Bush Fly Me Policy: Aid Air Terror

John Carr, the former president of NATCA (National Air Traffic Controllers Association), writes a thriller of a blog called The Main Bang.  You can only read it when you are next to an immediate fire suppression rescue device as your hair will spontaneously combust from all of the FAA transgressions against the controllers and the safety of the flying public.

Yesterday, John and his faithful commenters took on this a new Bushco War OF Terror TM threat:

Now it seems you can have real time flight tracking on virtual radar in your office, home, workplace, or, God forbid, a pickup truck full of Osama’s buddies toting shoulder fired missiles—for the low, low price of only $899.

I once famously crashed the party at a Congressional field hearing at Chicago Center to make sure Congress knew that, “Our Nation has entered the on-ramp to the information superhighway. The FAA cannot even get their Pinto out of the driveway.”  (See this Congressional record, page 97, from over 12 years ago.)

Well, it’s ditto modernization, folks.  While Bush, Blakester and Bobert have been busy caning their employees like they spit gum on the sidewalks of Singapore, their facilities have fallen apart like a Korean Swiss Army Knife.  Meanwhile…the modernization tools of airspace mischief and destruction are being hawked right underneath their noses, on the Internet.

You can buy real time flight tracking here and hereI have been thinking about buying one of these babies and a handheld VHF radio and working a little final to fourteen-right at O’Hare some night.  “Three from the marker, right to one two zero to join, three til established, cleared for the approach.  If you need more room behind the guy in front of you, push your seat back you sissy.”  Yeeee-HAW!!!

Did you get that?

John is saying that anyone can hack into air traffic control and direct pilots to anywhere. As in into another plane, into the ground, into buildings, etc.

Have you ever listened to controllers working a regular, everyday shift traffic?  Choose your favorite location and settle in where the performance is always at 100%, zero tolerance for a major error (two or more entities occupying the same space at the same time).

And then (wet your hair now as a precautionary measure), one of John’s commenters provides enough real-life scenarios if real-time radar access goes forward:

I found this about ADS-B, the core component of the FAA’s NEXGEN system;


These five stories are set slightly in the future, but only slightly. Perhaps five years from now. The technology described is an accurate portrayal of ATC systems of today, or in the case of ADS-B, an accurate portrayal of systems that are test flying today. The individuals and situations are fictional of course.

The scenarios are all very detailed, so I have included the one that seems to have generated the most concern by air traffic controllers.  They are all worth a close read and are important to consider.

Scenario Five….User Fees for General Aviation

Harvey Patton started his company for the best of reasons. His city was about to close the airport and turn the land into an industrial park. The various factions had fought over this issue for years and Harvey realized that if the airport users were seen to be paying their own way, and perhaps paying a bit extra, then the city could be convinced to keep the airport open.

In that light, local airport user fees didn’t look so bad. If the fees were structured according to the weight of each aircraft, the bulk of the expense would be borne by the companies that could afford it while the pleasure pilots would only pay a token sum. It sure beat losing the airfield.

So Harvey went to the city with this proposal: He would supply and maintain the equipment at no cost to the city, all the city had to supply was a place to house a PC and antenna. The equipment would receive and log the ADS-B signals and routinely modem the data to Harvey’s business where billing and collecting would be done. The city would receive 85% of the monthly billings without lifting a finger to do any work. All aircraft activity would be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whether the tower or FBO were on duty or not.

The city accepted, and the idea worked. Every month the city received a substantial check which went into the airport fund and provided a surplus. Everyone was happy. Well, the users weren’t totally happy but they realized it was better than closing the airport altogether. And many users, the smaller aircraft, were escaping user fees by not installing ADS-B. True, not having the collision avoidance equipment meant a higher risk, but many pilots were more concerned with high costs than improved margins of safety.

Harvey realized that we are losing an airport a day in the United States and some of those are important GA facilities similar to his airport. He went to those cities and sold the same deal, it was easy to do the automatic billing and collections from his location. He was getting 15% of the take from a number of fields and the revenue began to roll in. Next step was to approach the Westchesters and Addisons all over the country with the same arrangement, every airport needs additional funding and this deal was too good for them to resist. Business increased by leaps and bounds (or takeoffs and landings) and Patton Aviation Revenue was a resounding success.

Within a few years Patton equipment was working all over the country. It was installed, it was functioning, it was a proven source of aviation funding. Of course the users were unhappy, particularly at the fields where the fees were set to limit traffic or limit noise or for some other artificial reason. But the corporate users, those who were required to use ADS-B, had no alternative but to pay.

Then the new Congress instituted federal user fees for General Aviation. This hadn’t happened previously because there was no billing and collecting infrastructure, but Harvey Patton had changed all that. Or more accurately, ADS-B had changed all that.
The feds contracted with Patton Aviation Revenue in the same way they contract with Jeppesen or Flight Safety or others who provide a service. Patton did the billing and kept a percentage of the take. Suddenly every takeoff, every flight mile, every landing was computer monitored. VFR or IFR, the airspace bill arrived at the end of the month.

The users screamed, they cursed Harvey Patton, but it was no use. If they were going to fly with ADS-B they were going to be billed. Yet the pilots with foresight, those who had never installed ADS-B, weren’t paying a cent. Until a court action was filed, that is.

The US Federal Court for the Ninth District ruled that all airspace users must be treated equally. The court left it up to the FAA to determine what “equally” consisted of but the edict was firm, equality in user fees had to be maintained.
What happened then There are many possible endings to this story. Maybe each non-ADS-B aircraft received an “average” bill every month whether they flew or not. Or maybe every plane was forced to install ADS-B and the resulting frequency overload created the same situation we’ve had at Oshkosh for many years: “turn your transponder to standby when 30 miles out”. Then the planes, with their ADS-B turned off, were prohibited from flying in controlled airspace. Or maybe the aircraft owners simply gave up and sold the birds for whatever they could get and pleasure flying died, taking FBOs and manufacturers with it.

Today it is not possible to saddle General Aviation with user fees for one simple reason – there is no infrastructure to collect those fees. The test that aviators must apply to ADS-B (or any similar technology) is simple: Are there any words that Congress could say that will hurt us If the answer to that question is yes, then pilots and aircraft owners must reject the technology.

Proponents of ADS-B tell us that there will be an “anonymous” mode that the pilot can select. But that will be true only as long as the rules permit it. Once upon a time we could turn off the transponder if we wanted to, but as the years passed that choice was eliminated. The same will inevitably be true of an anonymous setting, it can only be used until it is prohibited. First prohibited at flight levels and at major hubs, then prohibited in IFR, then prohibited, period.

Proponents of ADS-B also tell us that we can be tracked today. That is somewhat true, but recent experience in the well publicized JFK Jr. accident is instructive. His plane went down around 9 PM Friday and the search and rescue efforts began at 6 AM Saturday. Those efforts continued, under intense press scrutiny, through all of Saturday, all of Sunday, and all of Monday. Around midday Tuesday the FAA finally decoded enoughof their radar tapes to determine the location where the plane went into the water. After the spot was pointed out, the remains of the aircraft were promptly found.

It took FAA more than 72 hours to find one aircraft, an aircraft that the President of the United States and the world press corps were actively interested in finding. Given the number of flights daily, it is clear that the FAA does not begin to have the resources to track and bill every flight.

Tracking every IFR flight would be somewhat easier, but many of those will switch to VFR if there is a substantial money saving. And if it comes to that, safety will suffer. Isn’t safety what ADS-B was for in the first place Don’t you detect something wrong here

This is just a single example of Bushco’s active undermining of regulatory agencies in providing essential public services and safety protections for Americans.


Bush policy is a joke – and that joke is deadly and at the expense of all Americans.

in Other news…

Welcome to a weekly roundup of news related to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and otherwise “other” community.

  • The Obama/McClurkin flak has dominated LGBT news recently, and the emnity that it’s created has made me wary of diving in further.  However, it’s worth reading this first-hand account at Adam McEwen’s blog, a powerful statement about the ruinous effects of religious-based homophobia:

    For every so-called religious statement coming from her mouth, I could hear closet door after closet door slamming shut.

    I could see even more black gay men (many of them married) trolling down the streets in the darkness of the night looking for a physical fix because they have been bamboozled to think that a quick thrust in the dark is all they deserve as gay men.

    I could see more black women assembling themselves in “down low spotter groups” and doing inane things like checking their men’s underwear for blood.

    And I see the HIV/AIDS rate in the African-American community going sky high.

    However, before anyone makes a narrow comment about homophobia in the black community, it’s worth noting that yet another (white) Republican has been caught in yet another gay sex scandal: this time in Washington State.  I don’t fully buy the old saw that the most vocally homophobic are also suppressing homosexual desires, but they’re making it hard not to expect that state legislators who voted consistently against rights and protections in the gay community might turn out to be cross-dressing fetishists with families at home and young men in the hotel room.  Sadly Rep. Curtis has had no problem making life miserable for other cross-dressing fetishists while enjoying the same extracurricular activities he believes are discrimination-worthy.  For other people, of course.  Dan Savage has more.

    Of course this issue isn’t limited to the black or white communities.  Welcome recent addition to the list, Andrew Quah, a conservative Australian politician (now ex-politician) whose nude photographs on gay sites must have gotten there through the most obvious channel: “my political enemies might have drugged me.”  Mr. Quah might consider a new career in stand-up: that is comedy gold.

More news below

  • Since the Ex-Gay phenomenon has been in the news quite a bit this week, it’s worth checking out Daniel Gonzales’ series on Love Won Out, an evangelical ministry to help those poor homosexuals.  Unlike what scientists, sociologists, and people with common sense are saying, the head of Love Won Out knows exactly where deviant sexuality begins:

    We advise fathers: if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.

    Corollary: if you don’t perform fellatio on your sons, some other man will.  That’s how the logic works, right?

  • Given the sophistication of bigoted rhetoric we’ve come to expect in a post-political correctness world, seeing something like this is almost nostalgia-inducing.  Kudos to New Jersey Republican Bobby Bryant, whose campaign fund went towards a quaint newspaper ad that could have been written in the 1950s.
  • The butchered ENDA does not seem to be on the Congressional calendar anytime soon, but in meantime you should check out Jared Polis’ essay on transgender inclusion that appeared earlier this week on Daily Kos.  Polis is an openly gay politician running for the Colorado State Legislature (website).

    Why are we even having this discussion? When Colorado passed a statewide ENDA last session, it included gender identity without a murmur. Specifically, our Colorado Senate Bill 25 defined sexual orientation as “a person’s actual or perceived orientation toward heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgender status.” Some legislators supported it and some opposed it, but none cited the gender identity issue as the reason for their opposition

That’s all for today, folks.  Sorry about my relative non-participation lately, but for those of us on the academic job market, this month is brutally busy.  All our applications for jobs next fall are due now, and they’re time-consuming, punishing, and more often than not a waste of time.  Hoorah! 

At any rate I should be done soon and participating back at my usual rate. 

11/14: NYC DocuDharma Meet-up

Hey friends. Following up on the call I put out a few weeks ago for an NYC DocuDharma meetup.

So who’s coming and where should we meet-up?

Shall we meet for drinks at 6? and where?

pfiore may come into the city earlier so we can make a trip to the Frick Museum. Anyone else up for that? We could see amazing things like this Vermeer painting: Mistress and Maid. vermeer

I hope herding DocuPonies is easier than herding cats!

NYCers I know you are out there! And I know that some of you are close if not in the Empire State.

Make the trek! Let’s meet up in the flesh and eat drink and make merry. Oh, yeah, and talk politics, and plot the future, and figure out our eutopia!

Here’s pfiore8 and I having fun the last time we met up (which was also actually the first time!) washdc 027

OK, fellow DocuDharmists, let’s get organized, and then let’s have some fun on November 14 in the Big Apple!

We’ve got the WHEN so now we just need to figure out the

  • WHERE?
  • and WHO? a rough head count–actually I guess this may affect the WHERE?

Sheesh, this is some hard work! But I’m sure we can figure it out!

The Disgraceful Jay Rockefeller

One of the biggest disappointments of last night's debate for me was Senator Chris Dodd's refusal to discuss (sure Russert and Williams were not going to ask about it, but so what, thrust the issue into the debate) the raison de etre for his candidacy – restoration of the Constitution ad the rule of law. And today, as Glenn Greenwald discusses, Senator Jay Rockefeller reaches a new disgraceful low, as he argues for total disrespect for the rule of law:

Today there is significant debate about whether the underlying program — the president's warrantless surveillance plan — was legal or violated constitutional rights. That is an important debate, and those questions must be answered.

In the meantime, however, these companies are being sued, which is unfair and unwise. As the operational details of the program remain highly classified, the companies are prevented from defending themselves in court. And if we require them to face a mountain of lawsuits, we risk losing their support in the future.

What drivel. Losing their support in what? Breaking the law? What in blazes is rockefeller talking about? The telcos will not honor duly issued warrants because they are being sued? Ah, there's the rub. Rockefeller does not believe in the NEED for the government and telcos to follow the law. What's the rule of law to Rockefeller? Nothing at all. He is a disgrace. More.

Rockefeller fills his column with a pack of lies misinformation:

Let's be clear. First, there is no automatic amnesty. All Americans, including corporate citizens, must follow the law and be held accountable for their actions. The bill authorizes case-by-case review in the courts only when the attorney general certifies that a company's actions were based on assurances of legality, and the court is specifically required to determine whether the attorney general abused his discretion before immunity can be granted.

No law is needed to provide this defense to the telcos. It exists under existing law. As Greenwald notes:

FISA and other laws already contain amnesty if telecoms can show they acted in good faith. When telecoms comply with the law, they don't get sued. They get sued only when they violate their legal duties to their customers and the country by engaging in exactly the behavior which the American people, through their Congress, decided to prohibit in the form of our “laws.”

In sum, Rockefeller has expressed his contempt for the rule of law. As Greenwald says:

Rockefeller's bill rewards deliberate lawbreaking. His amnesty gift further bolsters the image he and Fred Hiatt and friends have of America whereby our most powerful Beltway officials and our most lobbyist-protected corporations can break laws with total impunity. No matter how many times Rockefeller and Cheney scream “9/11” and “Terrorists!,” the most basic principles of “the rule of law” demand that telecoms and Bush officials — like everyone else — be held accountable when they break the law.

Rockefeller has disgraced himself utterly.

Global Warming: From the Great Dying to humanity at risk

On this Halloween, who needs ghosts and goblins? The real spooky stuff is in the science.

First, from Science Daily:

The greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history also may have been one of the slowest, according to a study that casts further doubt on the extinction-by-meteor theory.

Creeping environmental stress fueled by volcanic eruptions and global warming was the likely cause of the Great Dying 250 million years ago, said USC doctoral student Catherine Powers.

Writing in the November issue of the journal Geology, Powers and her adviser David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences at USC, describe a slow decline in the diversity of some common marine organisms.

Obviously, this wasn’t a human-caused event, but it demonstrates just how catastrophic such a catastrophe can be. As this NASA article explains, in the Great Dying, up to 90% of marine species and up to 70% of land species were wiped out. All life on Earth almost ended, even as it was still beginning, and global warming seems to have been one of the reasons why.

There is such a steady stream of stories on the current era of global warming, but here are just two new examples…


As reported by Science Daily, last week:

The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future — as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

“This is exactly what we’ve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change,” said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.

Neilson points out the obvious: you can’t prove a direct causal link.

“But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows,” Neilson said, “and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.”

And melting…

According to the European Space Agency:

The International Ice Charting Working Group predicts more marine transportation in the Arctic as sea ice continues to diminish and warns of “significant hazards to navigation,” according to a recent statement .

The statement was released during a five-day conference held at ESRIN, ESA’s Earth Observation Centre in Frascati, Italy, in which operational ice experts from Europe and North America gathered to discuss the state of the polar regions.

“In September 2007, the Arctic sea ice reached the minimum extent – the lowest amount of ice recorded in the area annually – in the history of ice charting based on satellite, aircraft and surface observations, continuing a recent trend of diminishing sea ice that began in the 1980s and has accelerated. While there will still be natural inter-annual variability, the decline is likely to continue,” the statement” reads.

According to satellite data, summer sea ice has been nearly halved since the early 1980s, from 8 million km² to less than 4.24 million km², this year. This is a huge drop even from the previous record of 5.5 million km², just two years ago. It’s already affecting walrus habitat, and the process is happening so much more rapidly than had been predicted that scientists are increasingly unnerved. They should be unnerved!

And it gets worse. As the BBC explained, also last week:

Global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries could trigger a mass extinction, UK scientists have warned.

The temperatures are within the range of greenhouse phases early in the Earth’s history when up to 95% of plants and animals died out, they say.

Experts examined the link between climate and diversity over 520 million years, almost the entire fossil record.

Which closes the circle on the first report: global warming was a chief cause of the Great Dying, and it could cause another one. According to scientists. If you believe scientists. Which, of course, the worst administration in American history doesn’t. But, according to scientists, as reported by MSNBC, it’s already happening:

The world’s biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, the recognized global watchdog on endangered species said Wednesday in announcing its annual list of most vulnerable wildlife….

Current extinction rates are at least 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates found in the fossil record, the report stated. The data were released as 3,500 delegates gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, for a World Conservation Union conference focused on halting what’s deemed an extinction crisis.

The report concluded that humans are the main reason for most species’ declines. “Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats,” the union said in a statement, “but other significant pressures include over-exploitation (for food, pets, and medicine), introduced species, pollution, and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat.”

And here’s the link to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Except that there may soon be another one. And it’s not only from global warming, as the Guardian reported, last week:

The future of humanity has been put at risk by a failure to address environmental problems including climate change, species extinction and a growing human population, according to a new UN report.

In a sweeping audit of the world’s environmental wellbeing, the study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that governments are still failing to recognise the seriousness of major environmental issues.

We need repeat it, over and over, because no one in the corporate media will even dare say it: there is no more important political issue than the environment. Read the UNEP report. Find out what your candidates intend to do about it. Encourage them and your current representatives to give this issue the attention it deserves. Be Energy Smart. The UNEP report makes it clear that it is not too late; but it also makes clear that we don’t have much more time before it might be.

Pony Party, Good Samhain

The Veil Is Getting Thin

As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a wisper wispering.
I heard a wisper wispering,
Upon this fine fall day…

As I went out walking this fall afternoon,
I heard a laugh a’laughing.
I heard a laugh a’laughing,
Upon this fine fall day…

I heard this wisper and I wondered,
I heard this laugh and then I knew.
The time is getting near my friends,
The time that I hold dear my friends,
The veil is getting thin my friends,
And strange things will pass through.

…anonymously authored poem from this website

Have a safe and blessed Samhain!!

(…as always, wikipedia can provide an overview and some links for your perusal…)

Tricks are acceptable, but keep the treats (i.e. recommends) to yourself…ponies dont need ’em…


About that Novel.

let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!

Because really, what incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you.

kredwyn is so totally doing that Novel in a month marathon thing and we should all be encouraging her and anyone else brave enough to attempt it, but that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about.

I want to talk about Media Complicity.

Tuesday’s performance by NBC/MSNBC/GE and by both Brian Williams and Timmeh was beyond pathetic.


Have to blame corporate though for the shabby behavior of the Moderators.

From word one the sneering sarcasm and hostility of their every utterance was a burning stain on the filthy piss smelling hole that jack-off journalism has become.  A collection of Thug talking points and dismissive condescension.

How about them Dodd minutes?

They wanted a cock fight and did everything they could to get one.  I’m not going to pick a winner.  We all lost.

They are bad for America.

I want to educate them and baseball bats are nicely balanced tools (and I am a such a Mets fan), but a golf club swing is so much more gratifying than some.

The idiocy of it is that they need us, without our money and/or eyeballs they are nothing.  I’m ashamed to be a news junkie but what can I do?  I’m not Nielsened (that I know), and I do love me a good train wreck.

The Sunday Shows don’t even advertise things that you buy.  They advertise stocks that investors buy and so Faux News seems so much less disappointing to me than the “real” thing because at least I know what to expect.

As John Kerry said-

But the main question is: what can we do about it? I’m going to make this case in any way I can. Television, newspapers, you name it. There’s no magic bullet to this; we simply need to apply as much pressure as possible in as many ways as possible. I’ll be back with some specific actions from time to time because concerted action by many people toward a single goal gets the best results. But do as much as you can all the time. Drop by your representatives’ office and let them know your feelings. Write, call, fax, email, get in contact any way you can. These actions aren’t glamorous, but they really do make a difference. And don’t lose faith. The other side in this debate is intent on outlasting us, convinced that we’ll give up. You and I have to make sure that they are wrong on that.

Well, that’s about what we can do but the most important part is this one-

And don’t lose faith. The other side in this debate is intent on outlasting us, convinced that we’ll give up. You and I have to make sure that they are wrong on that.

So there you are.

No one has promised you a “magic bullet”, you have to make this case any way you can.  You have to “apply as much pressure as possible in  as many ways as possible.”  “These actions aren’t glamorous, but they really do make a difference.”  Temporary setbacks are just that unless you give up.

Do you want them to have that victory?

I say never.  “Live Free or Die.”

The Media is going to be the slowest of institutions to change.  They’re the very ground we’re fighting on, the embodiment of late 20th Century corporate power.  Here on the tubz we fight free.  As in cheap.  As in 41 cents for a Benjamin Franklin letter, he of deserving neither security or liberty fame.

The limit of this tool is the limit of your imagination, just as for any artist.  There is what is and then there is what you wish to see.

If the line does not look like a tree, change it until it does.

Why I’m NOT Endorsing a Candidate for President

I think we can all agree that any nominee of the Democratic Party is going to be more receptive to progressive initiatives, make better appointments and nominations, and run the Executive Branch more competently than any Republican.

What I am far more concerned about is-

  • The Continuing Occupation of Iraq
  • The Erosion of our Constitutional Liberties
  • The Congenital Criminal Corruption in D.C.

The solution to these concerns is not in the White House, but at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue- in the halls of Congress.

Through both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last 30 years the level of incestuous self absorption by the Beltway Bozo Pandering Pundit Political Media Elite, the Fatheaded Sissies and Whiny Bloviators, the Arrogant Asskissing Acceptors of Access, the So-Called “Serious People” with their Mindless Masturbatory Illusions of Self Importance and Constant Cacophony of Condescending Calumny and Lies has increased to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.

Like gilding their Inflated Pompous Balloon Egos are micrometers thick.  They need a good prick, and I am one.

I think we need to be devoting our time and energy to producing a dominant Democratic majority in Congress and within that a Powerful Progressive Caucus.

Anything else is not going to produce the results we want.  Primary, primary, primary.  Punish the Media with your eyeballs, emails, and money.  Not a dime to the Corporate Enablers, sit on your ass and vote with your wallet.

Or indulge yourself in the amorphous meanderings of your particular cult of personality, whatever.

Wishing for a strong man (or woman) on a white horse is delusional dreaming.  Working with others to produce a profound change in direction is quite something else and one or two elections and lucky breaks won’t do anything but delay the damage and I’m so very tired of being the little Dutch boy with my fingers in the dike.

The Morning News

The Morning News is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US State Dept in furor over reported Blackwater immunity deal
by Sylvie Lanteaume, AFP
1 hour, 28 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A top US legislator demanded information Tuesday over reports that the State Department offered immunity to Blackwater employees in the wake of a Baghdad shooting that left 17 civilians dead.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to explain whether the private security group, which protects US diplomats in Baghdad under a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars, had been offered protection from prosecution when the State Department investigated the September 16 shooting.

On Tuesday US media reported that the Blackwater guards were promised immunity during the department’s inquiry.

2 U.S. to tighten rules for Iraq contractors
By Andrew Gray and Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters
2 hours, 31 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon and U.S. State Department have agreed to tighten rules governing private security contractors in Iraq, giving a greater oversight role to the U.S. military, officials said on Tuesday.

The proposed changes emerged from a review triggered by a shooting incident in Baghdad last month in which security guards from U.S. security firm Blackwater, working for the State Department, are accused of having killed 17 Iraqis.

Efforts to prosecute guards involved in the incident could be complicated by a grant of limited immunity offered by State Department investigators, U.S. officials also said on Tuesday.

3 Immunity deals ‘routine’ for contractors
By LARA JAKES JORDAN and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writers
3 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – Limited immunity has been routinely offered to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq, State Department officials said Tuesday, denying such actions jeopardized criminal prosecution of Blackwater USA guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to discuss specifics of the agency’s role in the investigation, but said any immunity deals should not stop the Justice Department from prosecuting.

“It’s up to the investigators and prosecutors to determine what kind of case they have … and ultimately whether to bring prosecution,” McCormack told reporters.

4 Bomb blast near Musharraf’s HQ kills 7
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 14 minutes ago

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A bomber blew himself up about a quarter-mile from President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s office Tuesday, killing seven people and deepening Pakistan’s insecurity ahead of crucial elections.

Officials said the attacker detonated his explosives among police at a checkpoint in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, Islamabad.

Musharraf was safely inside Army House, about a quarter-mile away, where the blast was clearly heard, said presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi. The checkpoint guards a road leading to the president’s compound and the residences of several top generals.

5 Democrats consider more money for war
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 1 minute ago

WASHINGTON – Democrats are debating whether to approve up to $70 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan, only a down payment on President Bush’s $196 billion war spending request but enough to keep the wars afloat for several more months.

Such a move would satisfy party members who want to spare the Pentagon from a painful budget dance and show support for the troops as Congress considers its next major step on Iraq.

But it also would irritate scores of other Democrats, who want to pay only to bring troops home and who say their leadership is not doing enough to end the war.

6 Major powers expected to meet on Iran this week
By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters
48 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major powers plan to meet in London this week to discuss new U.N. sanctions on Iran amid a spat between Washington and the U.N. nuclear watchdog over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

The officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter in public, said they expected the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany to meet toward the end of the week.

Washington and other Western countries suspect Tehran is developing nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear program is to generate electricity so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.

7 Bush’s budget fight with Democrats deepens
By Richard Cowan, Reuters
Tue Oct 30, 12:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic congressional leaders pushed on Tuesday to finish bills to pay for military, veterans health care and domestic programs, while possibly injecting more Iraq war funds into the pipeline, as President George W. Bush again threatened to wield his veto pen.

Bush’s objection is over the Democrats’ desire to spend about $9 billion more than he wants for various domestic social programs, from cancer research and early childhood education to helping the poor heat their homes this winter.

Democrats were considering coupling the domestic funding bill with money for the Pentagon and veterans that Bush wants, but final decisions had not yet been made, according to congressional aides.

8 Want to stop superbugs? Clean up hospitals: study
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor, Reuters
1 hour, 3 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hospitals seeking to keep patients from picking up infections should focus as much on cleaning up invisible germs as on removing the visible dirt, a British doctor argued on Tuesday.

Clean hands can only go so far in protecting patients from infection if doorknobs, bed rails and even sheets are covered with bacteria and viruses, Dr. Stephanie Dancer of South General Hospital in Glasgow writes in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

But other infection experts differed on whether clean equipment and telephones affect a patient’s biggest risk of acquiring a “superbug” such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

9 Panel on space station solar antenna rips
by Jean-Louis Santini, AFP
15 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA scientists were Tuesday examining the damage to a panel on a solar antenna on the International Space Station which ripped as it was repositioned by the crew of the shuttle Discovery.

“The team is meeting right now to look at these many pictures and try to decide what exactly is causing the problem,” said Mike Suffredini, the manager of the orbiting space station.

The edge of one of the 31 panels on the solar antenna tore just as the operation to redeploy the device — directed by mission control back on Earth — was almost complete, images carried live on NASA television showed.

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10 Rare Event: Easy-to-See Comet Holmes
Joe Rao SPACE.com Skywatching Columnist, SPACE.com
Tue Oct 30, 4:15 PM ET

Skywatchers throughout the Northern Hemisphere report the newly visible Comet Holmes is a remarkable sight even under city lights. The comet, described in glowing terms by many observers, should continue to be visible to the naked eye for at least the next few weeks.

Only a couple comets each decade are this easy to see.

Holmes is actually an old comet. First seen in November 1892 by British observer Edwin Holmes, it has since made 16 circuits around the Sun and should have fizzled out a long time ago. It made its closest approach to the Sun last May, yet never came closer to it than 191 million miles (307 million kilometers).  The comet is actually moving away from the sun now, almost midway between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not exactly a recipe for an outbust, since solar heating is typically what triggers comets to brighten.

But sometime late last Tuesday, Oct. 23, this comet underwent an explosive outburst and within just 24-hours increased its brightness almost a million-fold. Since then, Holmes has been putting on a unique display, looking very different than any other comet of our generation: It has yet to sprout a noticeable tail, while its head-called the coma-appears like a round, yellowish fuzz ball in the constellation Perseus, and is visible for most of the night.

11 Experts discover rare amphibian imprints
By CATHERINE TSAI, Associated Press Writer
1 minute ago

DENVER – A rock that sat untouched in a Pennsylvania museum’s fossil collection for years has rare full-body imprints of not just one, but three, ancient amphibians.

Researchers found the imprints in sandstone rocks collected in eastern Pennsylvania decades ago and stored in the museum in Reading, Pa. The body impressions of the salamander-like creatures are estimated to be 330 million years old, or about 100 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared.

Many ancient footprints have been found, but a full-body animal impression is unusual. The three impressions show the foot-long temnospondyls had webbed feet and smooth skin similar to modern-day amphibians, rather than armored bodies.

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12 Aquarium conserves water during drought
By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 30, 4:51 PM ET

ATLANTA – With drought conditions intensifying across the Southeast, efforts to conserve water are popping up everywhere – even at the aquarium. In the name of conservation, the Georgia Aquarium, home of the world’s largest fish tank, has emptied some of its watery displays.

The downtown Atlanta attraction has drained a lake in an atrium, turned off a waterfall and nearly emptied a moat at an exhibit, refilling it with sand. The aquarium isn’t alone: A water salute to retiring pilots at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport also has been put on hold.

The efforts are some of the most unusual as the state contends with one of the worst droughts in its history. Georgia already has banned virtually all outdoor water use and ordered public water utilities to cut back water use by 10 percent.

From Yahoo News World

13 Iraq bill would lift contractor immunity
By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 32 minutes ago

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government approved a draft law Tuesday to lift immunity for foreign security companies including Blackwater USA, a bid to overturn a decree imposed more than three years ago by the U.S. official who ran the country after the American-led invasion.

The legislation could have a chilling effect on security companies operating in Iraq, though the vast sums they and their guards are paid are likely to weigh more heavily than the possibility of legal jeopardy.

The draft law, expected to be passed overwhelmingly by parliament, is also certain to deepen tensions between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government.

14 Turkey: Fighting with Kurds will surge
By SUZAN FRASER, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 30, 5:04 PM ET

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s prime minister said Tuesday increased military action against separatist Kurdish rebels was “unavoidable” and pressed the United States for a crackdown on guerrilla bases in northern Iraq.

Turkish helicopters pounded rebel positions near the border with rockets for a second day and Turkey brought in troops by the truckload in an operation against mountainside emplacements.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his party in parliament “it is now unavoidable that Turkey will have to go through a more intensive military process.”

15 With US help, ship crew defeats pirates
By EDWARD HARRIS, Associated Press Writer
55 minutes ago

NAIROBI, Kenya – A U.S. Navy destroyer helped sailors who retook control of their vessel Tuesday in a deadly battle with pirates after the North Korean-flagged ship was hijacked in the piracy-plagued waters off Somalia, the American military said.

The Navy also confirmed that other American warships sank two pirate skiffs late Sunday after answering a distress call from a hijacked Japanese chemical tanker and said U.S. ships were still monitoring that vessel.

In Tuesday’s incident, a helicopter flew from the destroyer USS James E. Williams to investigate a phoned-in tip of a hijacked ship and demanded by radio that the pirates give up their weapons, the military said in a statement.

The crew of the Dai Hong Dan then overwhelmed the hijackers, leaving two pirates dead, according to preliminary reports, and five captured, the military said.

16 Saudi king gets royal welcome, jeers on UK visit
By Sarah Marsh, Reuters
1 hour, 42 minutes ago

LONDON (Reuters) – The British and Saudi monarchs spoke warmly about each other’s countries at a formal banquet in London on Tuesday, but a state visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah drew protests and political controversy in Britain.

Protesters calling for the reopening of a corruption inquiry into a multi-billion dollar arms deal jeered at Abdullah as he rode in a gilded carriage. Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats, boycotted official events over human rights.

“The relationship between our two kingdoms is one of mutual benefit, learning and understanding. So, King Abdullah, custodian of the two holy mosques, I warmly welcome you to this country,” Elizabeth said in a speech at the banquet in Buckingham Palace, her London residence.

17 Spanish judge due to rule on Madrid train bombs
By Jane Barrett, Reuters
33 minutes ago

MADRID (Reuters) – A Spanish court will deliver verdicts on Wednesday on 28 people accused of playing a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, ending a politically charged trial into Europe’s deadliest al Qaeda inspired attack.

Ten bombs ripped through four commuter trains early on March 11, 2004, strewing the tracks with bodies. The Islamist bombings killed 191 people and injured 1,800 when mobile phones set off homemade bombs packed into sports bags.

The bombings also reshaped Spanish politics as voters spurned a conservative government that at first blamed the blasts on Basque separatists ETA.

18 Gap Threatens India’s Clothing Boom
Tue Oct 30, 4:15 PM ET

The Gap clothing chain has withdrawn a line of embroidered blouses and ordered an internal investigation after a news report alleged that the garments were stitched by children in a Delhi sweatshop. Sunday’s edition of Britain’s Observer splashed an undercover investigative report across two pages, alleging children between 10 and 13 worked in conditions “close to slavery” in the factory producing blouses bearing Gap labels. Gap, which has 200 of its 2,000 suppliers in India, was quick to order a recall and an investigation, while calling a meeting with suppliers to reiterate its no-tolerance policy on child labor. “Under absolutely no circumstance is it acceptable for children to produce or work on garments. It’s a non-negotiable for us,” Gap’s senior vice-president for social responsibility, Dan Henkle, said in a statement.

19 No More Fun on the Autobahn?
By ANDREW PURVIS, Time Magazine
Tue Oct 30, 9:35 AM ET

You could almost hear the brakes being slammed on across Germany. If there is anything Germans love more than their luxury cars, it’s driving those cars fast. So the proposal by one of Germany’s governing parties to introduce a speed limit on Germany’s famous autobahns, the only highways in the developed world (outside the Isle of Man) that don’t restrict speed, is meeting with serious resistance. Under the proposal, approved by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) at a convention this weekend, Germans would be required to keep to within a 130 kph (about 80 mph) on the regional highways in order to save the planet – “a fast and unbureaucratic path to climate protection,” according to a statement from the party.

20 Iran War Drumbeat Grows Louder
Tue Oct 30, 3:15 AM ET

The prospect of war with Iran is beginning to look real. The hardening of positions in both Tehran and Washington over the past week has brought relations to their lowest point since the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979. Both sides insist that they seek no military conflict, but tensions on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to influence in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process is turning their differences into all-out regional power struggle. Last week, Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice criticized Iran’s “emboldened foreign policy” and “hegemonic aspirations,” while asserting that the U.S. will continue to be engaged on economic, political and security issues in the Middle East. “We are there to stay,” she declared.

From Yahoo News U.S. News

21 Squeezing Mukasey on Torture
Tue Oct 30, 11:50 AM ET

George W. Bush has always wielded moral clarity as a weapon, beating Democrats by declaring his high purpose and principled resolve. But in recent months, as critics have shined new light on domestic spying and harsh interrogation techniques in the morally ambiguous world of counter-terrorism, Bush has had to retreat to gray-area defenses, using tailored definitions and legalisms to dodge questioners. And now, as Democrats raise the pressure on embattled Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to state his opinion on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture, it is the president’s opponents who are using moral clarity against him.

Mukasey’s (and the White House’s) problems began during his Oct. 18 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. At the hearing veteran Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Mukasey a deceptively simple question: is waterboarding torture? Waterboarding simulates drowning, and involves constraining a person, restricting their breathing and pouring water on all or part of their face. Some version of it is widely reported to have been used by U.S. interrogators in an attempt to extract information from high-level terrorism suspects in the wake of 9/11.

It is also widely labeled as a form of torture by current and former U.S. military leaders, human rights organizations worldwide and prominent Republicans, including Presidential candidate John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham. Torture is illegal in the United States, and Bush and the administration have repeatedly asserted that they have not and do not torture. But Bush has declined to define torture, and Durbin’s question cut to the core of that obfuscation.

22 US safety chief under fire to quit after Halloween toy scare
by P. Parameswaran, AFP
Tue Oct 30, 5:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Top Democratic lawmakers demanded Tuesday the resignation of the US consumer product safety chief and unveiled plans for stiffer enforcement laws after Halloween toys became the latest tainted made-in-China goods to be recalled.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi led her colleagues from the Democratic Party in calling on Nancy Nord, the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to quit amid more discoveries of tainted toys.

“I call on the president of the United States to ask for the resignation,” Pelosi told a news conference at Capitol Hill with other lawmakers by her side.

23 Report says contracts failed to help Mosul Dam
Tue Oct 30, 5:03 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $27 million U.S. project has not improved Iraq’s largest dam, which is in danger of failing and potentially killing thousands, the U.S. inspector for Iraq reconstruction said on Tuesday.

A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said the project has failed to improve the Mosul Dam’s grouting system by providing the Iraqi government with equipment needed for the project.

“SIGIR’s inspection concludes that the project, now 2 years old, has yet to significantly improve the basic grouting capability of the Ministry of Water and Resources at the dam,” the report said.

The Washington Post, citing a draft Army Corps of Engineers report, said the Mosul dam was in danger of imminent collapse and could flood two large Iraqi cities and kill thousands.

From Yahoo News Politics

24 Giuliani: Illegals are a federal problem
By LIBBY QUAID, Associated Press Writer
20 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – Responsibility for stopping illegal immigration belongs to the federal government and not to cities, states or businesses, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday.

Giuliani told small-business owners he would not punish them for unwittingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Federal officials are “trying to put the responsibility for this on employers, on city government, on state government,” the former New York mayor said during a conference call arranged by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

25 Romney says he’ll lobby for Olympics
By DEANNA BELLANDI, Associated Press Writer
21 minutes ago

WHEELING, Ill. – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday that he would lobby to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago if he is elected.

Romney, who is credited with rescuing the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, also said he would work to make sure there is ample federal support for security and transportation during the games.

“I’m going to work hard to make sure that’s part of my budget … that we provide the necessary support for the Olympics that will enhance the probability of winning the game bid,” the former Massachusetts governor said before a fundraiser in suburban Chicago.

26 Huckabee distances himself in Ark. case
By ANN SANNER, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 30, 5:53 PM ET

WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee distanced himself Tuesday from the case of an Arkansas man who killed a woman after being paroled for rape when Huckabee was the state’s governor.

Huckabee had once spoken in favor of releasing the man but told reporters the decision to do so was made by parole board members appointed by his Democratic predecessors, Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton.

Huckabee said he could not remember all the details of a meeting he had with parole board members during which the case of Wayne DuMond came up. But he asserted, “I didn’t try to, you know, push anybody’s buttons on it.”

27 AG nominee unsure about waterboarding
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 38 minutes ago

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s nominee for attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that an interrogation technique called waterboarding is repugnant but that he did not know if it is legal.

Michael Mukasey’s four-page letter did not satisfy Democrats, many of whom said their vote hinges on whether he’s willing to say that the technique, which simulates drowning and is banned by the military, is illegal. Mukasey was widely expected to be confirmed by the full Senate, if by a narrower margin than the White House expected.

Mukasey, a retired federal judge, called the technique “repugnant to me” and pledged to study its legality if confirmed.

28 Republican Ron Paul airs first ads
Associated Press
Tue Oct 30, 11:53 AM ET

WASHINGTON – Underdog Ron Paul is airing the first TV ads of his presidential campaign, hoping to capitalize on a fundraising surge and promote his blend of anti-war, anti-spending libertarianism in New Hampshire.

The two 30-second spots are part of a $1.1 million series of five ads that the Republican congressman intends to air in the state in November and December.

One ad, called “Catching On,” features New Hampshire residents voicing their support, including a self-described undeclared voter who says he will vote in the Republican primary simply to cast a ballot for Paul.

29 Fred Thompson quizzed on civil unions
By STEPHEN FROTHINGHAM, Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 30, 12:25 PM ET

CONCORD, N.H. – Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson told New Hampshire voters Monday that efforts in some states to recognize same-sex marriage are a “judge-made controversy.”

Civil unions will become legal in New Hampshire on Jan. 1, allowing gays to apply for the same rights as married people. Same-sex unions from other states also will be recognized in New Hampshire if they were legal in the state where they were performed.

Questioned about civil unions after a speech at a dental benefits company, Thompson said, “I would not be in support of that.”

30 Spy budget, at $43.5 billion, is no secret now
By Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters
Tue Oct 30, 4:57 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration said it had spent $43.5 billion on spying in fiscal 2007, as it bowed on Tuesday to a law ordering disclosure of a figure the government has kept secret for most of the past 60 years.

“Disclosure of the amount of the budget is a good first step toward accountability,” said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which has campaigned for publication of the annual intelligence budget.

The figure, which is roughly equal to the entire economy of Croatia or Qatar, dwarfs the estimated intelligence budgets of any other country including the closest U.S. ally, Britain, which spends about 10 percent of the amount, he said.

31 Sen. Clinton undecided on U.S.-Peru free trade pact
By Doug Palmer, Reuters
Tue Oct 30, 5:45 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has not decided whether to vote for a free trade agreement with Peru, a spokesman for the New York senator said on Tuesday.

“Senator Clinton is still reviewing the agreement,” Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said in an e-mail.

Congress is nearing final action on the agreement, which the Bush administration concluded nearly two years ago.

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32 Swiss bank UBS plunges to Q3 loss after US subprime crisis
by Andre Lehmann, AFP
Tue Oct 30, 9:54 AM ET

ZURICH (AFP) – Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, on Tuesday reported its first quarterly loss in five years after its third quarter results were hit in the financial crisis caused by the ailing US home loans market.

The bank said it was on course for a return to profit in this quarter but new chief executive Marcel Rohner voiced caution about the fragile state of the mortgage backed securities market into the beginning of next year.

UBS said in a statement that its third quarter net loss of 830 million Swiss francs (495 million euros, 713 million dollars) compared with a net profit of 2.20 billion Swiss francs during the same period last year.

33 Fed meets with markets banking on another rate cut
by Justin Cole, AFP
Tue Oct 30, 2:49 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Federal Reserve policymakers convened for a two-day meeting Tuesday as bets mounted on Wall Street that the central bank would cut borrowing costs for the second time in as many months.

Most economists expect the Fed to announce Wednesday a cut of a quarter of a percentage point in its federal funds short-term interest rate to 4.50 percent.

However, some analysts in recent days have questioned whether the central bank will trim rates at all, while other Fed watchers believe the Fed may implement a deeper cut of half a percentage point.

34 Merrill Lynch CEO O’Neal out
By JOE BEL BRUNO, AP Business Writer
Tue Oct 30, 5:31 PM ET

NEW YORK – The unfolding credit crisis has claimed its biggest corporate casualty so far: Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal.

The announcement of his departure Tuesday came after the world’s largest brokerage posted a $2.24 billion quarterly loss, its biggest since being founded 93 years ago. Merrill Lynch did not name a replacement for O’Neal, whose ouster had been expected, and who leaves the company with benefits worth $161.5 million.

Laurence Fink, the chief executive of investment manager BlackRock Inc., turned down an initial overture from Merrill’s board but is in active negotiations, according to a person with direct knowledge of the offer who was not authorized to speak publicly. With the presumed front-runner out of contention, filling the top spot at Merrill Lynch is not expected to be easy given the remaining unknowns from the global credit crisis.

From Yahoo News Science

35 Headless skeletons hold Pacific colonization key
By Rob Taylor, Reuters
Tue Oct 30, 1:07 AM ET

CANBERRA (Reuters) – A 3,000-year-old burial site in Vanuatu containing 60 headless skeletons and skulls in pots is helping end the mystery over colonization of the Pacific and the first Polynesians, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

The remains have enabled scientists to reconstruct the lives and habits of the seafaring Lapita people, who settled Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa from Melanesian islands scattered to the west.

“We’ve got the archaeological record, but until now the actual people have been missing from the story,” researcher Stuart Bedford, from the Australian National University, told Reuters.

From Yahoo News Opinion

36 War protests: Why no coverage?
By Jerry Lanson, The Christian Science Monitor
Tue Oct 30, 4:00 AM ET

Boston – Coordinated antiwar protests in at least 11 American cities this weekend raised anew an interesting question about the nature of news coverage: Are the media ignoring rallies against the Iraq war because of their low turnout or is the turnout dampened by the lack of news coverage?

I find it unsettling that I even have to consider the question.

That most Americans oppose the war in Iraq is well established. The latest CBS News poll, in mid-October, found 26 percent of those polled approved of the way the president is handling the war and 67 percent disapproved. It found that 45 percent said they’d only be willing to keep large numbers of US troops in Iraq “for less than a year.” And an ABC News-Washington Post poll in late September found that 55 percent felt Democrats in Congress had not gone far enough in opposing the war.

Losing the fight on Iran

It seems the propaganda and fear-mongering is working. According to a Zogby poll published yesterday,

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.” [my emph.]

When asked which Presidential candidate would be best equipped to deal with Iran, Sen. Hillary Clinton came first place with 21% of the vote, followed by Rudy Giuliani in second with 15%. At an AIPAC dinner earlier this year, Clinton stated:

“U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In dealing with this threat… no option can be taken off the table…

We need to use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force”.

On the other hand, she recently co-sponsored a bill prohibiting the use of funds for military operations against Iran without explicit Congressional authorisation. It’s difficult to pin down her true position with any certainty, since she will apparently say anything depending on the interest group she’s trying to win over. Overall, though, her stance is hawkish, advocating “diplomacy” in the short-run and, if that fails, military action. Most Democrats (35%) favoured Clinton on Iran.

However, even Clinton looks a dove compared to the Republicans’ favoured candidate on Iran, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, who has also expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state, has opined that, while “diplomacy” should be given a chance, “we will use a military option if we have to.” Similarly, in an excruciating essay for Foreign Affairs, Giuliani wrote,

“The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”

Further, as the CFR notes,

“One of Giuliani’s top foreign policy advisers, neoconservative Norm Podhoretz, is a vocal advocate for bombing Iran preemptively in order to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, Podhoretz told the New Yorker, he has not asked Giuliani to take a stand on this topic for fear of damaging his candidacy.”

(An important correction: an attack on Iran of the kind being discussed would not be “preemptive” but “preventive”, which under international law is indistinguishable from the “supreme international crime” of aggression.)

The fact that over half of the American public would apparently support a U.S. aggression against Iran is very troubling. Recall the alleged remarks of a high-level source in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions:

“They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this–they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

This should represent a wake-up call to all of us. If we want to prevent what would almost certainly be a humanitarian catastrophe we have to up our game. That means, for example, correcting irresponsible journalists who continue to propagate the falsewiped off the map” meme. It means exposing bullshit like this:

for what it is. Let’s take the speech above as an example.

For starters, even the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, has privately acknowledged that Iran poses no existential threat to Israel, with or without nuclear weapons. As military historian Martin van Creveld explains,

“Given the balance of forces, it cannot be argued that a nuclear Iran will threaten the United States. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fulminations to the contrary, the Islamic Republic will not even be a threat to Israel. The latter has long had what it needs to deter an Iranian attack.

Should deterrence fail, Jerusalem can quickly turn Tehran into a radioactive desert – a fact of which Iranians are fully aware.”

Fareed Zakaria also points out the obvious:

“Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?”

Second, Bush claims that the Iranian “leader” has “announced that he wants to destroy Israel”. Bush is referring to Ahmadinejad, who has of course said no such thing (see above). But even if he did, the fact is that Ahmadinejad is not the “leader” of Iran. He is the President, a largely ceremonial role which confers upon him no authority whatsoever over Iranian foreign policy. That power lies with the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has repeatedly affirmed that Iran “has never threatened and will never threaten any country”, and has in fact distanced himself from some of Ahmadinejad’s wackier remarks.

Thirdly, while Bush, Rice and co. like to stress that they are “committed to the diplomatic process”, in reality they’re actively working to undermine diplomatic efforts and torpedo any chance for peaceful progress, as they have done since their flat rejection of Iran’s offer of a ‘grand bargain‘ in 2003. For example, the Bush administration has rejected IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s many requests for calm dialogue in favour of bellicose threats and unilateral sanctions. Responding to Bush’s recent threat of “world war three” if Iran fails to suspend uranium enrichment (see video above), ElBaradei warned Washington to “stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue because that’s an issue that could have a major conflagration, and not only regionally but globally”. He continued,

“We are working now with Iran to clarify the past and the present, but I have not received any information that there is a complete active nuclear weapon program going on right now”.

The U.S. is demanding that Iran suspend enrichment as a pre-condition to talks, despite the fact that it is explicitly granted the right to enrich uranium by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This effort at “diplomacy” is further undermined by the fact that the Bush administration openly warned at the outset that should Iran fail to acquiesce during the course of the “dialogue”, the U.S. will be “forced” to attack it. This amounts to holding a gun to Iran’s head and threatening to pull the trigger if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. Clearly, then, it does not represent a meaningful attempt to solve the dispute peacefully.

Finally, when Bush claims that he “harbour[s] no resentment” towards the “Iranian people”, he’s either lying or being honest in the trivial sense that while he harbours no specific resentment towards the Iranian people, he couldn’t care less about them. Iranian pro-democracy activists oppose the U.S.’ campaign of intimidation and sanctions against Iran, for the obvious reason that this serves to weaken them and strengthen the regime. As three Iranian NGOs explain,

“Sanctions or threat of military attack on Iran by the United States and its allies will not resolve the conflicts and tensions between the states; they will lead to dire and irreparable human consequences, and moreover, will serve to strike a massive blow to the nascent civil society in Iran; – sanctions or military intervention in Iran will put to waste all attempts at building an indigenous internal democracy and the promotion of human rights. This will reverse for years, or even decades, the domestic process of reforms”.

Akbar Ganji, Iran’s leading political dissident, recently wrote an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the same effect:

“Far from helping the development of democracy, US policy over the past fifty years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran. The 1953 coup against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the unwavering support for the despotic regime of the Shah, who acted as America’s gendarme in the Persian Gulf, are just two examples of these flawed policies. More recently the confrontation between various US administrations and the Iranian state over the past three decades has made internal conditions very difficult for the proponents of freedom and human rights in Iran.

Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media and is imprisoning human rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy. The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact been largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity.

At the same time, even speaking about “the possibility” of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran. No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan repeated in Iran. Iranian democrats also watch with deep concern the support in some American circles for separatist movements in Iran. [my emph.]”

Thus, when Bush continues to threaten Iran with sanctions and “world war three”, he does so in the knowledge that he is actively harming the pro-democracy movement inside Iran and strengthening the regime.

Also, note that Bush never once accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons programme (this is because, as far as we know, it hasn’t got one). He merely talks about it developing the “capacity” and the “knowledge” that might enable it to build nuclear weapons at some point in the future, should it choose to. The idea that this constitutes enough to justify a military attack on Iran is without basis in either law or morality.

Thus, we can see that even the very short speech shown above contains multiple layers of deception and falsehood, all designed to demonise Iran and pave the way for an attack. Yet the media have been spreading and repeating these distortions largely uncritically for years now. With this level of government deception and stenographer-journalism, is it any wonder that so many Americans find themselves supporting a war?

Only 29% of respondents to the Zogby poll replied that the U.S. should not attack Iran. Even amongst Democrats only 37% expressed this view. If this is representative of the population at large, we should all be very worried. While it is unclear whether the U.S. government actually intends to launch a military attack on Iran, it is plain that the option is being seriously considered at the highest levels. We must be proactive in combating pro-war deception and propaganda if we hope to prevent a disaster.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning

The muses are ancient.  The inspirations for our stories were said to be born from them.  Muses of song and dance, or poetry and prose, of comedy and tragedy, of the inward and the outward.  In one version they are Calliope, Euterpe and Terpsichore, Erato and Clio, Thalia and Melpomene, Polyhymnia and Urania.

It has also been traditional to name a tenth muse.  Plato declared Sappho to be the tenth muse, the muse of women poets.  Others have been suggested throughout the centuries.  I don’t have a name for one, but I do think there should be a muse for the graphical arts.  And maybe there should be many more.

Please join us inside to celebrate our various muses…

In 1992 I learned to speak my truths.  They were tentative at first, hardly more than notes about the reality of my life.  Later some of them became poems.  Still later, more poems were added to add the view of hindsight.  I’ve tried to arrange them into a cohesive whole.  Maybe it works.  Maybe it has more meaning this way.

Old, trite poem with newer art…what’s not to love?

I was so alone at that time.

A Transition through Poetry VIII

Art Link

Painful Separation


Love is hard to give…
and harder still to take

Life is hard to live…
unless it’s lived for Love’s sake

–Robyn Elaine Serven
–July, 1992

I know you have talent.  What sometimes is forgotten is that being practical is a talent.  I have a paucity for that sort of talent in many situations, though it turns out that I’m a pretty darn good cook.  🙂 

Let your talent bloom.  You can share it here.  Encourage others to let it bloom inside them as well.

Won’t you share your words or art, your sounds or visions, your thoughts scientific or philosophic, the comedy or tragedy of your days, the stories of doing and making?  And be excellent to one another!

Fuck this “debate”

So everyone with a blog or a newspaper is writing about the “debate” held tonight by the Democratic candidates for their party’s nomination for President.  But I’m not.  I didn’t watch it.  Sure, I was at work while it was going on, and could not have done so.  But I have been home for several of them, and proudly ignored them.  Because the “debates” are a sham, about little of substance, and won’t make much of a difference anyway.

We can all remember the vast attention paid to the Presidential debates in 2004, as well as many of them previous.  But the “victories” of Kerry over Bush in the debates then did not matter, and no matter how much we venerate the “You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy” moments of debates, debate results don’t matter much, except for in a single area.  The Swift Boat ads trumped whatever success from the debates Kerry had.

The only way that debates matter, particularly in the primaries, is that it can help determine not who any of us will vote for, but who gets major financial supporters.  Because you can blow it by having a terrible debate performance, and the money will not go to a candidate who has blown it.  And you can maybe pick up some money from a surprisingly strong debate showing; Mike Huckabee has finally seen an uptick in donations after repeated “strong” performances in the eyes of the press.

But that’s all there is.  Right now, most voters nationwide cannot even name a single Republican candidate besides Giuliani.  And besides Sen. Clinton, the results aren’t that much better for the Democrats.  Only a select group cares about the debates, and that isn’t enough to actually shape the opinions of voters.

So why do they have them, and particularly so much of them?  Honestly – to keep you, and me, and the reporters, and the rest of the netroots, distracted from anything that actually has anything to do with governing.  Rep. Rangel is proposing the only long-term solution to the Alternative Minimum Tax that any Democratic representative has articulated.  His solution is of high enough quality that conservative economists like Clive Crook have written positively about it.  But Speaker Pelosi, when asked if the proposal will pass, simply said “No.”  Because issues like how Congress will tax Americans aren’t important enough for our Speaker to give complete sentence answers on.

The strong stance on Sen. Clinton promised by Sen. Obama at the debate, meanwhile, turned into little more than Obama and Edwards hammering Sen. Clinton on “being the candidate that Republicans want to face”.  Whether or not that is true, that is the kind of bullshit issue that people like us and other bloggers comment on.  People seeking to be President ought to have a higher level of critique.  But they don’t tell it to us, supposing they have it.  Because when Sen. Clinton is nominated, everyone wants to be able to play nice again.

This is bullshit, and this is theater.  We are being fed this because it is cost-free compared to giving us substance in either the debates, or in how we are governed.  Another night of bullshit softball questions with a dozen or so “tough” questions which aren’t tough at all, but an opportunity for the moderators to audition for the role of “serious journalist” when the clips are replayed to death on the “news”.

Nothing is shocking about this.  We ought to expect the political parties to feed us this garbage; it is in their interest to do so.  We ought to expect the press who offer these debates to do it for the same reason.

What is shocking is that we in the netroots fall for it hook, line, and sucker.  It is manifestly not in our interest to do so.  That we accept these “debates” as actually being newsworthy reveals us for being much less serious than we pretend we are.  It helps teach candidate consultants like Peter Daou how exactly they can purchase our support at a cost which is completely free (which he is intelligent enough to do without our help).  It ensures that we will not get much improvement in the quality of our Democratic representatives no matter which ones win or lose come next November.

A three card monte dealer keeps moving the cards, even though the game is rigged.  Why should he bother?  Because motion distracts us, and allows us to believe in the illusion that as long as we keep watching, we can overcome the fact that the game is rigged against us.

Which is why I always preferred gambling in casinos.  At least there, they distract me with free scotch.

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