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I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
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POLITICAL GRAVITY -- POLITICAL LEVITY -- VERSE AND WORSE
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for August 2007 (cont'd)

 


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USDA Tentatively Changes 'Organic' Definition

Thanks to frequent commenter (and all-around sensible person) ziem for leading me indirectly to pursue the matter of the recent changes to the definition of "USDA Organic." Please note... this link points to what appears to be an industry association publication; it may or may not be sympathetic to the consumer of allegedly organic produce:

USDA Gives Interim Approval to Change in Organic Regulations
Compiled By Staff
July 2, 2007

USDA gave interim approval Friday to a proposal that would allow 38 nonorganic ingredients to be used in foods that carry the "USDA Organic" seal, and added 60 extra days for public comment.

Organic food manufacturers pushed for the change, saying that the included ingredients are minor ingredients in their products and difficult to find in organic form. Many consumers, however, have complained that the measure would defeat the purpose of labeling food as organic.

The list approved Friday includes 19 food colorings, two starches, hops, sausage casings, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemongrass, Wakame seaweed, Turkish bay leaves and whey protein concentrate.

Manufacturers would be allowed to use conventionally grown versions of these ingredients in foods carrying the USDA seal, provided that they can't find organic equivalents and that nonorganics constitute no more than 5% of the product. A wide range of organic food could be affected, including cereal, sausage, bread, beer, pasta, candy and soup mixes.

     ...

A quick google of "USDA organic changes" ... no date specified... shows that this has been in the works for almost a decade. Now it's finally happening.

I seriously doubt the statement that "[o]rganic food manufacturers pushed for the change," and I expect that most organic packaged food from brands well-known to those of us who seek such things... and probably most small farms and co-ops who have gone to considerable trouble to gear up for organic produce... will continue to be trustworthy regarding their ingredients. But my momma didn't raise no fool [sic], and I understand that this is merely a step in a likely trend. Most of us knew where to find organic produce before the USDA started certifying some of it; it's a step backward that the USDA label can no longer be trusted not to lie to us about what we are eating, but consumers will continue to find what they need.

As I read it, the public comment period is still open. If you think it will do any good, you might contact USDA. As always, please be polite in your comments. (UPDATE: maybe not. Presuming they're closed for Labor Day, we're probably past the comment period. Damn.)

(Full disclosure: decades ago, I did extensive software contract work for a subcontractor to the USDA. There is literally no connection between what I did back then and any of these regulation changes today.)

Steve
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Links You Should Not Click

Please do click this link and read Bryan's post on Trojan blogs. Even a blog you know and trust could be hacked and infected; it's happening on Blogger today. It's not a common phenomenon... yet. But if you recognize the symptoms, you'll know which links may be booby-trapped, and you can avoid at least one potential catastrophe in your life on the 'net.

This exploit appears to be perpetrated by a gang that has done similar things before, and which indeed may be setting up infrastructure for still larger exploits. We have moved from an era in which most hackers were amateurs, often young people, showing off their skills to each other, into a time in which hacking for profit is serious business. If you aren't concerned, you should be: it's your money, your small business, etc. that they are targeting. And if you're still not concerned because you have nothing to steal, consider the damage these criminals do to the internet itself. If you're reading this post, that damage... the usurpation of large amounts of bandwidth, the propagation of immense amounts of spam, etc. ... affects you directly.

An aside: the YDD site is a pile of pages. Anything that looks like active content is actually implemented on your computer as JavaScript. There is no server-side script to be hacked. Does this mean the YDD cannot be forced by some clever person to carry malicious content? Well, no site can make that claim with absolute confidence. What I can tell you is that exploits of the sort described in Bryan's post, those which require certain kinds of interaction with a server, or that use email as their transport, cannot affect the YDD... because "there's no there there." (Pace Gertrude Stein.) I also monitor the site pretty frequently for anomalies of any kind.

That said... think before you click, everywhere on the 'net. It's not a bad idea to hover over the link and read the URL you are about to be taken to: some links contain a bait-and-switch that would make the Bushists proud.

Steve
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Here's My Beef -- DOGGEREL!

It's time to feed the doggerel again... but don't feed her this ground beef. Immediately on the heels of the aforementioned Salmonella spinach scare (can a scare have heels? it certainly can have legs), just in time for Labor Day cook-outs, we have E. coli-tainted ground beef:

Consumers warned on tainted beef
By Katy Byron
CNN

(CNN) -- Federal and state health officials issued a consumer alert Thursday after nine people were sickened by contaminated beef.

A day before the start of what historically is a popular weekend for grilling, officials urged consumers to check the beef in their freezers and make sure it doesn't include possibly tainted meat.

The 41,205 pounds (approximately 20 tons) of beef identified as possibly tainted is no longer on store shelves, because the sell-by dates have already expired.

But the alert was issued anyway in case the product remains in consumers' freezers, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture said.

Nine people have been sickened -- six in Washington, two in Oregon, and one in Idaho -- by the beef, which is contaminated with E. coli bacteria, state health officials reported.

     ...

Authorities identified the suspect products as 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 7% Fat, Natural Ground Beef" with UPC code label "752907 600127" and 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 10% Fat, Organic Ground Beef" with expiration dates between August 1 to August 8.

The beef was sold in Safeway, QFC, and Fred Meyer and other stores.

     ...

Please note that this, like yesterday's Salmonella case, is one in which the fact that the product is "organic," i.e., presumably free of GMO and grown or raised without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, will not save you from harm. Bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, are no respecters of organic practices. Please wash your veggies and cook your meats thoroughly.

(I wrote a lot of this sort of rough topical doggerel a decade ago; it is more deserving of the term than most of my more recent work...)

What Goes Aground

Coming to a store that's near ya,
"It's the other bad bacteria."
'Nother slogan; it's a winner:
"E. coli - it's what's for dinner!"
What comes round will go around:
Eat your beef... you'll go to ground.

Cook that patty in your skillet
'Til it's burned; you may just kill it.
But however you may treat it,
There's no Safeway you can eat it.
Write this large, in bright red paint:
"Think it's safe? well, no it taint."

If on Labor Day you grill,
Grill it done... and don't get ill.

Steve Bates

Steve
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Friday Chair Blogging

No question in Stella's household who occupies the big chair...




YIN AND YANG


LEAN ON ME



Steve
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Donut Cloud



Sorry about the bite already taken. Across the bayou from the building visible in the picture, there's a police station...   <stereotype />

Steve
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Salmonella - They Do Recall! -- DOGGEREL!

Unlike Bush's minions when they bother even to appear before congressional committees, Metz Fresh LLC of King City, California DID recall... 8,118 cases of spinach, some of which tested positive for salmonella. WaPo:

Spinach Recall Tests Safety Measures
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 30, 2007; 1:25 PM

KING CITY, Calif. -- Tough food safety precautions and produce-tracking systems implemented last year after a fatal E. coli outbreak were put to the test when spinach from a produce company came up positive for salmonella bacteria, prompting a new recall.

Metz Fresh LLC of King City issued the recall Wednesday, after salmonella was found during a routine test of spinach it was processing for shipment, company spokesman Greg Larson said.

The recall involved 8,118 cases of spinach, but the company said more than 90 percent of that amount was identified before it reached stores.

"Most of it was stopped instantly, in the shipping channels," Larson said.

     ...

"I think the test of the industry is how we react to these types of situations," said grower Joseph Pezzini, who heads the board that administers the new produce safety rules. "No one was harmed by the product and that's important."

Public health experts questioned that assessment.

     ...

Hmm. Consider the symptoms of Salmonella gastroenteritis, then sing the following to the obvious  tune:

Salmonella!

Salmonella, where the bugs are breeding in your guts,
Since you ate those greens, that nausea means
That your GI tract will drive you nuts.
Salmonella, ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Wash those lettuce leaves, to dodge those heaves,
Cramping, bloody runs... you think you'll die!

If you've had it, you know what I mean:
It's your face, not the spinach, that's green!
And when we say, Yecch! we hope it goes away, (Blecch!)
We're only sayin' You make us sick, Salmonella,
Salmonella, go 'way!

Steve Bates

Steve
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We've Got The Big-State Blues

Texas, where half of uninsured children already can't participate in the state CHIP program, will be seriously impacted by Bush's cuts to SCHIP.

And in California... excuse me, Cah-li-foh-ni-a, as its governator calls it... Ahnuld has used his power to whack a $55 million program for the homeless, a program which "advocates say has helped thousands of mentally ill homeless people break the costly cycle of hospitalization, jails and street life."

It's a great time to be housed and insured, isn't it? What's that? You're not? Well, what's wrong with you? It's your own fault, I'm sure. You should just suck it up and get a job. And your children: they should just... um, ah, you shouldn't have had children if you can't afford to house and insure them. Yeah, that's the ticket: you're irresponsible for having started a family back in rosier times. Damn poor people anyway, and the wackos that wander around with their signs at street corners, looking for a handout. Cut 'em all loose... and their kids, too. Right? *


* I actually heard a right-wing nutjob on the radio a few years ago advocating, in all seriousness, precisely that solution to poverty: Cut the poor loose. Let them suffer and die. This was an interviewee who had written a book, not a caller to a talk radio hate line. What? oh... I suspect he sleeps fine, thankyouverymuch.

Steve
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There's A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea

I never could sing that old song without bobbling the words somewhere around the "frog" part. So it's fortunate that's not what astronomers have found... instead, they've found a "hole in the universe":

WASHINGTON -- Astronomers have stumbled upon a tremendous hole in the universe. That's got them scratching their heads about what's just not there. The cosmic blank spot has no stray stars, no galaxies, no sucking black holes, not even mysterious dark matter. It is 1 billion light years across of nothing. That's an expanse of nearly 6 billion trillion miles of emptiness, a University of Minnesota team announced Thursday.

Astronomers have known for many years that there are patches in the universe where nobody's home. In fact, one such place is practically a neighbor, a mere 2 million light years away. But what the Minnesota team discovered, using two different types of astronomical observations, is a void that's far bigger than scientists ever imagined.

"This is 1,000 times the volume of what we sort of expected to see in terms of a typical void," said Minnesota astronomy professor Lawrence Rudnick, author of the paper that will be published in Astrophysical Journal. "It's not clear that we have the right word yet ... This is too much of a surprise."

     ...

Hmm...

Bush's Brain just resigned. Maybe astronomers inadvertently stumbled into the vacuum that remains.

Or maybe it's Cheney's secure undisclosed location... you always knew he was not from this planet.

Steve
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Watch This - UPDATED

No, unlike someone we could name, I'm not going to drive a golf ball. More accurately, watch these eight videos of two speeches. Back on May 1, Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. both spoke at some sort of event in New York City. (If anyone can locate the specific event, I'd be most appreciative.) Their talks were mostly about manipulated elections and voter fraud (both the real thing... fraud against voters, such as caging... and the Republican false allegations leading up to the U.S. Attorney scandal), but they also cover a wide variety of other topics. No one delivers a better rant than these two guys. The eight videos are in sequence; there would presumably be just two of them if YouTube allowed longer videos. Taken all together, they're probably an hour's worth, and you'll count it an hour well spent.

UPDATE: the incomparable hipparchia found a continuous Google video of the event. No excuses, no drink breaks, no bathroom breaks...

UPDATE: the equally incomparable Bryan located the event, the New York launch of Palast's book Armed Madhouse, at the Community Church of New York... which is (ahem) a Unitarian Universalist institution. Bryan also notes that Rude Pundit was present at the event.

(I find myself humming, "I get by with a little help from my friends...")

Steve
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Show Your Work

USA Toady:

NEW ORLEANS — President Bush, marking his 15th visit to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region two years ago, said on Wednesday that he came to show that the federal government is "still engaged" and to honor people who had dedicated their lives to the rebuilding New Orleans.

"When Katrina broke through the levees, it broke a lot of hearts," the president said in brief remarks at Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Math and Science, in the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward. "But it didn't affect the spirit of a lot of citizens of this community."

     ...

Oh, give me a fucking break, Mr. Preznit. This is your version of your Poppy's "message: I care." A lot of people... those not killed outright by the storm... have indeed been dispirited in the aftermath, even more so when they discovered that everything you said in Jackson Square was a total fraud, a creature of your political expediency. Most of us knew it from the moment the bright lights in the square were cut off. It took some people a bit longer, but it's pretty clear to just about everybody that you, Mr. Preznit, have no intention of offering any meaningful assistance... ever... to the City of New Orleans and its people. Show us your work... real relief... or shut the fuck up, and stop using the city you allowed to be destroyed as a photo op.

Mr. Bush, if you thought any of us in areas vulnerable to hurricanes would not notice your fraudulent expressions of good will, coupled with your complete failure... deliberate, we suspect... to offer tangible help in a timely fashion, you are as dumb as a post left standing by the storm in water in NOLA's Ninth Ward.

Go home, Mr. Preznit. We don't want you anywhere near our coast.

Steve
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Abu Ghraib Officer Acquitted

NYT:

A military jury announced that an Army officer who was convicted of a lesser charge and acquitted of all others Tuesday in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal would receive a formal reprimand as his sentence.

The officer, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, was acquitted of charges that he failed to properly train and supervise enlisted soldiers involved in detainee interrogations in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where prisoners were subjected to brutal treatment. He was found guilty of only one lesser offense, that of disobeying an order to refrain from discussing the case. The maximum punishment for that offense was five years in prison.

Colonel Jordan, 51, was the only officer to stand trial on charges related to the detainee-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, which led to prolonged investigations and charges against several soldiers. He was tried at Fort Meade, Md., by a jury of nine Army colonels and a brigadier general.

Colonel Jordan’s acquittal on most charges means that no officers have been found criminally responsible for the abuses at the prison. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the military intelligence officer who ran Abu Ghraib, was punished administratively by senior Army commanders for improperly allowing military dogs to be used during interrogations to frighten detainees. Janis L. Karpinski, the brigadier general who was the military police commander at Abu Ghraib, was reprimanded and demoted.

     ...

"[N]o officers have been found criminally responsible." Oooo...kay. I guess it just happened. It's like those old Bil Keane cartoons in which the perpetrator of unpleasant household deeds was always "Not Me."

Nobody set the dogs onto the prisoners. Nobody stripped them down and forced them to pile up naked. Nobody forced them to pretend to have sex with each other. Nobody forced them into positions the human body cannot sustain, and left them there for hours. Nobody allowed them to soil themselves and left them in their own excrement. Nobody "waterboarded" them. Nobody did all this. It just happened.

You don't like that reasoning? Neither do I. But only one person was charged, and he was acquitted on "most charges" and sentenced to a reprimand. What are we to conclude? I realize the standards for conviction are rightly high, in military justice as in the civilian system. But what are we to take away from this? are we truly expected to believe that this atrocity, the worst we know about in the course of the war, just happened?

Maybe when they (ah, the eternal "they") were deciding who should be tried for the documented atrocities, they just didn't go high enough up the chain of command. What do you think?

Steve
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Senator Craig

... is still "not gay." I fully intended not to post on this at all. It's been well covered, and I don't care if Sen. Craig is gay. I don't care at all about his sex life, or about the orientation or sexual behavior of anyone I don't know personally either in real life or online. It's not my business whether Sen. Craig perceives himself as gay, or not, or even whether he cruises restrooms looking for sex, or not. By itself, it doesn't matter to me, and it shouldn't matter to you, whether Craig is gay. I also don't care if he lies about his orientation, or any other aspect of his sexuality, to me or to his wife. (A clue to Sen. Craig: she may care, even if I don't.) I might observe that in general lying usually has a bad outcome, but in Craig's personal life, it's just not my business.

But when Craig repeatedly goes to the floor of the Senate to advocate anti-gay legislation (note: Pam has much more on Craig downstream), his public hypocrisy becomes our business in a way his private sexuality isn't.

If Sen. Craig were to change his mind yet again and decide to come out for good and all, I suspect a lot of closeted gay Republicans would be grateful. But Craig's history would cast a shadow even on that decision. Mustang Bobby concludes an insightful post about Craig, and more generally about what it means to be gay, this way:

So I'll take Senator Craig at his word: he's not gay. On behalf of the gay community, may I say, "Whew." I don't want to have someone like him as a part of the gay community, especially given his voting record on gay issues and his apparent penchant for risky anonymous sex with strangers in public places. Being gay or lesbian is enough of a challenge without any help from people like him.

Trust me, Bobby: straight people like me don't want him either. Nobody likes a guy who lies on the job and endangers other people in his free time. True enough, Sen. Craig has some 'splainin' to do, not about his orientation but about his hypocritical hostility to some of his constituents. But much more than that, he has some serious thinking to do about who he really is. I wish him luck. And I hope he undertakes the journey outside the context of the U.S. Senate.

Steve
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Say It Isn't So, Max!

Max Sawicky of MaxSpeak, one of the most readable, comprehensible and, yes, entertaining economists in the blogosphere, is hanging up his movable type on Sept. 3, compelled to quit blogging by a new job he has taken. Max says...

Blogging has been huge fun. It will take some doing, getting used to seeing something that begs for comment and not being able to scream across cyberspace. My biggest regret will be the loss of the feedback and friendships made possible online. I'm happy to correspond with people, but anything I wrote would have to be off the record.

Some day I could return, but who knows what the Internet will be like by then. Maybe blogs will be obsolete, and everybody will be in Second Life. I could be a giant chipmonk.

Sawicky's blogging colleagues are planning another blog to take the place of MaxSpeak, so the blogroll link stays for a while until that is up. "Chipmonk" [sic] or no, the loss is ours.

(H/T Bryan of Why Now? for alerting me.)

Steve
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Counting Coup On The Eclipse

Face it: the most one can manage... rather, the most I can manage with a nearly three-year-old pocket camera, no tripod, shaky hands, emerging morning haze and waaay too little sleep is to say, "I was there, I saw it and here's a picture, sort of." Stella phoned me well before the crack of dawn to remind me of the total lunar eclipse; we saw the Moon re-emerge. The original shot, at full size, was scarcely better than this. But at least we tagged the eclipse.

If you find particularly spectacular pictures, especially if you took them yourself and posted them, please leave links to them in the comments.

Steve
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One Young American Life

... is worth $20,000. Just in case you ever wondered.

I am sorry, but this is just plain wrong. The reasons for the recent military recruitment shortfall are valid ones. A $20 grand bribe is enough to draw in financially desperate people despite the fact that the Bushists are using our troops to fight needless wars for Bush's and Cheney's own political purposes. But that doesn't make it right to make the offer.

What's next? offering people $100,000 to provide the heart for a heart transplant for a wealthy recipient? Who would take such an offer? Well, who wouldn't, rather than see their family starve? I do not see this recruitment bonus as morally different, given the likelihood that a new recruit who starts training in September will die in Iraq within a year or so.

Here's the hidden incentive, the one I find so morally republi... I mean morally repugnant: you know that when the bonus fails to draw enough new recruits, the Bushists will simply resume the draft, and take these people anyway. So if you're broke and have no prospects, you may decide that $20k is better than $0, and sign up now.

I understand that risking one's life for a high price is an old American tradition. That doesn't make such a practice a legitimate basis for fielding our military, the military we need for legitimate defense purposes. And it most certainly doesn't validate paying a bonus to young people to die for Messrs. Bush's and Cheney's financial and political fortunes. Paying our all-volunteer military well is one thing; that's admirable. Paying young, inexperienced and almost certainly poor people a bonus to die in Mr. Bush's war is an abomination.

Steve
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Gonzo To Go - UPDATED

... on September 17. TPM has reactions from Conyers, Leahy, Pelosi, and Reid. Oh, and a few freaked-out Republicans like Cornyn, who with his prediction of "chaos" sounds as if he may need to change his pants.

Bush is supposed to be speaking as I write this, but I can't find a video link. I'll update later.

UPDATE: TPM headline says Bush names Paul Clement as "acting Attorney General." Josh Marshall speculates on the likelihood of a recess appointment.

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Montrose Edition

Perhaps every fine restaurant in Houston's fabulous Montrose district (hey, I grew up there; I can brag on it) offers a service to its departing guests like this one at Baba Yega's. I don't know, because I've visited so few of them. But it's a nice touch.

My hearing is not the best, but as I thought of selecting that juicy- looking orange from the front of the bowl, I could swear I heard it murmer, "You're soooo witty and well-muscled these days..."



Steve
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Friday Eternal Vigilance Blogging

Well, OK, maybe not eternal, but between naps, these gals keep a close watch on what might come through this sunny window... well, OK, they're more likely to be in the window if the sun is shining, but no terrorists and no tropical weather will come through this window without a challenge... well, OK, they never challenge anything except each other, but... whatthehell, here are Stella's girls, keeping watch:



(Aside: blogging may be light Friday evening through the weekend. Or not. "My life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled.")

Steve
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Quacking Like A Duck

Josh Marshall, in a post titled "Militarism and Anti-Democracy, Now in a Country Near You," examines Bush's straw men, canards and outright lies used to perpetuate the war in Iraq abroad and the war on a large percentage of the American people at home, not to mention (rest assured Marshall does) Bush's war on the rule of law, the principles of American justice and the Constitution itself. Marshall's conclusion struck me as particularly apt:

Militarism and proto-fascist thinking isn't just something to be studied about the 1920s and 1930s. You can see it today as a growing part of our political discourse, even as the support for it in absolute terms diminishes. It is all of a piece. You cannot separate the bogus war for democracy abroad from the war against democracy and the rule of law at home.

Read Marshall's entire post for examples (and a Bush video) showing how he arrived at that conclusion. Then take a look at other examples on the TPM family of sites regarding how Republicans and Lieberman (but I repeat myself, as Mark Twain said) spew accusations about how

  • Democrats should be castigated for disparaging Maliki (even though the just-released NIE does the same),

  • Americans will die because we insist on a public discussion of FISA (as if they aren't already dying without the discussion),

  • We should just STFU and allow GOP congressmen to insert changes in laws AFTER the House and Senate have reconciled them,

... etc., etc. Why do the Bushists' opponents hate America so much, anyway?

Meanwhile, the Bushists' Pentagon is supporting the troops by not delivering armored vehicles in a timely fashion. I wonder which kind of "supporting the troops" the troops support.

So is Marshall right? is America under Bush really a proto-fascist, militarist state that fails to support democracy and the rule of law in America? Hmm. I hear quacking...

Steve
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The Prophetic Onion

The subject came up in a thread at Bryan's place about Bush's ill-conceived Vietnam comparison, in which he attempts to shore up neocon mythology regarding the end of that awful war by invoking... please set your coffee cup down... Graham Greene's The Quiet American. It's not a direct analogy, but I was reminded of the fictional Bush speech quote from The Onion back in 2001. Here's the beginning:

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'
January 17, 2001 | Issue 37•01

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

ush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

     ...

Follow the link and reread the rest. There's an eerie prophetic quality to it.

Steve
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Miscellany

I don't know about this new format. The inimitable hipparchia informs me that the page isn't working at all in IE6, though that may be due to other problems unrelated to the change in width. I don't have time for a complete rework of the YDD, but I'm afraid it may prove inevitable at some point; much of the code is so old that it's getting to where the cruft has cruft on it. I'm leaving it as-is for the moment. If anyone else is having serious problems, please let me know.

A few unrelated news items I noticed:

  • Hurricane Dean is about to make its second landfall in Mexico as a greatly weakened storm. It's quite a decline from its pre-Yucatan status as the ninth strongest Atlantic hurricane on record. Of course, Dean can still do some damage. Apart from these links at Weather Underground, Bryan of Why Now? has been the best source of regular updates and discussion of Dean.

  • Wal-Mart does a good thing (I should just stop there, because that headline is so astonishing in itself):

    Like a frog slowly turning into a princess, Wal-Mart's music download store has grown far more attractive now that it offers 256kbps unrestricted MP3 tracks from both EMI and Universal. It won't win over fans who like the other features of iTunes, but it can finally compete with Apple's media store for at least the value segment of the music download market.

    DRM isn't yet dead in the music business, but it has a nasty, hacking cough. Wal-Mart is the latest company to ditch the DRM in an attempt to crack the coveted iPod market, which for years has been out of reach. The company announced this morning that it has embraced high-bitrate MP3s from Universal and EMI (iTunes only has DRM-free files from EMI, not from Universal), and it promises to continually expand its offerings.

    That's not quite enough to get me to shop at Mall-Wart... there are too many other problems with that corporate bad boy... but they have my attention. Good behavior is good behavior, and should be acknowledged.

  • Pentagon to close database:

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 (AP) — The Pentagon said Tuesday that it would shut down a database that had been criticized for including information on antiwar protesters and others whose actions posed no threat to military facilities and personnel.

    A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck of the Army, said the database was being shut down Sept. 17 because “the analytical value had declined,” but not because of public criticism.

         ...

    Forgive me if I'm skeptical. Notice they say they will "shut down" the database. WTF does that mean? Nothing ever really goes away, and I'd bet real money that there will be something similar in use before next year, containing the very same illegally collected data.

  • George Dubya Bush hates kids (and he doesn't like you very much, either). From the Globe:

    Thousands of Massachusetts children from low-income families could be denied health insurance under new rules imposed by the Bush administration late last week. The rules could cut federal matching funds for a state-run program that is a key component of the state's health insurance initiative.

         ...

    As part of its health insurance reform, Massachusetts expanded eligibility to children in families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $61,950 for a family of four. The change was made last year with federal approval and brought coverage to about 14,000 more Massachusetts children.

    In Massachusetts, the program is the main means of insuring children in families above the poverty level who do not qualify for Medicaid and who frequently cannot afford private insurance. The state's health insurance initiative did not include any other effort to cover children.

    The new federal rules could block enrollment of more children above 250 percent of the poverty level and could make it tougher for the state to continue covering about 4,500 already enrolled. State officials said they do not yet have a count of the number who are eligible but not enrolled.

         ...

    Bush would sell his own mother for the right price. Say, if we offered him... nah. His style, not ours.

  • Using Tasers to control the elderly at home:

    Police use stun gun to subdue 70-year-old man at his home
    August 22, 2007

    CHESTERVILLE, Maine --Katherine Matthews is questioning whether police overreacted when they used a stun gun to subdue her 70-year-old husband and arrest him on a charge of terrorizing.

    "He didn't terrorize anyone," Matthews said. "My husband is the victim here."

    Norman Parent, a retired school principal from Massachusetts, was in bed Friday when Matthews went in to discuss his anger about a personal situation involving an out-of-state family member who owed him money, she told the Sun Journal of Lewiston on Tuesday.

    Please note that Mr. Parent was at home, that his anger was not related to a domestic dispute per se, that his wife called a neighbor not because she was threatened but because she was concerned for her husband's health, that the neighbor called the police, that the husband was asleep when they arrived, that the husband had had a quadruple bypass recently, that he had taken out his hearing aids, that the husband was 70 years old (!), etc. He allegedly resisted arrest. If I were awakened from a sound sleep by someone (as I perceived it) invading my home, I'd probably resist arrest, too. In any case, given the 70-year-old's medical condition, it's a miracle he's not dead. Was there a legitimate need to use deadly force? no? then why did the officer use a Taser?

That's enough for the moment; all taken together, it makes me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Blogging isn't for the faint of heart these days, is it?

Steve
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YDD Widescreen Edition

This is an experiment. I won't guarantee this format going forward. But if you have a display as wide as, say, 1024 pixels, you should see a widescreen format, with the extra width allotted to the main column. This should allow me to use occasional wider photos (with decreased JPEG quality to keep them from being too bandwidth-intensive), or two smaller portrait-oriented photos side-by-side, like this:



If you are a regular reader and have trouble viewing this format, please let me know. If you are not a regular reader... why not?

Steve
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Bush To Children: Fuck You

Scarecrow at Firedoglake has the details:

In case you were wondering what the White House tried to sneak out with the trash last Friday, now we know. The Bush Administration quietly announced new rules that will have the effect of denying health care to many children that states are seeking to cover under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Even worse the new rules are so onerous they could even force states to stop providing care to some children already covered by SCHIP.
[emphasis mine - sb]

And what’s the reason for this callous action? It seems the Administration is worried that state efforts to expand the reach of this successful program to include more children who are currently uninsured may result in fewer families seeking private insurance plans, because the SCHIP program would be less costly and works better and has fewer hassles than dealing with insurance companies. In other words, the Administration wants to deny SCHIP health coverage to possibly millions of low-to-medium income children solely to shield the private insurance companies from competition and to protect their profits.

     ...

Read the sordid details. Follow Scarecrow's links. One might call the changes "No child's left behind left behind." Bush is going to squeeze the life out of a lot of children, for the sake of insurance company profits. He is a mean fucking bastard. But you knew that.

Steve
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I Have A Pulse

... which is surprising, given that I've spent more than 24 hours reading the web and not found anything I really wanted to blog about. It's true I did a bit of actual work today, but not enough to account for this indifference to the news. I'll have more sometime today, Tuesday, I'm certain. If not, somebody please check my pulse again...

Steve
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Jose Padilla: What Next?

Scott Horton, blogging at Harper's, has some insight into Padilla's conviction, what happens in the punishment phase and the inevitable appeal, the Bush administration's likely course going forward, how the Bushists missed an opportunity to acquire intelligence about terrorists by taking a wholly politicized approach to the case, the issue of torture in Padilla's case, and the appropriateness of the term "Orwellian" for the Bushist approach to justice.

Those of us who regularly commit "thought crimes" by blogging in opposition to the Bushists' tactics may find Horton's post of interest.

(Found via Marty Lederman on Balkinization.)

Steve
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A Billion Bullets A Year

I was hoping to go easy on any heavy-duty unpleasantness on the blog this Sunday. Hurricane Dean seemed quite enough fear-inducing material for the week. Then Thers put up a post on Firedoglake which, in addition to giving a charming account of his family vacation in the Adirondacks, links to an MSNBC article about police departments in American cities and how they face ammunition shortages. It seems Mr. Bush's military adventurism has the U.S. military firing "more than 1 billion bullets a year" fighting in and training for Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is causing a shortage at home. Here's one example from the article:

     ...

In Oklahoma City, for example, officers cannot qualify with AR-15 rifles because the department does not have enough .223-caliber ammunition — a round similar to that fired by the military’s M-16 and M4 rifles. Last fall, an ammunition shortage forced the department to cancel qualification courses for several different guns.

     ...

In Milwaukee, supplies of .40-caliber handgun bullets and .223-caliber rifle rounds have gotten so low the department has repeatedly dipped into its ammunition reserves.

Some weapons training has already been cut by 30 percent, and lessons on rifles have been altered to conserve bullets.

     ...

As the article points out, police fire their weapons in action far less often than soldiers. But both professions have to train. Some police departments are even changing weapons, using guns for which the supply of bullets is thought to be greater. And they're having to plan these changes over a year in advance.

I remember reading that there was a time long ago when British police typically did not carry firearms, and most British miscreants also did not. Those days are long gone, and that may never have been the case in America. You can pretty much bet that a street criminal in Houston is packing. And I have regrettably been present... the incident happened in a vacant lot next to my house... when a pair of officers drew on and faced down a man who had robbed a grocery store down the street. Fortunately, the robber discarded his weapon, fled on foot through high weeds, and was caught about a block away. My point is this: police officers have to train with the weapons they are going to use in the field, or else they themselves become a danger to the public. In that particular incident, I would hate to think that those officers had inadequate training with the weapons they held; I was scared enough already.

As Thers says, this isn't the worst consequence of Mr. Bush's wars. But those wars affect your personal safety in ways you never anticipated... and this is one of those ways.

(We now return to cheerful thoughts on a sunny Houston Sunday.)

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Hurricane Hubris Edition

To be fair, this sign was made in September 2004, in pre-Katrina days. But it is still a good reminder to all of us along the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean not to get too cocky, no matter what the models may say at any given moment. It's beginning to look like Dean may makes landfall at the Texas-Mexico border, or a bit north or south of it. I'm not letting my guard down, though, and neither should you if you live in the area. At the very least, a storm as powerful as Dean is sure to cause a lot of weather in my vicinity, no matter how far south along the coast it goes.

If you're the praying sort, say one for our friends in the islands; they're about to be pounded, or are already getting pounded, pretty badly.

Steve
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Friday KatzenBloggen

Protected by the guardian cat angels on their pillows, Tabitha and Samantha enact a depiction of a movement from J.S. Bach's famous Cattata 208, "Was mir behagt, ist nur die mausen jagd," in particular, the movement, "Katzen können sicher schlafen, wo ein gutes Kissen wacht":



The movement is notable for its paired caterwaul parts accompanying the soprano, and it's a good thing this post doesn't have a soundtrack...

Steve
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Hispanic GOP Members Doubt Their Party

Via the excellent mailing list of CEWDEM (Carl Whitmarsh), here is a Houston Chronicle article for Democrats and Republicans alike to contemplate:

At a Mexican restaurant in the East End, Reggie Gonzales explains all the ways in which the Republican Party irks him these days: the "holier than thou" attitudes of some leaders, the second-class status he says it assigns to Hispanic members, and most of all, the harsh, xenophobic rhetoric frothing from the mouths of some party members discussing immigration.

It's the kind of talk you might expect from Democratic spin doctors or liberal columnists, but Gonzales is neither of those.

He is state chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

"People around here, they ask me all the time, 'You're an American of Mexican descent. Why do you deal with them fools?' " he says. Lately, he's really beginning to wonder.

     ...

Read the article to find out why Mr. Gonzales, lifelong Republican, is beginning to wonder.

And GOPers... y'all just keep harping on that "evil illegal immigrants" thing. Maybe Mr. Gonzales will stay with you, but a lot of Hispanic Americans may well come to doubt that they are welcome in the GOP.

Yeah, go right ahead, GOPers, keep dissing Hispanics. Forget about the fact that many Hispanic Americans have relatives in Mexico. Forget about the lawn workers you hired last week. Forget about who picked the lettuce in your salad. Keep talking about those "illegals." (How I hate that term!)

You'll keep your base, all right: you'll be like a table lamp that has a base, but has lost its shade, its bulb, its light socket and its wiring. But you'll keep your base.

Did I mention that Texas will be over 40 percent Hispanic by 2020? majority Hispanic by some time in the 2030s? Yeah, GOPers, go ahead and alienate (word chosen carefully) a good portion of those citizens. Make them feel unwelcome.

(Steve wanders off, muttering something about racists of questionable parentage...)

Steve
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Gen. Petraeus vs. Preznit Betray-Us

By now, everyone knows the September report on the so-called "surge" will be written, not by Gen. David Petraeus, but by the White House itself. Crooks and Liars provides us the video of Keith Olbermann interviewing Congressional Quarterly's Craig Crawford on what could possibly motivate the White House to intervene by writing the report on the "surge" ... which has become known casually as the "Petraeus Report" ... rather than letting a general with reasonably high credibility speak for himself.

My money is on the likelihood that Petraeus would have some fairly negative things to say about the "progress" of the surge, or else that he would advocate at least partial U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. No lie is too base for Preznit Betray-Us, as long as he gets his war. I'm sure he chose Petraeus carefully as a war supporter and possibly even a Bush supporter; if even Petraeus is unwilling to say positive things about the state of the war, we will have yet more evidence... as if we needed more... of how badly things are really going.

Steve
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Erin Errors

ABC-13 in Houston just reported we are receiving 4.5" of rain per hour. Houstonians, you know what that means. The southwest part of the city (610 South Loop all along the access road, Kirby and Buffalo Speedway from at least Greenbriar 610 north to Richmond, West University Place, Texas Medical Center, etc.) has been flooded for an hour or so, but much of the rest of the city north of here is due for comparable rain and flooding. Everyone please remember that the flooding trails the rain, sometimes by several hours... the fact that it is not raining is irrelevant to whether the roads are flooded. You can watch any local TV station or check the Houston Transtar web site for current information and access to remote cameras.

(NOTE: MetroRail service has been suspended from at least the Reliant Park area southward to the end of the line.)

Houstonians... don't drive into water if you can't see its depth! One of the TV stations' studios is not far from here, so I can stay home and watch on their tower cam as intersections I know and love fill up with flood water... and with cars. The rain has slacked off, but the flooding trails the rain. Don't do it, folks! Pull off and park! Or as the TV announcer just said, "Turn around; don't drown."

(I just phoned Stella. She works not far from the Texas Medical Center, but she doesn't have to drive anywhere this afternoon. When she eventually heads home, at least she has a fairly tall vehicle... and she has good sense.)

Steve
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The Ordinary Terrorist

Spencer Ackerman of TPMMuckraker expands a bit on the new NYPD report that purports to analyze how jihadists in the U.S. come to be the way they are:

NYPD Report: Potential Terrorists Like Chatting Online, Hanging Out
By Spencer Ackerman - August 15, 2007, 6:04 PM

The New York Police Department deserves a lot of credit for trying to think through the conditions that turn someone into a jihadist, a task that suffers from lazy assumptions and insufficient empirical rigor. What its report on potential radicalization of U.S. Muslims suggests, though, is that determining patterns of behavior that indicate future terrorism is a frustrating and complex task. As a result, most of what we learn about potential homegrown jihadists is that their pre-radical behavior is... a lot like that of non-jihadists.

     ...

No! Really? You mean... they don't manifest bright red laser-eyes? they exist in... more than two dimensions? They're... human, and therefore complex? Who knew! Ackerman continues:

Contrary to its billing, the report doesn't identify actual Muslim population clusters in the U.S. that incline toward terrorism. Instead, NYPD intelligence analysts Arvin Bhatt and Mitch Silber try to construct a model, based on prominent European Muslim and U.S. Muslim terrorists and would-be terrorists, that isolates patterns indicating radicalization. They ultimately come up with a four-stage process: pre-radicalization; self-identification with jihadism; indoctrination following exposure to jihadist literature or arguments; and, finally, "jihadization." They usefully point out that most western al-Qaeda adherents aren't responding to directly-experienced deprivation or oppression, but are rather aggrieved middle-class men under the grip of ideology. (You can read the whole report here.)

     ...

Identifying typical stages in a complex human transformation is not, in and of itself, science. But if you do it right, it can sure as hell sound like science, can't it? Can any of you suggest other motives the NYPD may have had for producing a study of specifically domestic, specifically Muslim wannabe terrorists?

I don't have the stomach to read all 87 pages, but I did read the executive summary far enough to learn that their N is very small indeed. What a surprise. It's small because, in the larger scheme of things, (*Steve takes a deep breath and shouts*) THERE'S NOT THAT MUCH TERRORISM.

As to the four stages they "identified," people of a certain mindset have been trying to find models for why other people do bad things since at least the Nineteenth Century. The results to date haven't been much to brag about. Between measuring personal physical characteristics and detailing upbringing and family background, yes, these "researchers" have got it covered... but have the results been of any use?

In the case of the NYPD study, the initial assumption... no one denies it... is that the population worthy of investigation for "jihadization" is, specifically, Muslim. No attempt is made to find out how Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski got to be the way they ended up... no, to be a real terrorist in the eyes of NYPD, you gotta be some flavor of Muslim. And as far as I can tell from the executive summary, not much is said here about what kind of Muslim should be investigated. Indeed, the one conclusion I can wholeheartedly agree with is this bullet point on Page 8:

  • There is no useful profile to assist law enforcement or intelligence to predict who will follow this trajectory of radicalization. Rather, the individuals who take this course begin as "unremarkable" from various walks of life.

Unremarkable. Right. The result of the study is that the study is useless. NYPD should stop spending New Yorkers' money on useless pseudoscience and return to legitimate police work that might actually interrupt terrorism or maybe... one can hope, considering the relative infrequency of terrorism... even more common kinds of crime.


For anyone concerned, we're having weather here in Houston, but not very much of it: occasional bands of intense thundershowers with long nonrainy periods between, and that relentless gray sky so characteristic of the fringe of tropical weather. We may get some street flooding, but when I watched the news an hour ago, the freeways were no worse than usual for a rainy weekday morning. Erin's approach awakened me early with a headache (I attribute it to barometric change; others say I don't know what I'm talking about... and they're right... but the correlation is high), but otherwise, life is unexciting. I only hope it continues that way through the rest of the hurricane season.

Steve
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Executive Privilege For RNC?

If you are sensitive about the combination of profane and obscene language, you can stop reading now. I've recomposed this post a couple of times, and still cannot restrain myself from some strong language at the end.

Via Jason Leopold of Truthout (yeah, I know, but hold on a minute), we learn that the RNC is refusing to comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena to turn over documents regarding the US Attorney firings, documents it says may come under a claim of executive privilege by the White House:

The Republican National Committee said it will not abide by a subpoena and turn over documents to a Congressional committee investigating the firings of at least eight US attorneys last year because the RNC is waiting to see if the White House will assert executive privilege over RNC documents at the center of the controversy, according to an outside law firm retained by the RNC.

The White House has asserted executive privilege to block senior administration officials from testifying before Congress about their involvement in the decision to fire the federal prosecutors. Moreover, the White House has cited executive privilege in declining to turn over specific documents to Congress that may shed further light on the circumstances behind the attorney firings. The US attorneys believe they were fired for partisan political reasons. In some instances, the US attorneys said they were pressured by Republican lawmakers and RNC operatives to file criminal charges against Democrats at the center of public corruption probes prior to last year's midterm election as well as individual cases of voter fraud, which the attorneys said was based on weak evidence, in order to cast a dark cloud over Democratic incumbents and swing election results toward Republican challengers.

     ...

Leopold provides a link to the RNC's letter to HJC chair John Conyers (note: .pdf). It looks real enough to me.

So let me get this straight: White House officials regularly used their RNC email accounts to discuss decisions specifically related to official decisions they planned to make... possibly illegal in itself. Then the RNC claims no longer to have copies of those emails... a clear violation of federal law requiring preservation of all presidential records. Finally, the RNC refuses a congressional subpoena, saying they're waiting for the preznit to invoke executive privilege in their behalf.

NOOOOOO!

Whatever the White House's occupants may think, the RNC is not part of the executive branch! If anyone who ever talks to the preznit about anything is covered by executive privilege, then the entire process of congressional oversight is completely shut down. If Congress accepts that, they may as well declare Bush dictator (as he so cheerfully wished a few years ago) and go home... not for recess, but permanently.

Some of us are old enough to remember our experience facing off with a country in which the only Party was not separate from the Government. Ours must never become such a country. Congress: defend yourself. Declare the RNC in contempt of Congress. THROW. THEIR. FUCKING. GODDAMNED. ASSES. IN. JAIL. Let 'em sit there until they cough up the documents. There is no room for compromise here.

Steve
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He's Not Scary, He's Snuggly

Mark Fiore brings back Snuggly, the Security Bear to talk about the changes to FISA.

Steve
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Not U-2?

They still have those things? They can still fly? Well, yes, and yes, but it's not the Soviets and the Chinese they are spying on now:

America under surveillance
Granted new power to spy inside the U.S., the Bush administration may be doing more than eavesdropping on phone calls -- it could be watching suspects' every move.
By Tim Shorrock
[Salon]

Aug. 9, 2007 | In the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 1, 2005, a U-2 surveillance aircraft known as the Dragon Lady lifted off the runway at Beale Air Force Base in California, the home of the U.S. Air Force 9th Reconnaissance Wing and one of the most important outposts in the U.S. intelligence world. Originally built in secret by Lockheed Corp. for the Central Intelligence Agency, the U-2 has provided some of the most sensitive intelligence available to the U.S. government, including thousands of photographs of Soviet and Chinese military bases, North Korean nuclear sites, and war zones from Afghanistan to Iraq.

But the aircraft that took off that September morning wasn't headed overseas to spy on America's enemies. Instead, for the next six hours it flew directly over the U.S. Gulf Coast, capturing hundreds of high-resolution images as Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest storms of the past century, slammed into New Orleans and the surrounding region.

The U-2 photos were matched against satellite imagery captured during and after the disaster by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Relatively unknown to the public, the NGA was first organized in 1996 from the imagery and mapping divisions of the CIA, the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that builds and maintains the nation's fleet of spy satellites. In 2003, the NGA was formally inaugurated as a combat support agency of the Pentagon. It is responsible for supplying overhead imagery and mapping tools to the military, the CIA and other intelligence agencies -- including the National Security Agency, whose wide- reaching, extrajudicial spying inside the United States under the Bush administration has been a heated political issue since first coming to light in the media nearly two years ago.

The NGA's role in Hurricane Katrina has received little attention outside of a few military and space industry publications. But the agency's close working relationship with the NSA -- whose powers to spy domestically were just expanded with new legislation from Congress -- raises the distinct possibility that the U.S. government could be doing far more than secretly listening in on phone calls as it targets and tracks individuals inside the United States. With the additional capabilities of the NGA and the use of other cutting-edge technologies, the government could also conceivably be following the movements of those individuals minute by minute, watching a person depart from a mosque in, say, Lodi, Calif., or drive a car from Chicago to Detroit.

     ...

Found via Charles2, on whose thread I suggested we all raise our middle fingers skyward on sunny days as a salute to those who keep us safe from privacy.

Steve
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Selected Links To Recent Posts

 
Click any permalink below to go to the original article on a previous page. Click a comment link below to add a comment to the original article. Your comment will be noticed, by the YDD at least: HaloScan has a page allowing me to view recent comments, no matter which post they refer to.

Fox News Hacks Wikipedia

Steve
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Gonzo May Become 'Death Czar' -- UPDATED

Steve
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Shot Fired At KPFT

Steve
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Believe It When You See It -- UPDATED

Steve
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Baghdad Berto

Steve
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The Look Of Texas Politics

Steve
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Saturday Signs

Steve
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Pearl Jamming

Steve
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Do You Feel A Draft?

Steve
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Nature, Red In Tooth And Claw

Steve
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Harry Potter And The Chinese Fanfic

Steve
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More Commentary On FISA Changes

Steve
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Friday Bad Habits Blogging

Steve
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Mad Cracks Me Up

Steve
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Bush And The Dead Dog

Steve
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Many Things, Mostly FISA

Steve
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Norton Futilities Redux -- UPDATED

Steve
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FISA: How It Might Have Happened

Steve
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Norton Futilities

Steve
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Birthday Wishes... And Peace

Steve
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Sheila Tells It Like It Is -- UPDATED

Steve
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Saturday Signs - Halfling Edition

Steve
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Craddick Unbelievably Rude

Steve
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Call Congress Today Re: FISA

Steve
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Post-Potter Depression

Steve
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NO SPOILERS:    SPOILERS:   

Diebold Virus Vulnerability - UPDATED

Steve
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Friday Eternal Vigilance Blogging

Steve
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Rove And Fielding

Steve
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Dissent = Assault -- UPDATED

Steve
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Potter Break

Steve
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Laser Printers: Watch Their Smoke

Steve
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Bill Bates 1/7/1920-8/1/1995

Steve
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