Sunday, March 31, 2013

Green Thumbs Seek More Green

Two former CIA employees whose Kansas home was fruitlessly searched for marijuana during a two-state drug sweep claim they were illegally targeted because they had bought indoor growing supplies to raise vegetables.

Adlynn and Robert Harte are suing to get more information about why sheriff's deputies searched their home in the upscale Kansas City suburb of Leawood as part of a two-state sweep that netted marijuana plants, guns, and growing paraphernalia. 

Hartes' attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said she suspects the couple's house was targeted because they had bought hydroponic equipment to grow a small number of tomatoes and squash plants in their basement.

"With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors," the couple's lawsuit says.

When law enforcement arrived at the home, the family had just six plants -- three tomato plants, one melon plant and two butternut squash plants -- growing in the basement.  The deputies "made rude comments" and implied their son was using marijuana. A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to help, but deputies ultimately left after providing a receipt stating, "No items taken."

The couple both were required to pass rigorous background checks for their previous jobs working for the CIA as well.  "You can't go into people's homes and conduct searches without probable cause," Pilate told reporters.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bullet Shortages Making The Rounds

Reports are literally rolling in regarding red-state num nuts who are buying up ammunition in the fear that Obama will take away their guns-- which is causing critical shortages of ammo for legitimate law enforcement. 

Things are so bad that even Walmart has been rationing ammo sales since January.  The Jenks Police Department says they can’t get the guns or ammo they need because prices have skyrocketed and supplies have dwindled.  They're running out of bullets in Greer, South CarolinaBozeman, Montana and Shelbyville, Tennessee as well.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon says the NRA is to blame.  The NRA is in the business of selling guns, and they’ve got a vested interest in keeping their paranoid membership paranoid.  Paranoia helps keep membership up, and helps fuel gun and ammo sales.  And what’s good for Big Gun is good for the NRA.

The answer, according to many, is to make ammunition prohibitively expensive for anyone to have more ammo than they need for self-defense.  Agreed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fracking Fluid Foes Fucked

A judge in Casper has sided with the state of Wyoming and ruled against environmentalists who sought to obtain lists of the ingredients that go into hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Environmental groups had requested the ingredient lists from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, arguing that the public needs to know what chemicals companies are putting underground.   Specially formulated lubricants are used in fracking, which involves pumping water, fine sand and fracking fluids underground to split open oil- and gas-bearing rocks.

Wyoming became one of the first states to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients in hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The goal was to help the regulators track the source of any groundwater contamination that might occur at or near a drilling site.

Environmentalists say public knowledge of the chemicals can help landowners near oil and gas projects know what types of pollution to test for in their groundwater. Such testing targeted at certain chemicals can be done before or while drilling occurs and help to establish that well water is not polluted by those chemicals.
The environmentalists' request for the chemical composition of fracking fluids was originally denied on the grounds that the information constituted trade secrets that may be withheld under Wyoming's open records law.  Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking then upheld the denial, ruling that the state official who withheld the information acted reasonably.

"We continue to believe we have strong claims, and we're still concerned the Wyoming oil and gas commission is withholding this information from the public," said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the resource council.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thailand Traps Two Turtle Transgressors

Two smugglers are facing charges in Thailand after authorities caught them attempting to sneak more 54 live Ploughshare tortoises into the country.  The tortoise's wild population is estimated at between 400 and 600, so the contraband represents 10 percent of the tortoise's remaining population.

This Ploughshare tortoise (aka Angonoka or Madagascar tortoise)  is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world.  In the wild the turtle is only found in northwest Madagascar where it is endemic to the dry forests in the Baly Bay area near the coast,   The population estimate for the angonoka tortoise in the wild is estimated at a maximum of 600 individuals, and still decreasing. The tortoise is at an extremely high risk of extinction; it is thought it will become extinct in the wild in the next 10 to 15 years.

“The criminals behind this shipment of Ploughshare Tortoises have effectively stolen over 10% of the estimated population in the wild," said Dr. Chris R. Shepherd, deputy director of wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic, per a statement released by the organization. “We urge authorities to go after the criminal masterminds behind these shipments and break the trade chains that threaten these incredibly rare animals."

According to reports, a 38-year-old Thai man and a 25-year-old woman from Madagascar, were arrested at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The woman's name was on the bag's luggage tag, and the man had attempted to collect it from the luggage carousel.

The sole captive breeding facility in Madagascar was robbed of 75 tortoises In 1996-- the thieves were never found.  Ultimately, the breeding facility was a success, achieving 224 captive-bred juveniles out of 17 adults by the end of  2004.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not Just An Idiot In Congress

A Texas Republican congressman got into a late-night altercation with U.S. Park Police officers, pulling rank in an attempt to get out of a parking ticket near the Lincoln Memorial.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on March 13, officers wrote Rep. Louie Gohmert a citation for parking his black Ford SUV in a spot reserved for National Park Service vehicles.  Gohmert took the ticket off his windshield and placed it on a unoccupied park service vehicle along with his business card with a written message: “Oversight of Park Service is my job! Natural Resources Thus the Congressional Plate in window.”

A park service vehicle pulled up as he was leaving the note under the windshield wiper.  That was when a verbal altercation ensued.    He was “rude and irate,” one officer reported. Another said that Gohmert was “ranting.”

“I was issued a ticket and I am a congressman and parked my vehicle in the NPS parking only because I have a Congress placard, see,” Gohmert told one officer. “I am going to a meeting on the Hill and I am the one who oversees the National Park Services Natural Resources.”  Gohmert added that he “did not have time to deal with the issue,” according to the report.

District law says members of Congress may park their cars “in any available curb space in the District of Columbia” when it is being used “on official business” and displaying the congressional registration tag issued by the member’s home state.

Gohmert first gained noteriety years ago when he said that Washington, DC was the only city in the entire country that every member of Congress has a vested interest in seeing that it works properly-- but when residents began calling Gohmert's office complaining about issues like trash and parking, he told them to speak to local government officials instead.

Gohmert was also the guy who infamously claimed to have evidence from an ex-FBI agent about "terror baby" plots.  He publicly claimed that pregnant women from the Middle East were traveling to the U.S. on tourist visas, planning to deliver their children here, given them U.S. citizenship.  According to Gohmert, the child would then be returned to the mother's home country and prepared for a life as a  terrorist.  When asked repeatedly by journalists to provide any sources or evidence of this claim, Gohmert responded "If you don't think this is evidence, you have to believe that the terrorists are more stupid than these enterprising people".

Gohmert was one of a number of Republicans who voted against the Budget Control Act of 2011 on grounds it did not do enough to deal with the government's growing debt--  a mere two months later he voted against a balanced budget Constitutional amendment.

In 2012, Gohmert joined Michelle Bachman in a series of letters to the Inspectors General of DOD, State, Homeland Security and DOJ that claimed that the State Deparment Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin was an example of undue influence by the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. government.  Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and most political observers characterized this allegation as patently false.

Also in 2012, Gohmert announced his support of a trans-Alaskan pipeline, saying that it would be a way for caribou to have more sex. 

Last January, Gohmert nominated Florida Representative Allen West for Speaker of the House, even though West lost his bid for re-election two months prior and was no longer a member of Congress.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shocking Display Of Gun Violence In Mexico

The shocking photo below shows how the bodies of seven men (aged 15-40 years old) who were found dead and seated in plastic chairs in Uruapan, Mexico.  All the victims had suffered fatal gunshot wounds, with threat messages nailed to some of their chests using ice picks. 

The seven bodies had bullet wounds to their heads and bodies and had been placed individually in the sitting position in chairs near a busy roundabout.  A placard on one of the bodies said: ‘Warning! This will happen to thieves, kidnappers, sex offenders and extortionists.’ The local attorney general's office did not provide a motive.

The incident came on the heels of another mass killing in neighboring Guerrero state, where armed men opened fire in a hotel bar in Altamirano City.  In that shootout, four civilians and three off-duty federal agents died.  The off-duty officers had been pursued by gunmen while walking to a local bank, and were killed after seeking refuge in the hotel, according to reports.

Both states on Mexico's western coast have seen a rise of violence in recent years attributed to drug cartels. Around 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in seven years.  President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December, has vowed to quell the lawlessness and killing that have stained Mexico's image as a tourist destination and rattled investors.

Monday, March 25, 2013

With Animals Dying At This Rate, What's Next?

If dead pigs weren't enough, dead ducks have now been pulled from a river in southwest China.   

Residents found the dead ducks in the Nanhe river in Pengshan county, Sichuan province, and alerted the environmental department, according to reports.  The news comes as the toll of dead pigs pulled from Shanghai's Huangpu river passed 16,000.

Local residents and livestock were not at risk as the river was not used for drinking water, officials added.  They were unable to determine the cause of death as some of the ducks were already decomposed.  An initial investigation suggested that the duck corpses had originated from upstream and were not dumped by local Pengshan farmers.

The news has prompted concern and criticism from some users on weibo, China's version of Twitter, with many expressing incredulity at the government's assurance that the water is safe.  "Dead pigs, dead ducks... this soup is getting thicker and thicker," wrote one person with the username Baby Lucky.

Workers have been pulling dead pigs from Huangpu river for the past two weeks, sparking concern amongst residents and on China's microblogs. It is still not clear where the dead pigs came from.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Drone Program Being Slowly Dragged Into The Light

In the first judicial blow to secrecy surrounding the Obama Administration’s armed drone program, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has unanimously rejected the CIA’s claim that it could refuse to confirm or deny whether it possesses any records related to drone strikes.

The judges found that public statements about drones from President Barack Obama, former CIA director Leon Panetta and new Central Intelligence Agency Director and former White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan have made it implausible for the CIA to assert that it needed to keep secret the very question of whether it maintains any information on the subject.  “As it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject,” Judge Merrick Garland wrote in the opinion.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA.  However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer called the decision an important victory, saying in a statement, “We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders.”.

The judges did not rule that any specific documents must be made public by the CIA. However, the CIA will now be obligated to make some further filings with a lower court, describing the relevant records in some fashion and explaining why they are covered by one or more Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Religious Wingnuts Rebuffed In Missouri

A federal judge has struck down a Missouri law exempting religious organizaions from mandatory birth control coverage because it conflicts with an insurance requirement under President Barrack Obama's health care law.  The ruling by U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig cites a provision in the U.S. Constitution declaring that federal laws take precedence over contradictory state laws.

The Missouri law had required insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers assert that the use of birth control violates their "moral, ethical or religious beliefs." The state's Republican-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the law last September.

Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, praised the ruling for ensuring "that all Missouri women -no matter who their boss is - have access to basic preventive health care without a co-pay, including birth control."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Victory For French Activist Who Presaged 2012 Election

The European Court of Human Rights says France violated freedom of expression by fining a man for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.   Herve Eon, a Socialist activist, had waved a small placard reading "Casse-toi, pauv'con" - which translates as "get lost, you sad prick".

Sarkozy had said "Casse-toi, pauv'con" earlier in 2008 in response to a farmer who had refused to shake his hand at an agricultural show. His use of the crude phrase had provoked a flood of controversy.

For using the same phrase, Eon was found guilty of insulting the president under France's 1881 Freedom of the Press Act.  However, the European Court said the penalty imposed had been "disproportionate" and violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards freedom of expression.

A court press release said such action by the authorities was "likely to have a chilling effect on satirical contributions to discussion of matters of public interest, such discussion being fundamental to a democratic society".

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Veteran's Dying Words To War Criminals Bush & Cheney

Days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 22-year-old Tomas Young joined many other young men and decided to enlist  in the military to avenge the deaths of  nearly 3,000 Americans.  Three years later, Young found himself not in Afghanistan (where George W. Bush had told the nation the terrorist plot had originated) but in Iraq instead.

Only five days into his first tour of duty, Young's convoy was attacked by insurgents. A bullet from an AK-47 severed his spine; another struck his knee. Young would never walk again.  Over the next nine years, Young suffered a number of medical setbacks which have led to the gradual deterioration of his body.  Young's injury led to his becoming one of the most vocal veteran critics of the Iraq War. 

On the 10th anniversary of the war, Young has released his most powerful criticism yet-- in what he says will be the last letter of his life.  Due to his worsening condition, he has checked into a hospice and plans to stop taking all nourishment and life-extending medications in April.  The following is an excerpt from his powerful condemnation of George Bush and Dick Cheney, whose lies led to the deaths of 180,000 people and the loss of over $2 trillion dollars.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

 Read Young's entire letter here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bonkers Over Buddha

A British man , from Nottingham, was turned back at Sri Lanka's main airport for allegedly showing a lack of respect for Buddhism. Authorities in the island Asian nation are known to be tough on perceived insults to Buddhism - the religion of the island's majority ethnic Sinhalese.

42-year-old Antony Ratcliffe, a former infection control officer for the ambulance service and amateur photographer, was stopped as he tried to leave Bandaranaike International Airport during a 12-hour stop-over en route from London to Malaysia. He says the "inoffensive" body art was meant as a tribute.

Despite having a valid two-day tourist visa, Ratcliffe said he was frogmarched to a detention area after immigration officials spotted the Buddha's head tattoo poking out from the sleeve of his T-shirt. "As soon as he saw it the chief officer went crazy. You could see it on his face, he looked really angry and said I would have to go back to London," Ratcliffe told reporters. "They took my passport and held me there for an hour and a half. All the time they were bringing people in to look at my arm, and they were shaking their heads. Eventually, Ratcliffe was allowed to continue his journey to Kuala Lumpur, but faced further questioning when he landed.

Last year, three French tourists were given suspended prison sentences for taking photographs that showed them pretending to kiss a statue of Buddha at a temple. In 2010, the American R&B star Akon was refused a visa after protests over one of his music videos, which featured scantily-clad women dancing in front of a statue of Buddha.

Travelers to Sri Lanka are warned that the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artifacts is a serious offense and that they shouldn't pose for photographs by standing in front of a statue of Buddha.

Tourists Now Drawn Into India's War On Women

Police in India's Madhya Pradesh state have arrested six people in connection with the gang rape of a Swiss tourist.  The woman was attacked with her husband as they camped in woodland near a village in Datia district.

The men appeared before a local magistrate and were remanded in custody to return to court later in the week.  The arrests came as India's politicians prepared to debate a new law against rape, after the outcry over the fatal assault on a Delhi student last year.

Police spokesman Dilip Arya said the six men accused of the Swiss woman's attack  were aged between 20 and 25, and belonged to a local tribe.  The 39-year-old victim and her husband had been cycling from Orchha to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, when they decided to camp for the night in a forested area.  According to the husband, the group of men had approached them at about 21:30. They then began beating him with wooden sticks before tying him up and sexually assaulting his wife in front of him.

The assailants stole the couple's valuables, including 10,000 rupees ($185), a laptop computer and a mobile phone, before fleeing into the woods. Police said they had recovered the phone and the laptop from one of the suspects, according to reports.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Drowning In His Own Words

Marco Rubio, from his speech at CPAC:

"We have too many people in America that want too much from government."

"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot."

"Oh, and something about how stupid liberals believe "science" about "climate change," but that very same science "proves" that "life begins at conception."

"We don't need new ideas. The idea is called America and it still works."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Raising Kids Can Be Torture

A Montana man accused of waterboarding four children as a learning experience for them has reached a plea deal with prosecutors in which he will receive probation. The children were the Jefferson County man's 9- and 12-year-old sons and two neighbor kids, ages 13 and 15, according to reports.

The 42-year-old man pleaded guilty Friday to four misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Prosecutors dropped felony charges that included making threats against public officials and others.  His girlfriend at the time said he broke her wrist and some fingers Dec. 5 when she tried to stop him from waterboarding his sons, court documents said. She said the man straddled each boy with his hands over the child's face and mouth, and dumped water on their faces to simulate drowning, the records said.

The woman told investigators that the man described it as a learning experience for the boys.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Holy Sí: A Breath Of Fresh Air or More Of The Same?

In unadorned white robes, the first pope from the Americas stepped foot today on a balcony overlooking St. Peter's square and set a tone of simplicity and humility in a church desperate to move past the tarnished era of sex abuse scandals and internal Vatican upheavals.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio-- the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aries, the first pope from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order – bowed to the crowd and asked for their blessing in a hint of the austere style he cultivated while modernizing the Argentina's conservative Catholic church.

The Argentine successor to the quitter-pope

In taking the name Francis, he drew connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil.  Pope Francis I (the son of middle-class Italian immigrants) is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope nearly eight years ago, reportedly garnering the second-most number of votes after several rounds of voting before bowing out to eventual winner Pope Benedict XVI.

Bergoglio often rides the public bus to work, cooks his own meals and regularly visits the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.  Last year, he famously accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy, saying "In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage.  These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

At the same time however, Bergoglio/Francis I has towed the Catholic party line, staunchly opposing gay marriage, contraception, and abortion.  He continues to raise the ire of many Argentines, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who believe the church failed to openly confront the country's dictatorial regime in the 1970s over its kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in Argentine society.

Many have even accused Bergoglio himself of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations initiated under Presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.  Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to testify in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, according to human rights attorney Myriam Bregman.

At least two other cases have directly involved Bergoglio, however. One case involved the torture of two of his Jesuit priests – Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics – who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work.  Bregman claims that  Bergoglio's own statements prove church officials knew from early on that the government junta in the late 70's  was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

In a second case, Bergoglio has also been accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977.  At the time of the kidnapping, the De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who, in turn, urged Bergoglio to help the family.  Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written correspondence from a high-ranking military official.  The letter revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.  In spite of this well-documented evidence, Bergoglio continued to claim (as recently as 2010)  that he had no knowledge of any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

A Mother Only Austrians Could Love

The elderly mother of papal front-runner Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn hopes he won't become pope because she fears she would never get to see him after the conclave.

"The whole family is afraid that Christoph will be elected pope," Eleonore Schoenborn, 92, told reporters.   Recalling Pope Benedict's farewell speech, which made clear that popes belonged entirely to the Church, she said her son's election would mean "it is over for me. Then I will not see Christoph ever again because I no longer have the strength to travel to Rome".

Schoenborn and his mother meet in Vienna for a couple weeks every year and Christoph calls her every Saturday.  She believes that leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics would be too much of a challenge for her son.  "Christoph would not be up to the bitchiness in the Vatican. The intrigues in Vienna are enough for him," she admitted.   Schoenborn reportedly assured his family before leaving for the conclave: "Don't get worked up.  I certainly won't become pope."

Who Needs A Trial? Death Penalty By Fiat

One morning in late September 2011, American drones took off from an airstrip the C.I.A. had built in the remote southern expanse of Saudi Arabia. As profiled by the New York Times, the drones crossed the border into Yemen, and were soon hovering over a group of trucks clustered in a desert patch of Jawf Province, a region of the impoverished country once renowned for breeding Arabian horses.

A group of men who had just finished breakfast walked over to get in their trucks. One was Anwar al-Awlaki, the firebrand preacher, born in New Mexico, who had evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Another was Samir Khan, another American citizen who had moved to Yemen from North Carolina and was the creative editor of Inspire, the militant group’s English-language Internet magazine. 

Two of the Predator drones pointed lasers on the trucks to pinpoint the targets, while the larger Reaper drones took aim.  The Reaper pilots, operating their planes from thousands of miles away, locked on their missiles, and fired.  Anwar al-Awlaki was the designated target on this historic day-- as lawyers in the Obama administration had believed his killing to be justifiable.  On the other hand, officials had judged that Samir Khan was not a significant enough threat to warrant being targeted . . . too bad about his choice of where to have breakfast that morning.

The missile strike launched that day not only killed Awlaki, but also unintentionally killed Samir Khan.  For the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy-- and without a trial.

The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, while he was searching the Yemeni desert for his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.

The war in Iraq has ended and the war in Afghanistan soon will be as well.  At that point, will we be at war?  If not, when will we ever stop being at war?  Unfortunately, the complex legal justifications created to justify extra-judicial killing by the U.S. president are available for only a small group of officials to read-- but apparently they are largely based on powers granted to the Executive Branch for the purposes of conducting "war".  Even worse-- if the president can order the assassination of Americans overseas, based on secret intelligence without  the oversight of Congress or the Judicial branch, what are the limits to his power?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pig Broth Instead Of Drinking Water

The Shanghai government has now admitted that the total number of carcasses found in the Huangpu river has risen to more than 2,800, up from the 1,200 reported earlier. A preliminary investigation showed the dead pigs, which include piglets and mature hogs, had floated down the river from neighboring Zhejiang province,  Residents along the river had reported finding dead pigs in the water previously, but local officials took no action.

Shanghai officials are now saying that it has detected traces of a virus that may have killed the pigs.  Porcine circovirus, a common disease among hogs that isn’t known (up to now, anyway) to be infectious to humans, was found in a sample taken from the Songjiang section of the Huangpu river. Tests conducted hourly on the river, which provides drinking water for some of the municipality’s 23 million residents, were negative for other diseases including foot-and-mouth, swine fever, hog cholera and blue-ear, it said.

Discovery of the dead pigs is the latest scare in China, where the government has long been criticized for prioritizing health and environmental issues above business and political interests.  In January 2012, a cadmium spill in a tributary of the Pearl River triggered panic buying of bottled water, while a 2010 waste leak into a river in southern Fujian province killed almost 2,000 tons of fish.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Small Victory For Privacy Rights

An appeals court has smacked down the Obama administration's claim that customs agents can peruse Americans' electronic devices for evidence when returning to the country-- without having even a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.   U.S. customs officials must have a reasonable justification before snatching your laptop at the border and scanning through all your files for incriminating data, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Homeland Security's border agents must have "reasonable suspicion" before they can legally conduct a forensics examination of laptops, mobile phones, camera memory cards, and such other devices.

The court's ruling is a limited -- but hardly complete -- rejection of the Obama administration's claim that any American entering the country may have his or her electronic files minutely examined for evidence of criminal activity. Homeland Security has said the electronic border searches could detect terrorists, drug smugglers, and people violating "copyright or trademark laws."

It's only a limited rejection because certain warrantless searches at the border remain permissible: The judges said that "a quick look" or "unintrusive search" of a laptop, such as asking its owner to turn it on and peruse open windows, is perfectly OK. In addition, the court indicated that previous criminal history qualifies as "reasonable suspicion" that justifies a complete forensics analysis.

A unusual dissent written by Judge Milan Smith argues that flagging a traveler merely based on a decades-old conviction does not amount to "reasonable suspicion," saying: "The bottom line is that thousands of individuals -- many with decades-old convictions -- will now be forced to reconsider traveling to entire countries or even continents, or will need to leave all their electronic equipment behind, to avoid arousing a 'reasonable' suspicion."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What's Next In Venezuela?

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez leaves behind a political movement firmly in control of a badly deteriorated state where institutions such as the police, courts and prosecutor's offices have been converted into tools of political persecution and where most media are firmly controlled by the government.

Chavez rose to fame by launching a failed 1992 coup, but over the years, his ego led to a failure to groom a successor.  Within 24 hours of Chavez's death, there were signs of an emerging split within the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. While Foreign Minister Elías Jaua said Mr. Maduro would become interim president, some members of the National Assembly called for legislative head Diosdado Cabello to assume the post, citing Venezuelan law.

Supreme Court chief Luisa Estella Morales did little to clear up matters, telling Venezuelans to "have faith in your institutions" but not specifying how officials would move forward with the transition of power.  Analysts reported a fierce power struggle was under way this week  between Maduro, a one-time bus driver and union organizer, and Cabello, seen as well-connected and ruthless.

Many have longed believe that power will swing to Chavez-annointed Maduro, since he has also spent the last several months courting the loyalty of army commanders.  (In true Chavez fashion, the constitution is no matter when it comes to getting grabbing power in this country-- it was announced late yesterday that Maduro will be sworn in as interim leader.)  It now seems clear that the government candidate in a snap election will be Maduro, who was the country's foreign minister for seven years and helped cultivate closer relations with nations opposed to U.S. interests.

There is a widely held belief that Maduro lacks the political heft to follow in Chavez's footsteps.  Because of this, political analysts believe that he is more inclined to go on the attack as the presidential campaign begins in earnest.  A sign of such aggressive tactics by Maduro was his move last week to haul into court last week a leading opposition politician, Leopoldo Lopez, to face charges of influence peddling in a 15-year-old case that his lawyers say has passed the statute of limitations.

Lopez, who calls the charges ludicrous, ran campaign logistics for opposition leader Henrique Capriles in the October election after the government barred Lopez from running for office.  Lopez expects to be burdened by considerable legal distractions as he helps try to dislodge the Chavistas from power in upcoming elections to pick Chavez's successor.

Opposition leader Capriles
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election is widely expected to be the opposition's candidate to oppose Maduro.  Capriles, a lean and sports-loving lawyer who is a regular at Caracas half-marathons, won a creditable 44 percent of the vote last year, the opposition's best showing against Chavez in a presidential vote.

Aware of his single status, women screamed at him like a pop star at every campaign stop, many shouting "marry me!" Polls at the time showed him more popular than any of the president's allies.  During the October election campaign, government supporters threw racist and homophobic taunts at Capriles, who has Jewish roots and lost great-grandparents in the Treblinka concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during World War Two.

Though he has cultivated a man-on-the-street image, dressing and talking simply, Capriles does come from a wealthy family, and class prejudices are sure to figure in the campaign.

Either way the election goes, the eventual winner will inherit an economy that has grown quickly over the past decade thanks largely to high oil prices and ramped up government spending.

A recent currency devaluation of the Bolivar to 6.3 per dollar from 4.3 sent shock waves through the economy., putting renewed pressure on prices in a country where inflation is running at about 20%.  The devaluation also did little to stop growing shortages of basics like flour and meat, which are scarce due to a lack of dollars.

Venezuela's industrial base has largely been hollowed out by widespread nationalizations under Chavez, leaving the country increasingly dependent on imports. It also has a growing foreign debt load, at about $90 billion.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Avoiding Eternal Damnation Like His Buddy Breitbart

$100K: the price of being a douchebag
Faux journalist and conservative hitman James O’Keefe has just agreed to a $100,000 settlement to avoid going to court over his phony reporting of ACORN employee Juan Carlos Vera. According to the deal, O’Keefe has also agreed to an 11-word apology, that sources are calling “insincere.”

ACORN was a community organizing group that became the focus of conservatives  in the build-up to the 2008 presidential election.  ACORN was responsible for highly successful voting drives of minority and low-income voters, who are demographically likely to vote for Democratic Party candidates.  ACORN’s decades-long campaigns to raise the minimum wage and their battles against predatory lenders had unfortunately invited the animus of powerful business interests—who funded the media activities of conservative bloggers and phony journalists like O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart. 

In 2009, James O’Keefe and his associate Hannah Giles, hoped to discredit ACORN by filming Juan Carlos Vera of the National office of ACORN without his consent (and thus violating section 632 of the California penal code in the process).  Vera sued O'Keefe over this and the wild misrepresentation of his activities that resulted from a heavily edited version of the undercover video that was posted online and promulgated to conservative media by O'Keefe and Andrew Breitbart.

Pussy-on-Pussy Violence

Not the felonious feline
A lion killed a Zimbabwe woman while she was having sex in the bushes with her boyfriend, according to reports.  The woman, identified as Sharai Mawera,  was mauled to death in the attack in Mahombekombe, Kariba. She suffered fatal injuries on her neck and stomach.

Her boyfriend, an unidentified fisherman, heard the lion roar and reacted first. The couple had been having sex in a sideways position and he managed to escape wearing nothing but a condom.  He turned back to see Mawera being mauled and rushed to a nearby road for help.  Motorists refused to stop, as he was naked and presumed that he was suffering from mental health problems.  He eventually made it to a police station on his own where he reported the attack.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vatican City Drama Continues To Unfold

Unprecedented resignation of Benedict XVI . . . tension building with no word on when the conclave will start . . . one cardinal resigning in a sex scandal . . . a secret report on church corruption . . . rumors of gay cabals with the Vatican . . . intrigue about a third-world pope . . . controversial Italian elections . . . there's so much drama going on over there, it could make for a decent TV show:

Hugo Chavez, In So Many Words

On Halloween: "What they have implanted here, which is really a 'gringo' custom, is terrorism. They disguise children as witches and wizards, that is contrary to our culture,"

"I have always said that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet."

“Mr. Obama ... You are a clown, a clown. Leave us in peace … Go after your votes by fulfilling that which you promised your people."

On Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:  “Remember, little girl, I’m like the thorn tree that flowers on the plain.  Don’t mess with me, Condoleezza. Don’t mess with me, girl.”

On cancer in Latin America:  "Would it be so strange that they've invented technology to spread cancer and we won't know about it for 50 years?"

On nuclear power in Iran:  "That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out. The imperialist spokesmen say Ahmadinejad and I are going into the basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles… It’s laughable.”

"Let's save the human race, let's finish off the U.S. empire."

On the Jewish people:  "The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, has taken possession of  all of the wealth of the world."

Update On India's War On Women

Police in a suburb of the Indian capital, Delhi, have arrested two men in connection with the alleged gang rape of a 19-year-old girl.  The girl was traveling in an auto rickshaw in Ghaziabad when at least two of her co-passengers allegedly raped her, a senior police official said.  Police say they are looking for a third suspect.  The teenager had taken an auto rickshaw home from near a busy mall in Indirapuram in Ghaziabad.  According to reports, the girl told the police that she was gagged, raped, robbed and thrown out of the vehicle near a highway.

Last week, there were violent protests in Delhi after reports that a seven-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at a school.  The principal and four employees of the municipal school have been suspended in connection with the case.

There has also been angry debate in the parliament over last month's rape and murder of three sisters, aged six to 11, in the state of Maharashtra.  No-one has been arrested and opposition MP's have criticized the slow pace of the investigation.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Needing A Swift Kick In The Ass

Apparently, Taylor Swift is still sore about a joke Tina Fey and Amy Poehler' made at her expense during the 2013 Golden Globes broadcast.  Fey delivered the zinger about the serial-dating singer, saying that Swift should take some "me time"  between boyfriends and "stay away from Michael J. Fox's son" after her breakup with One Direction singer Harry Styles

In Vanity Fair's April cover story on Swift, the singer serves up a heaping bowl of Meow Mix to the acerbic comediennes.  Responding to a question about the Golden Globes joke she says, “You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people,  She said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’”

Amy Poehler disappointingly kept things in perspective, responding to a press inquiry in this way:  "Awww, I feel bad if she was upset. I am a feminist, and she is a young and talented girl. That being said, I do agree I am going to hell. But for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff."

How About A Tax On Blowhard Idiot Politicians?

Washington state Rep. Ed Orcutt (Republican) on why there should be a bicycle tax:

"A cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chavez Checks Out

Lefty left
Venezuelan President-for-life Hugo Chavez is dead at the age of 58 after a two-year bout with cancer.   Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast this afternoon. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.  The Venezuelan constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency-- but Maduro appears to be usurping the position of acting president, as wished by Chavez himself.

Chavez used his country's vast oil wealth to launch social programs that included state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chavez's presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy and help the poor raise their standard of living in real terms.  Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world. 

Chavez ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. He concentrated power in his hands through the use of allies who dominated the congress and loyal judges who controlled the Supreme Court.  Hugo insisted that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech-- but one by one, outspoken opponents faced criminal charges,  were driven bankrupt or forced into exile.  Dissenting media outlets were either taken over by the government or run out of business.  Chavez also presided over a sustained attack on private ownership, implementing government seizures of companies and farmland,

Over time, Chavez also engaged in constitutional shenanigans which resulted in him being able to run for office multiple times beyond the originally-mandated two-term limit.  Two months after his re-election last October (in yet another sham election), Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public.

Let's Get Our Facts Straight

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fish Are Getting A Little Fishy

A new study finds that 84% of the world’s fish tested was not safe to eat more than once per month because of mercury poisoning. And 13% of the fish isn’t safe to eat in any circumstances.  I'm not sure how one can eat something that is so poisonous that it's only safe enough to eat once every 30 days, quite frankly. 

In Japan and Uruguay, the study found that “Mercury concentrations in fish from sites in Japan and Uruguay were so high that no consumption is recommended.”  Yikes!  And they were only measuring for mercury levels-- there's PCB contamination, pollutants, and sustainability practices to factor in as well.

Blue Ocean's website provides great information for what kinds of fish to eat and which to avoid.  The best choices are Atlantic Mackerel, U.S.-farmed Tilapia, wild Alaska salmon, U.S. farmed shrimp, farmed clams/mussels/oysters, pacific sole and  pole-caught mahi-mahi.  Fish to avoid at all costs are imported shrimp, farmed salmon, shark, Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Atlantic bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, grouper and Atlantic flounders and soles.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Apple Now Censoring What Users Can Say In Their Emails

Apple is now engaged in full-on censorship of emails on its iCloud services, deleting all emails that contain the phrase 'barely legal teen,' according to an investigation by a computing magazine.

As reported by The Independent, Macworld devised a test of the service where they attempted to send two almost identical emails:

1) 'My friend's son is already allowed to drive his high-powered car. It's ridiculous. He's a barely legal teenage driver? What on earth is John thinking'

2) ) 'My friend's son is already allowed to drive his high-powered car. It's ridiculous. He's barely a legal teenage driver? What on earth is John thinking'

On attempting to receive the mails, only the second one got through.  The phrase 'barely legal teen' is used in pornographic searches by people hoping to find pictures of material featuring men and/or women who have just passed the minimum age required to appear in pornography (18 in most countries).

Although some would consider the phrase to have a strong association with paedophilia, it has been noted by many that 'barely legal' porn is (as its name suggests) not illegal, and users on social news site Reddit have criticized Apple for such censorship.

Macworld began their investigation after the issue was brought to their attention by a reader of their sister title Infoworld who was having trouble receiving a film script that contained the phrase.

Apple has a long history of censoring what it believes to be pornography.   The iTunes store does not allow apps which feature semi-nude men or scantily-clad women (such as daily calendars and such), nor does the iBookstore allow adult magazines that are normally available in newstands or bookstores. The iBookstore rejected an e-book submission on the hippie movement because it contained photographs of naked people.

Macworld writer Mark Hattersley said: "Censoring the emails of personal individuals using Apple cloud services does seem to be another step on the ladder towards Apple control [of the internet and user content]. People do not have to use Apple's iCloud service, but Apple makes iCloud easy to set up and it still feels like a personal intrusion to have Apple's computers deciding what you can and can't say."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dreading To Be Un-Locked

28-year-old Zimbabwean Jack Maseko was recently mugged by three men in South Africa - they wanted nothing but his mobile phone and the dreadlocks he had spent three years patiently cultivating.  "I used to see people selling dreadlocks on the streets and didn't know where it came from," he told the BBC.

Dreadlocks can take several years to grow but many people do not want to wait and it is this need for instant long hair that is pushing the demand for ready locks in the black market, according to hairstylists.  The thieves are quick and sometimes ruthless and will use anything from a knife to broken glass to steal the prized hair - known on the streets as a cut and run.

The gangs operate in Johannesburg but the practice has also spread to the coastal town of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.  Shoulder-length dreadlocks are sold for between 200 rand ($23) and 700 rand ($80), while longer ones cost as much as 2,000 rand.

Most South Africans first heard of this phenomenon when the case of another Zimbabwean national Mutsa Madonko, who was attacked and had his hair shaved off outside a Johannesburg night club, made national headlines last month.  He had apparently grown his locks for 10 years.


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