Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Torture 4 Fun and War Profit!

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Common Sense 2009

by Larry Flynt

Larry FlyntThe American government -- which we once called our government -- has been taken over by Wall Street, the mega-corporations and the super-rich. They are the ones who decide our fate. It is this group of powerful elites, the people President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "economic royalists," who choose our elected officials -- indeed, our very form of government. Both Democrats and Republicans dance to the tune of their corporate masters. In America, corporations do not control the government. In America, corporations are the government.

This was never more obvious than with the Wall Street bailout, whereby the very corporations that caused the collapse of our economy were rewarded with taxpayer dollars. So arrogant, so smug were they that, without a moment's hesitation, they took our money -- yours and mine -- to pay their executives multimillion-dollar bonuses, something they continue doing to this very day. They have no shame. They don't care what you and I think about them. Henry Kissinger refers to us as "useless eaters."

But, you say, we have elected a candidate of change. To which I respond: Do these words of President Obama sound like change?

"A culture of irresponsibility took root, from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street."
There it is. Right there. We are Main Street. We must, according to our president, share the blame. He went on to say: "And a regulatory regime basically crafted in the wake of a 20th-century economic crisis -- the Great Depression -- was overwhelmed by the speed, scope and sophistication of a 21st-century global economy."

This is nonsense.

The reason Wall Street was able to game the system the way it did -- knowing that they would become rich at the expense of the American people (oh, yes, they most certainly knew that) -- was because the financial elite had bribed our legislators to roll back the protections enacted after the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Congress gutted the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial lending banks from investment banks, and passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which allowed for self-regulation with no oversight. The Securities and Exchange Commission subsequently revised its rules to allow for even less oversight -- and we've all seen how well that worked out. To date, no serious legislation has been offered by the Obama administration to correct these problems.

Instead, Obama wants to increase the oversight power of the Federal Reserve. Never mind that it already had significant oversight power before our most recent economic meltdown, yet failed to take action. Never mind that the Fed is not a government agency but a cartel of private bankers that cannot be held accountable by Washington. Whatever the Fed does with these supposed new oversight powers will be behind closed doors.

Obama's failure to act sends one message loud and clear: He cannot stand up to the powerful Wall Street interests that supplied the bulk of his campaign money for the 2008 election. Nor, for that matter, can Congress, for much the same reason.

Consider what multibillionaire banker David Rockefeller wrote in his 2002 memoirs:

"Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as 'internationalists' and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure -- one world, if you will. If that's the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it."

Read Rockefeller's words again. He actually admits to working against the "best interests of the United States."


Need more? Here's what Rockefeller said in 1994 at a U.N. dinner: "We are on the verge of a global transformation. All we need is the right major crisis, and the nations will accept the New World Order." They're gaming us. Our country has been stolen from us.

Journalist Matt Taibbi, writing in Rolling Stone, notes that esteemed economist John Kenneth Galbraith laid the 1929 crash at the feet of banking giant Goldman Sachs. Taibbi goes on to say that Goldman Sachs has been behind every other economic downturn as well, including the most recent one. As if that wasn't enough, Goldman Sachs even had a hand in pushing gas prices up to $4 a gallon.

The problem with bankers is longstanding. Here's what one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, had to say about them:

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation, and then by deflation, the banks and the corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their father's conquered."
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Israel Declares War on Sweden!

 
Or at least on the Swedish press.

by Joshua Holland

You understand the rules of the game, right? When a Scandinavian paper prints something offensive to the Muslim world and Islamic leaders condemn it, protest it, or ask for an apology it's simply more evidence that the "false religion" doesn't mix with democracy, and an occasion for fonts of outrage on the part of newly minted free speech enthusiasts on the right.

But don't hold your breath waiting for those voices to condemn the exact same behavior from The Only Democracy in the Middle East®.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel urged the Swedish government on Sunday to condemn an article in a Swedish newspaper last week accusing the Israeli Army of harvesting organs from Palestinians wounded or killed by soldiers.

As the furor in Israel over the article gathered into a diplomatic storm revolving around questions of anti-Semitism and freedom of speech, Mr. Netanyahu told ministers at a cabinet meeting on Sunday that the article, published in the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, was "outrageous" and compared it to a "blood libel," referring to medieval anti-Semitic accusations that Jews ritually killed gentile children and collected their blood.

"We are not asking the government of Sweden for an apology," Mr. Netanyahu said, according to an official who attended the cabinet meeting and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We are asking for their condemnation."

To be clear: it does seem from all accounts that the article was a truly shoddy piece of reporting, based on unconfirmed rumors dating back more than a decade (and as such the "Swedish libel" will be used to defend against other, legitimate charges of abuse on the part of the Israeli military).

But that's kind of beside the point -- the same allegations have been published several times without the kind of hand-wringing we're seeing now.What's interesting here is that the outrage in Israel -- they're boycotting Ikea, which I actually find kind of funny for some reason -- is being nurtured directly and apparently intentionally by ...

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's outspoken foreign minister, has led the protest, saying that the Swedish government's silence was "reminiscent of Sweden's position during World War II, when it also did not become involved."

What's going on? Well, a little wag the dog ...

Lieberman is the subject of multiple corruption probes. In all likelihood, he'll have to resign in disgrace at some point soon, and may face jail time. But in the meantime, a nice, juicy foreign scandal -- a blood libel, no less! -- might just take some heat off of the controversial far-right minister.

http://www.alternet.org/blogs/world/142159/israel_declares_war_on_sweden!/

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Seattle Hempfest Bigger Than Ever in 2009, But Gaining Critics

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Somewhere around 300,000 people converged on the Seattle waterfront Saturday and Sunday to attend the 19th annual Seattle Hempfest, the world's largest marijuana "protestival," as organizers like to call it. While organizers and drug reform advocates were out in force to encourage attendees to get involved in changing the marijuana laws, for most of the crowd, Hempfest was one big pot party. And that has some movement critics unhappy.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempfest2009-1.jpgLast year's attendance was estimated at 310,000. While figures are not yet in for last weekend's event, given the huge crowds, it is likely this year's figure will be even higher.

With hundreds of vendors selling glass pipes, bongs, tie-dyes, and assorted other pot-related paraphernalia, as well as dozens of food vendors, with seven stages alternating musical acts with activist speakers, and with crowds so thick that people literally could not move at some points by mid-afternoon on both days, Hempfest seems more like a dense urban community than a festival. And like any urban community, Hempfest had a police presence, but as far as can be determined, police couldn't find anyone to arrest despite the ever-present scent of marijuana smoke in the air.

That's in part because Seattleites voted in 2003 to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. But it is also in part because, unlike some other police forces, the Seattle police actually acknowledge and heed the will of the voters. In all of last year, Seattle police arrested only 133 people for marijuana possession -- and those were all people who had already been detained on other charges.

It is that tolerant attitude toward marijuana that makes the massive law-breaking at Hempfest possible. In almost any other city in the US, such brazen defiance of the drug laws would almost certainly result in mass arrests. Even this weekend's Boston Freedom Rally, the second largest pro-marijuana event in the country, will see numerous arrests -- if police behavior in the past is any indicator.

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Hempfest-targeted sky ad, pulled by helicopter
 
Drug reform organizations including NORML, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter) were present with booths or tables, as were numerous medical marijuana support groups. But those booths and tables had to compete with bong-sellers and pipe-makers, t-shirt vendors and hippie couture outlets, and the hundreds of other vendors cashing in on the crowds.

To really get the drug reform message out, Hempfest organizers and reform activists took to the various stages between acts to exhort audiences to make Hempfest a party with a purpose. Among the nationally known activists speechifying at Hempfest were "Radical Russ" Belville of NORML, Sandee Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, Mike and Valerie Corral of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), Debbie Goldsberry of the Berkeley Patients Group, Washington state legislator and head of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers Roger Goodman, medical marijuana specialist Dr. Frank Lucido, former medical marijuana prisoner Todd McCormick, cannabis scientist Dr. Robert Melamede, and NORML founder Keith Stroup and current executive director Allen St. Pierre. For a complete list of speakers, go here.

Activists also educated those interested in learning more about marijuana law reform and related topics at the Hemposium tent, which featured panels on "Human Rights for Cannabis Farmers, Dispensers and Consumers," "Global Hempenomics," "Cannabliss: An Entheogen for the Ages," "Cannabis and the Culture Wars: The Coming Truce," and "Cannabis Coverage: Reefer Sanity for the 21st Century." For a complete list of Hemposium panels, click here.

While Hempfest came off without any serious problems, it has sparked a couple of related controversies. This week, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling wrote a blog post, Hempfest is Huge, But is It Good Politics?, in which he answered his own question with a resounding "no." Hempfest and similar rallies are "a political fraud," he wrote. Even worse, they are "advertisements for irresponsible drug use."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/598/seattle_hempfest_2009

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Will Foster Extradited to Oklahoma

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is en route to prison in Oklahoma after being picked up Friday by Oklahoma law enforcement officials. He had been held at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 15 months as he fought bogus marijuana cultivation charges there--he was a registered patient with a legal grow--and, after the California charges were dropped, on a parole violation warrant from the Sooner State.

Foster had been arrested and convicted of growing marijuana in Oklahoma and sentenced to 93 years in prison in the 1990s. After that draconian sentence focused national attention on his case, he was eventually resentenced to 20 years in prison. He later won parole and moved to California, where he served three years on parole and was discharged from parole by California authorities.

That wasn't good enough for vindictive Oklahoma authorities, who wanted to squeeze more years out of Foster. He refused to sign Oklahoma paperwork requiring him to return there to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He also refused to sign paperback that extended his original service. Oklahoma authorities issued a parole violation warrant, and the governors of both states signed it.

Foster had sought to block extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus--he had won a similar writ against Oklahoma earlier--but that effort failed on Friday, and Oklahoma authorities were there to whisk him away. Foster is scheduled to be held at the Tulsa County Jail before being assigned to a prison in the Oklahoma gulag.

Efforts by Foster supporters to secure his release continue and are now focusing on Oklahoma parole authorities and the state governor. For more information about the Foster case, see our Chronicle story here and at Ed Rosenthal's blog here.

Drug War Chronicle will continue to follow the Foster case. Look for a feature article next week.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle_blog/2009/aug/24/will_foster_extradited_to_oklaho

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Take two of these

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New Rule: No Shame in Being the Sorry Party

Bill MaherNew Rule: If Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin all think America has never done anything wrong, we must be doing something wrong. Look at them: an empty suit, an empty heart and an empty head. It looks like the news team on Good Morning Hell. And what they've been competing about lately is who would not apologize the most. America is infallible, and apologies are horrible things that must never, ever be given. Except by me when I make a joke about the Pope. "We're perfect -- deal with it," is their new handshake. But I say, what's wrong with America occasionally saying, "I'm sorry"? Because these are the three sorriest white people I've ever seen.

If in your eyes America can do no wrong, you should really look into Lasik surgery. There's the rational, mature assessment of our country: that it's a great nation -- especially if you like fried foods -- but it also has its faults. And then there's the Republican view: that it's perfect and pure in every way and it's always right all the time, just like Leviticus and Ronald Reagan.

If the founders were alive today, Republicans would be giving them shit because the Preamble to the Constitution says, "In order to form a more perfect union? Hello, it's already perfect! Why are you suggesting American apologetics, Ben Franklin?"

One of the things that makes Republicans furious about our current president is their idea that Obama is always apologizing for America's biggest mistakes. Unlike President Bush. Who was one of America's biggest mistakes.

In his first week as president, Obama did an interview with Arab TV in which he said, "We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect." Thought crime! And then he went to Cairo and violated one of those absolute eternal rules the Right Wing is always making up out of thin air: "The president must never apologize on foreign soil. Lest our allies begin to doubt that we're assholes. "

But what did Obama actually say to make Karl Rove's head explode and the popcorn fly out? Cover your children's ears: When he was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, he said he did, the same way "the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism." Yes, our so-called president actually said people in other countries might like their countries better. I was so shocked I nearly dropped the Bible I was using to help me masturbate into my gun.

In her farewell speech -- if only -- Sarah Palin kept telling us "how she's wired." Now I'm not a doctor, or an electrician -- but this is faulty wiring, this worldview that, in her words, "we should never apologize for our country." Really? Never? Not for slavery? Or Japanese internment camps, or if we tortured the wrong guy at Guantanamo? The Indians? Nothing, Sarah? "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"? Shouldn't John McCain apologize for... you?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-maher/inew-rulei-no-shame-in-be_b_264695.html

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What every American should be made to learn about the IG Torture Report

I wrote earlier today about Eric Holder's decision to "review" whether criminal prosecutions are warranted in connection with the torture of Terrorism suspects -- that can be read here -- but I want to write separately about the release today of the 2004 CIA's Inspector General Report (.pdf), both because it's extraordinary in its own right and because it underscores how unjust it would be to prosecute only low-level interrogators rather than the high-level officials who implemented the torture regime.  Initially, it should be emphasized that yet again, it is not the Congress or the establishment media which is uncovering these abuses and forcing disclosure of government misconduct.  Rather, it is the ACLU (with which I consult) that, along with other human rights organizations, has had to fill the void left by those failed institutions, using their own funds to pursue litigation to compel disclosure.  Without their efforts, we would know vastly less than we know now about the crimes our government committed.

Before saying anything about the implications of this Report, I want to post some excerpts of what CIA interrogators did.  Every American should be forced to read and learn this in order to know what was done in their names (click images to enlarge):

 Threats of execution

Threats to kill detainee and his children:

Pressure points on carotid artery:

Threats to rape detainee's female relatives in front of him:

"Buttstroking" with rifles and knee kicks:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/24/ig_report/

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‘Prolonged diapering’ revealed as ‘enhanced interrogation technique’

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A CIA inspector general report released Monday in a less-redacted version reveals that "prolonged diapering" was on the agency's list of approved "enhanced" interrogation techniques. The revelation is in Appendix F, included in the IG's report on page 149, as part of a set of guidelines for "medical and psychological support to detainee interrogations." The document is dated Sept. 4, 2003.

According to American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Jameel Jaffer, this is the first document released publicly which categorizes diapering as an enhanced interrogation technique. Another ACLU source told RAW STORY that while they are familiar with the use of diapers on clients being transported, this is "news to us."

The document in Appendix F of the IG report reads: "Captured terrorists turned over to the CIA may be subjected to a wide range of legally sanctioned techniques, all of which are used on U.S. military personnel in SERE training programs. They are designed to psychologically 'dislocate' the detainee, maximizing his feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, and reduce or eliminate his will to resist our efforts to obtain critical intelligence." The list, organized in "ascending degree of intensity," says the following were approved standard measures "without physical or substantial psychological pressure":

Shaving Stripping Diapering Hooding Isolation White noise or loud music (at a decibel level that will not damage hearing) Continuous light or darkness Uncomfortably cool environment Restricted diet, including reduced caloric intake (sufficient to maintain general health) Water dousing Sleep deprivation (up to 72 hours)

A second list of "enhanced" measures "with physical or psychological pressure beyond the above" reads:

Attention grasp Facial hold Insult (facial) slap Abdominal slap Prolonged diapering Sleep deprivation (over 72 hours) Stress positions –On knees, body slanted forward or backward –Leaning with forehead on wall Walling Cramped confinement Waterboard

The appearance of diapering on the list seems to contradict an Office of Legal Counsel memo (PDF link) written by former Bush administration lawyer Steven Bradbury in 2005. Bradbury claimed diapering "is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique." However, in the appendix of the IG's report, "prolonged diapering" was on the list of approved interrogation techniques (P. 150). While diapering is included on page 149 as a standard technique — along with shaving, stripping, hooding and isolation — it is also listed as one of a number of "enhanced measures," with an intensity level below waterboarding, but above the "abdominal slap."

http://rawstory.com/08/news/2009/08/25/prolonged-diapering-revealed/

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Cob House Built For Less Than $3,000

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto

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Kent at Tiny House Blog notes that "you can build your own cob house with little money, but with lots of time and enthusiasm." He shows us 24 year-old Ziggy's cob (a mixture of straw, clay, and sand similar to adobe) with a footprint of 360 square feet built for under three thousand bucks. (Yes, that is $ 8.33 per square foot.)

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Ziggy (shown above) calls it the GOBCOBATRON and built it at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. He provides a materials list:

* sand (just over 30 tons total) – $507
* gravel (about 13 tons total) – $177
* straw (16 bales) – $36 (most straw I used was free)
* black walnut scrap lumber – $100
* misc. lumber – $20
* windows – $220 (two casement, one double hung window)
* electrical – $28
* galvanized wire – $30
* nails – $100 (I couldn't believe how expensive nails are)
* raw linseed oil (for floor) – $72
* EPDM pond liner $622
* polycarbonate for skylight $400

Of course there is a price: Time. Ziggy notes that

I started digging a foundation on April 19, 2008, and moved into GOBCOBATRON on July 11, 2009. I effectively worked from April to November of 2008, and then April to June of this year. In total, I estimate that I spent nine months working on my house, full time.
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/08/cob-house-built-for-3000.php
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It's time to play God

If Craig Venter's research leads to engineering new forms of life, mankind has hope for the future

by Johnjoe McFadden

Johnjoe McFaddenThe poet Joyce Kilmer wrote, "Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree". New research by Craig Venter, one of the main scientists behind the human genome sequencing project, may change all that. His latest research, published in Science, has succeeded in making a new form of life in the laboratory. The hope is that this "synthetic life" will eventually lead to custom-made organisms engineered to tackle the world's woes.

Engineering living organisms isn't new. Scientists have been genetically modifying microbes, plants and animals for decades. GM crops are grown on more than 2bn acres of the world's surface. But this is a kind of genetic tinkering. What Venter and many other scientists envisage is far more revolutionary: engineering entirely new forms of life.

Synthetic life enthusiasts claim that we need new organisms to do the tasks that the existing ones are not so good at. For instance, farmers around the world are increasingly growing biofuel crops. But these crops take up land that would otherwise be used to grow food, which is at least partly why grain prices have soared. There are already efforts to exploit other resources, such as sewage or plant waste. But natural organisms have their own agenda: they want to produce descendants rather than ethanol, so aren't so efficient at making fuel.

Venter is a pioneer of genome mining: excavating organisms living in exotic environments for novel genes. Some of these genes may be perfectly evolved for synthetic biology applications, such as biofuel production. But useful genes are scattered across hundreds of species, some of which can't be grown in the laboratory. What Venter and other scientists want to do is bring these genes together in an easy-to-grow custom-engineered organism.

Several years ago Venter began this challenge by making a minimal cell to provide a kind of chassis capable of bolting on lots of different synthetic biology tools. His latest research has taken the genome of one bacterium, modified it inside a yeast cell and then inserted it into the cell of a related bacterium to create an entirely new organism. The next step will be to add genes and pathways to make biofuel or other products.

Biofuels aren't the only target of synthetic biology. Scientists at the University of Manchester are trying to engineer bacteria to make novel antibiotics. Scientists are also seeking to make anti-cancer drugs, degrade harmful pollutants or produce valuable nutrients. Other scientists envisage more blue-sky projects such as engineering microbes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or even to terraform Mars.

But why stop with microbes? It will soon be possible to make entirely novel forms of plants or animals (including man). New cereal crop plants might fix their own nitrogen, eliminating the need for costly fertiliser. Or, how about custom-made insects that seek out and kill locusts or malarial mosquitoes?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/23/venter-artificial-life-genetics

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Solar Storm Warning

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration Science@NASA Web Site

It's official: Solar minimum has arrived. Sunspots have all but vanished. Solar flares are nonexistent. The sun is utterly quiet.

Like the quiet before a storm.

This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.

see captionThat was a solar maximum. The Space Age was just beginning: Sputnik was launched in Oct. 1957 and Explorer 1 (the first US satellite) in Jan. 1958. In 1958 you couldn't tell that a solar storm was underway by looking at the bars on your cell phone; cell phones didn't exist. Even so, people knew something big was happening when Northern Lights were sighted three times in Mexico. A similar maximum now would be noticed by its effect on cell phones, GPS, weather satellites and many other modern technologies.

Right: Intense auroras over Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1958. [More]

Dikpati's prediction is unprecedented. In nearly-two centuries since the 11-year sunspot cycle was discovered, scientists have struggled to predict the size of future maxima—and failed. Solar maxima can be intense, as in 1958, or barely detectable, as in 1805, obeying no obvious pattern.

The key to the mystery, Dikpati realized years ago, is a conveyor belt on the sun.

We have something similar here on Earth—the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, popularized in the sci-fi movie The Day After Tomorrow. It is a network of currents that carry water and heat from ocean to ocean--see the diagram below. In the movie, the Conveyor Belt stopped and threw the world's weather into chaos.

see caption
Above: Earth's "Great Ocean Conveyor Belt." [More]

The sun's conveyor belt is a current, not of water, but of electrically-conducting gas. It flows in a loop from the sun's equator to the poles and back again. Just as the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt controls weather on Earth, this solar conveyor belt controls weather on the sun. Specifically, it controls the sunspot cycle.

Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) explains: "First, remember what sunspots are--tangled knots of magnetism generated by the sun's inner dynamo. A typical sunspot exists for just a few weeks. Then it decays, leaving behind a 'corpse' of weak magnetic fields."

Enter the conveyor belt.

see caption"The top of the conveyor belt skims the surface of the sun, sweeping up the magnetic fields of old, dead sunspots. The 'corpses' are dragged down at the poles to a depth of 200,000 km where the sun's magnetic dynamo can amplify them. Once the corpses (magnetic knots) are reincarnated (amplified), they become buoyant and float back to the surface." Presto—new sunspots!

All this happens with massive slowness. "It takes about 40 years for the belt to complete one loop," says Hathaway. The speed varies "anywhere from a 50-year pace (slow) to a 30-year pace (fast)."

When the belt is turning "fast," it means that lots of magnetic fields are being swept up, and that a future sunspot cycle is going to be intense. This is a basis for forecasting: "The belt was turning fast in 1986-1996," says Hathaway. "Old magnetic fields swept up then should re-appear as big sunspots in 2010-2011."

Like most experts in the field, Hathaway has confidence in the conveyor belt model and agrees with Dikpati that the next solar maximum should be a doozy. But he disagrees with one point. Dikpati's forecast puts Solar Max at 2012. Hathaway believes it will arrive sooner, in 2010 or 2011.

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/10mar_stormwarning.htm

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Man who sold Iraq war now vetting embedded journos: report

by Daniel Tencer

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A public relations firm that organized the opposition to Saddam Hussein during the 1990s and "coerced" journalists during the run-up to the Iraq war could now be placed in charge of vetting embedded journalists in war zones, a new report claims.

"Any reporter seeking to embed with US forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress," the military newspaper Stars & Stripes reports.

The Iraqi National Congress was a dummy parliament composed of opponents of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was headed up by Ahmed Chalabi, who would later serve as Iraq's oil minister after the US invasion.

The Rendon Group was founded by John Rendon, a public-relations expert whose links to government PR efforts date back at least as far as the Reagan administration.

The news that the Rendon Group is now in charge of vetting war reporters is certain to raise concerns about government censorship and propaganda among the media watchdog community, many of whom are familiar with John Rendon's track record in dealing with journalists.

A 2005 Rolling Stone article says that the Rendon Group was given a government contract three weeks after 9/11 to wage a public relations campaign against media that were perceived as hostile to the Bush administration's war efforts.

According to the New York Times, Rendon was involved in the development of the Office of Strategic Influence, whose "mission was to conduct covert disinformation and deception operations — planting false news items in the media and hiding their origins," as the Rolling Stone article put it.

Rolling Stone's James Bamford reported:

According to the Pentagon documents, the Rendon Group played a major role in the IOTF. The company was charged with creating an "Information War Room" to monitor worldwide news reports at lightning speed and respond almost instantly with counterpropaganda. A key weapon, according to the documents, was Rendon's "proprietary state-of-the-art news-wire collection system called 'Livewire,' which takes real-time news-wire reports, as they are filed, before they are on the Internet, before CNN can read them on the air and twenty-four hours before they appear in the morning newspapers, and sorts them by keyword. The system provides the most current real-time access to news and information available to private or public organizations."

The top target that the pentagon assigned to Rendon was the Al-Jazeera television network. The contract called for the Rendon Group to undertake a massive "media mapping" campaign against the news organization, which the Pentagon considered "critical to U.S. objectives in the War on Terrorism." According to the contract, Rendon would provide a "detailed content analysis of the station's daily broadcast . . . [and] identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships."

The Rendon Group denies much of this. In a rebuttal to the Rolling Stone article, it says it had "no role whatsoever in making the case for the Iraq war, here at home or internationally." The group also contends it had "nothing to do with the Office of Strategic Influence."

SINISTER PURPOSE

"The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose," Bamford wrote. "Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was one to 'coerce' foreign journalists and plant false information overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to 'punish' those who convey the 'wrong message.' One senior officer told CNN that the plan would 'formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation'."

John Rendon himself has reportedly admitted that the purpose of embedding reporters within army units is to control the media.

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You won't win the healthcare debate by calling people stupid racists

salon.com

Elite right-wing foes of healthcare reform are telling lies. The folks listening to them are mostly just scared

By Gene Lyons

YouTube
A man speaks at a town hall held by Democratic Reps. Vic Snyder and Mike Ross at
Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock on Aug, 5.

As a beginning rider, I once asked a racehorse trainer for advice about my quarter horse, Rusty. When he'd freak out over, say, a wind-blown plastic bag, was he really afraid? The trainer said the horse was simply testing me and needed very firm handling.

Soon afterward, I stopped to talk with a friend who was holding a fishing rod. Rusty started stamping, blowing, rolling his eyes and throwing his head around. I made it a contest of wills, jerking hard on the bit to make him stand still.

Then my friend dropped the fishing rod.

Rusty bolted, hit warp speed in about three jumps and stampeded us through a magnolia tree. It took me a quarter mile to bring him back under control. I was lucky a black eye was all I got out of it. Another trainer gave me better advice: Horses aren't smart enough to lie. If they act scared, they're scared. And when they're scared, they're very dangerous.

True, fear is partly a confidence issue. A horse that trusts its rider is far less skittish. Over time, we learned to take care of each other. But nothing could keep Rusty calm around anything resembling a whip; I'm sure he had his reasons.

Fear is, of course, largely a confidence issue among human beings, too. Anybody who's watched flash mobs shouting down Senate and House members over the Obama administration's health-insurance reforms ought to see that. For every dogmatic tough guy who's channeling some talk-radio blowhard, there are many citizens who give every outward indication of being scared witless.

Video of a town hall meeting with Democratic House members at Arkansas Children's Hospital showed protesters trembling with emotion. Writing in the Washington Post, historian Rick Perlstein ("Nixonland") noticed the same thing: "The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president – too heartfelt to be an act."

Stage managed? Absolutely. Somebody like Betsy McCaughey doesn't invent a lie as brazen as the so-called death panels out of nowhere. She's a professional; a paid propagandist for the right-wing Hudson Institute. Back in 1993, her article "No Exit" in the allegedly liberal (but incompetently edited) New Republic magazine helped sink President Bill Clinton's healthcare initiative.

Then McCaughey claimed the Clinton bill made it a crime to buy supplemental insurance or pay your doctor out of pocket. The bill itself said, "Nothing in this act shall be construed as prohibiting ... an individual from purchasing health-care services."

But McCaughey's a poised and superficially attractive woman who performs capably on television. So why wouldn't low-information voters get taken in all over again? Particularly after her "death panel" falsehoods got amplified by figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and the supposedly "moderate" Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Perlstein: "If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both [mad lies and heartfelt fear], you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests."

And yet the Obama White House got caught napping as the paranoid train left the station once again. Presidential aides told reporters that the barrage of falsehoods and insane comparisons to Nazi Germany "had caught them off guard and forced them to begin an August counteroffensive."

So where were these geniuses back when Clinton was being called a drug smuggler and mass murderer? When militiamen spotted U.N. "black helicopters" over Western skies? When thousands hoarded canned food and bottled water in advance of the imaginary Y2K catastrophe?

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/08/20/town_halls/index.html

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