama said: "We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth. ... I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward ... what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."

Legal writer Karen Greenberg notes in Mother Jones magazine, "The list of potential legal breaches is, of course, enormous; by one count, the administration has broken 269 laws, both domestic and international."

How should Obama reform health care?

Annals of Public Policy

Getting There from Here

by Atul Gawande

Our jerry-rigged health-care system contains many models that reformers can build on.In every industrialized nation, the movement to reform health care has begun with stories about cruelty. The Canadians had stories like the 1946 Toronto Globe and Mail report of a woman in labor who was refused help by three successive physicians, apparently because of her inability to pay. In Australia, a 1954 letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald sought help for a young woman who had lung disease. She couldn't afford to refill her oxygen tank, and had been forced to ration her intake "to a point where she is on the borderline of death." In Britain, George Bernard Shaw was at a London hospital visiting an eminent physician when an assistant came in to report that a sick man had arrived requesting treatment. "Is he worth it?" the physician asked. It was the normality of the question that shocked Shaw and prompted his scathing and influential 1906 play, "The Doctor's Dilemma." The British health system, he charged, was "a conspiracy to exploit popular credulity and human suffering."

In the United States, our stories are like the one that appeared in the Times before Christmas. Starla Darling, pregnant and due for delivery, had just taken maternity leave from her factory job at Archway & Mother's Cookie Company, in Ashland, Ohio, when she received a letter informing her that the company was going out of business. In three days, the letter said, she and almost three hundred co-workers would be laid off, and would lose their health-insurance coverage. The company was self-insured, so the employees didn't have the option of paying for the insurance themselves—their insurance plan was being terminated.

"When I heard that I was losing my insurance, I was scared," Darling told the Times. Her husband had been laid off from his job, too. "I remember that the bill for my son's delivery in 2005 was about $9,000, and I knew I would never be able to pay that by myself." So she prevailed on her midwife to induce labor while she still had insurance coverage. During labor, Darling began bleeding profusely, and needed a Cesarean section. Mother and baby pulled through. But the insurer denied Darling's claim for coverage. The couple ended up owing more than seventeen thousand dollars.

The stories become unconscionable in any society that purports to serve the needs of ordinary people, and, at some alchemical point, they combine with opportunity and leadership to produce change. Britain reached this point and enacted universal health-care coverage in 1945, Canada in 1966, Australia in 1974. The United States may finally be there now. In 2007, fifty-seven million Americans had difficulty paying their medical bills, up fourteen million from 2003. On average, they had two thousand dollars in medical debt and had been contacted by a collection agency at least once. Because, in part, of underpayment, half of American hospitals operated at a loss in 2007. Today, large numbers of employers are limiting or dropping insurance coverage in order to stay afloat, or simply going under—even hospitals themselves.

Yet wherever the prospect of universal health insurance has been considered, it has been widely attacked as a Bolshevik fantasy—a coercive system to be imposed upon people by benighted socialist master planners. People fear the unintended consequences of drastic change, the blunt force of government. However terrible the system may seem, we all know that it could be worse—especially for those who already have dependable coverage and access to good doctors and hospitals.


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Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision
by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON, 2 Feb (IPS) - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 18 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

A seat at the table

Proposed legislation in Congress would set up camps for U. S. citizens

By the Editor from news agency sources

A bill proposed by Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings would set up a series of emergency centres on U. S. military installations. House Resolution 645 provides that no fewer than six such centres will be built and would give emergency aid, housing and relief services for citizens during a time of disaster or national emergency.

Even though the intend of the bill sounds humanitarian, the provision listed in Section Two, Paragraph B-4 raises the most questions. The wording reads

    (4) to meet other appropriate needs, as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

To read the text of the entire bill, click here:

The wording of the bill doesn't define 'appropriate needs', nor does it specify why the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for administration of the bill's various provisions.

Some commentators wonder about the bill's true purpose in the same breath that they talk about recession-related riots in Lithuania, Greece and other western countries. There is concern that the move to return combat-ready military units to the U. S. is a step towards making these centres 'concentration camps' for American citizens.

Writing on this legislation, Representative Ron Paul says that the bill would supplement other 'emergency powers' granted to the federal government since 9/11 and be the mechanism for imposing martial law. Paul says some questions need to be asked.

'With this in mind, it appears as if these so called national emergency centers will be used in a national emergency but only if the national emergency requires large groups of people to be rounded up and detained. If that isn't the case, than why have these national emergency facilities built in military installations?'

Al Jazeera announces launch of free footage under Creative Commons license

On January 13, 2009, Al Jazeera Network announced the world's first repository of broadcast-quality video footage released under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution (CC By 3.0) license. Select Al Jazeera video footage will be available for free to download, share, remix, subtitle and eventually rebroadcast by users and TV stations across the world with acknowledgment to Al Jazeera, marking the first time that video footage produced by a news broadcaster is released under the CC By 3.0 license, which allows for both commercial and non-commercial use. You can access the repository online at

They both proved that anybody can grow up to be president!

Gaza Doctor Says Death Toll Inflated

Is there more to the figures than meets the eye?

YNet News asks:

What really is behind the numbers reported on the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip? Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported Thursday that a doctor working in Gaza's Shifa Hospital claimed that Hamas has intentionally inflated the number of casualties resulting from Israel's Operation Cast Lead.

"The number of deceased stands at no more than 500 to 600. Most of them are youths between the ages of 17 to 23 who were recruited to the ranks of Hamas, who sent them to the slaughter," according to the newspaper article....

A Tal al-Hawa resident told the newspaper's reporter, "Armed Hamas men sought out a good position for provoking the Israelis. There were mostly teenagers, aged 16 or 17, and armed. They couldn't do a thing against a tank or a jet. They knew they are much weaker, but they fired at our houses so that they could blame Israel for war crimes."

The reporter for the Italian newspaper also quoted reporters in the Strip who told of Hamas' exaggerated figures, "We have already said to Hamas commanders "Why do you insist on inflating the number of victims?"

These same reporters mentioned that the truth that will come out is likely to be similar to what occurred in Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin. "Then, there was first talk of 1,500 deaths. But then it turned out that there were only 54, 45 of which were armed men," the Palestinian reporters told the Italian newspaper.

Gazans say Israel used them as human shields

The Israeli soldiers outside Majdi Abed Rabbo's home were after the three Hamas fighters holed up next door, and they wanted Abed Rabbo...

EZBT ABED RABBO, Gaza Strip - The Israeli soldiers outside Majdi Abed Rabbo's home were after the three Hamas fighters holed up next door, and they wanted Abed Rabbo to be their point man.

For the next 24 hours, Abed Rabbo said, the soldiers repeatedly forced him to walk through the battle zone to see whether the militants were dead or alive.

Abed Rabbo wasn't alone. Eight other residents in this northern Gaza Strip neighborhood told McClatchy Newspapers in separate interviews that Israeli soldiers had conscripted them to check homes for booby traps, to smash holes in the walls of houses so that soldiers could use them as escape routes or to try to pull dead Palestinian militants from the rubble.

Conscripting Palestinians during the recent fighting in Gaza would appear to violate not only international law, but also Israel's court-imposed ban on using civilians as human shields.

"The laws of war make it clear you must distinguish between civilians and combatants and you cannot force a civilian to take on a combat role," said Daniel Reisner, a legal scholar who spent nearly a decade as the head of the Israeli military's international law department. "Using a human shield is illegal."