Archive for April 2010
“We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.”
Straight from Guyism: “A classy Chicago man was charged with disorderly conduct after a city employee found brown stains and a foul odor coming off the man’s mailed in parking ticket. Chicago, you just got served.
Alexander Bailey, a 22-year-old from the Chicagoland area, allegedly also wrote a note on the ticket that he had wiped himself with it, lest there be any doubt.
The city employee who found the crappy ticket informed police who then charged and locked up Bailey, who was later released after posting $500 bail.
The original ticket that Bailey allegedly wiped himself with was $15.
There comes a time in which you’ve gone too far to prove a point. Wiping your ass with the ticket, sure…you’re a cool rebel. But then writing a note onto the ticket to point out that you wiped your ass with the ticket? That’s just over the line, man. We get it, you think the city is a joke and want to illustrate that fact with your tender bung. And to think, I expected so much better of a man who’d rub a filthy parking ticket worth less than a night at the movies on his rectum.”
Straight from Fox News: “A U.S. Navy SEAL was cleared Thursday of charges he covered up the alleged beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the grisly 2004 killings of four American security contractors.
The Blackwater guards’ burned bodies were dragged through the streets, and two were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates river in the former insurgent hotbed of Fallujah, in what became a turning point in the Iraq war.
On Thursday, a six-man Navy jury found Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas not guilty of dereliction of duty and impeding the investigation. The jury heard too many differences between the testimony of a sailor who claimed he witnessed the Sept. 1 assault at a U.S. base outside Fallujah and statements from a half-dozen others who denied his account.
Smiling and composed as he left the courthouse at the U.S. military’s Camp Victory on Baghdad’s western outskirts, Huertas said he felt vindicated.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” said Huertas, 29, of Blue Island, Illinois. “Compared to all the physical activity we go through, this has been mentally more challenging.”
Huertas said he would rejoin the SEALs, the Navy’s elite special forces, as soon as possible. His was the first trial of three SEALs accused in the assault of Ahmed Hashim Abed and its alleged cover up.
The case has drawn fire from at least 20 members of Congress and other Americans who see it as coddling terrorists to overcompensate for the notorious Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Thursday’s verdict was met by anger and sad shrugs from Iraqis who said they no longer expect to see U.S. troops held accountable for atrocities or other abuses.
“They would release him even if he had killed an Iraqi and not just beaten him,” said Ahmed Abdul Aziz Khudaeir, teacher in Fallujah.Abed, who is a suspected terrorist, claimed in his testimony that he had nothing to do with the Blackwater attack At least two of the Blackwater guards were former SEALs, giving the sailors what prosecutor Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Grover called a motive for beating Abed.
In his closing argument, Grover pleaded with the jury to hold Huertas responsible as an example of “why we’re better than the terrorists.”
Huertas’ lawyers, however, cast strong doubt that Abed was ever beaten in the first place. Photographs of Abed’s face and body taken in the days immediately after the alleged attack show a visible cut inside his lip but no obvious signs of bruising or injuries anywhere else.
“There was no abuse,” Monica Lombardi, Huertas’ civilian attorney, told the jury. She said Abed could have bit his lip on purpose to cast blame on U.S. troops, calling it “classic terrorist training.”
Dressed in a bright yellow jumpsuit and with his hands bound in front of him, Abed testified he was knocked to the floor and stood up by a U.S. guard, only to fall again after being punched in the stomach. He said he bled heavily over his white dishdasha, the traditional long garment worn by some Arabs.
That at least partially matched the account given by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin DeMartino, who told the jury that he saw one of the accused SEALs, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, punch Abed in the stomach. DeMartino also accused Huertas of trying to cover up the attack. He said neither Huertas and the third SEAL, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe, of Yorktown, Va., did anything to stop it.
But DeMartino also admitted he initially lied when first asked about the bloodstain on Abed’s clothes, and his account of the details of the incident were disputed by the sworn testimony of at least four other witnesses.
Against the backdrop of the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal and the 2007 Nisoor Square shootings of 17 civilians in Baghdad, allegedly by Blackwater guards, the SEALs verdict marks another blow to America’s image in Iraq.
“These trials are just propaganda for their justice and democracy,” sneered Abdul-Rahman Najim al-Mashhadani, head of the Iraqi human rights group Hammurabi.
Huertas did not take the stand to defend himself, but is expected to testify in Keefe’s trial, which begins Friday at the military base in Baghdad. Lombardi said Huertas is expected to offer few, if any, details of the case, and will testify that he was cleared of the same charge that Keefe also is accused of: dereliction of duty. Many of the same witnesses in Huertas’ trial also will testify in Keefe’s, although a new jury will be seated.
Only McCabe, of Perrysburg, Ohio, was charged with assaulting Abed, and his is the only trial to be held at the Virginia Naval base where the three SEALs are stationed. His trial is scheduled to begin May 3.”
Straight from the Daily Mail: “A top secret space plane developed by the US military has blasted off from Cape Canaveral on its maiden voyage.
Billed as a small shuttle, the unmanned X-37B heralds the next generation of space exploration. It will be the first craft to carry out an autonomous re-entry in the history of the US programme.
But its mission – and its cost – remain shrouded in secrecy. The Air Force said the launch was a success but would give no further details.
However, experts have said the spacecraft was intended to speed up development of combat-support systems and weapons systems.
There have already been accusations that the programme could lead to the ‘weaponisation’ of space.
Speaking after the launch, Air Force deputy under-secretary for space systems Gary Payton, admitted it was impossible to hid a space launch – but was cagey about the what exactly the X-37B would do.
‘On this flight the main thing we want to emphasise is the vehicle itself, not really, what’s going on in the on-orbit phase because the vehicle itself is the piece of news here,’ he said.
He refuted claims that the craft was a step towards military dominance in space.
‘I don’t know how this could be called weaponisation of space,’ he said. ‘It’s just an updated version of the space shuttle type of activities in space.
‘We, the Air Force, have a suite of military missions in space and this new vehicle could potentially help us do those missions better.’
The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle took a decade to develop and will spend up to nine months in orbit. It will re-enter Earth on autopilot and land like an ordinary plane at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
When exactly that will happen, however, even the Air Force can’t predict.
‘In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back for sure,’ Payton said. ‘It depends on the progress we make with the on-orbit experiments and the on-orbit demonstrations.’
When it is time for the plane to come back down, commanders will send a control from the ground ordering it to re-enter orbit. It will then navigate its way back to the air force base.
The spacecraft will conduct classified experiments while in orbit. The military has not revealed what those experiments will entail but the results will be brought back to earth for analysis.
Payton said the Air Force’s main interest is to test the craft’s automated flight control system and learn about the cost of turning it around for launch again.
The X-37B is 9m long (29ft) and has a wingspan of 4.5m (15ft), making it a quarter of the size of a normal shuttle.
It is powered by a solar array and lithium-ion batteries, unlike a traditional craft which is powered by a fuel cell system. It has a large engine at the rear for orbit changing. The spaceplane is also reusable.
Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division, the X-37 program was originally headed by NASA. It was later turned over to the Pentagon’s research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the project, but the current total has not been released.
The Air Force has given a very general description of the mission objectives: testing of guidance, navigation, control, thermal protection and autonomous operation in orbit, re-entry and landing.
While the massive space shuttles have been likened to cargo-hauling trucks, the X-37B is more like a sports car, with the equivalent trunk capacity.
Dr Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of national security and decision making at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told the BBC the launch was something of an experiment for the military.
‘It might be at this point in time that (the US Air Force is) going to roll the dice and see if something good happens,’ she said.
‘If it does, they’ll continue with it. Otherwise, this will be another one of those projects that goes into a bin somewhere.’
She claimed the US military had wanted a craft with the ability to loiter in space for some time.
‘If it lives up to its speculated hype, it could be a manoeuvrable satellite,’ she said.
‘You could move it to, for example, hover over the straits of Taiwan and it could evade attempts to shoot it down. It could do a lot of things that up until this point have been mostly fiction.’
A second experimental plane is already on order and is due to launch in 2011.”
Straight from Fox News: “President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law will increase the nation’s health care tab instead of bringing costs down, government
economic forecasters concluded Thursday in a sobering assessment of the sweeping legislation.
A report by economic experts at the Health and Human Services Department said the health care remake will achieve Obama’s aim of expanding health insurance — adding 34 million Americans to the coverage rolls.
But the analysis also found that the law falls short of the president’s twin goal of controlling runaway costs, raising projected spending by about 1 percent over 10 years. That increase could get bigger, however, since the report also warned that Medicare cuts in the law may be unrealistic and unsustainable, forcing lawmakers to roll them back.
The mixed verdict for Obama’s signature issue is the first comprehensive look by neutral experts.
In particular, the warnings about Medicare could become a major political liability for Democratic lawmakers in the midterm elections. The report projected that Medicare cuts could drive about 15 percent of hospitals and other institutional providers into the red, “possibly jeopardizing access” to care for seniors.
The report from Medicare’s Office of the Actuary carried a disclaimer saying it does not represent the official position of the Obama administration. White House officials have repeatedly complained that such analyses have been too pessimistic and lowball the law’s potential to achieve savings.
The report acknowledged that some of the cost-control measures in the bill — Medicare cuts, a tax on high-cost insurance and a commission to seek ongoing Medicare savings — could help reduce the rate of cost increases beyond 2020. But it held out little hope for progress in the first decade.
“During 2010-2019, however, these effects would be outweighed by the increased costs associated with the expansions of health insurance coverage,” wrote Richard S. Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary. “Also, the longer-term viability of the Medicare … reductions is doubtful.” Foster’s office is responsible for long-range costs estimates.
Republicans said the findings validate their concerns about Obama’s 10-year, nearly $1 trillion plan to remake the nation’s health care system.
“A trillion dollars gets spent, and it’s no surprise — health care costs
are going to go up,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., a leading Republican on health care issues. Camp added that he’s concerned the Medicare cuts will undermine care for seniors.
Congress in the past has enacted deeper Medicare cuts without disrupting service, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement that sought to highlight some positive findings for seniors. For example, the report concluded that Medicare monthly premiums would be lower than otherwise expected, due to the spending reductions.
“The Affordable Care Act will improve the health care system for all Americans and we will continue our work to quickly and carefully implement the new law,” the statement said.
Passed by a divided Congress after a year of bitter partisan debate, the law would create new health insurance markets for individuals and small businesses. Starting in 2014, most Americans would be required to carry health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Tax credits would help many middle-class households pay their premiums, while Medicaid would pick up more low-income people. Insurers would be required to accept all applicants, regardless of their health.
A separate Congressional Budget Office analysis, also released Thursday, estimated that 4 million households would be hit with tax penalties under the law for failing to get insurance.
The U.S. spends $2.5 trillion a year on health care, far more per person than any other developed nation, and for results that aren’t clearly better when compared to more frugal countries. At the outset of the health care debate last year, Obama held out the hope that by bending the cost curve down, the U.S. could cover all its citizens for about what the nation would spend absent any reforms. The report found that the president’s law missed the mark, although not by much. The overhaul will increase national health care spending by $311 billion from 2010-2019, or nine-tenths of 1 percent. To put that in perspective, total health care spending during the decade is estimated to surpass $35 trillion.
Administration officials argue the increase is a bargain price for guaranteeing coverage to 95 percent of Americans. They also point out that the law will decrease the federal deficit by $143 billion over the 10-year period, even if overall health care spending rises.
The report’s most sober assessments concerned Medicare.
In addition to flagging the cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and other providers as potentially unsustainable, it projected that reductions in payments to private Medicare Advantage plans would trigger an exodus from the popular program. Enrollment would plummet by about 50 percent, as the plans reduce extra benefits that they currently offer. Seniors leaving the private plans would still have health insurance under traditional Medicare, but many might face higher out-of-pocket costs.
In another flashing yellow light, the report warned that a new voluntary long-term care insurance program created under the law faces “a very serious risk” of insolvency.”
Straight from the New York Times: “In coming years, President Obama will decide whether to deploy a new class of weapons capable of reaching any corner of the earth from the United States in under an hour and with such accuracy and force that they would greatly diminish America’s reliance on its nuclear arsenal.
Yet even now, concerns about the technology are so strong that the Obama administration has acceded to a demand by Russia that the United States decommission one nuclear missile for every one of these conventional weapons fielded by the Pentagon. That provision, the White House said, is buried deep inside the New Start treaty that Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev signed in Prague two weeks ago.
Called Prompt Global Strike, the new weapon is designed to carry out tasks like picking off Osama bin Laden in a cave, if the right one could be found; taking out a North Korean missile while it is being rolled to the launch pad; or destroying an Iranian nuclear site — all without crossing the nuclear threshold. In theory, the weapon will hurl a conventional warhead of enormous weight at high speed and with pinpoint accuracy, generating the localized destructive power of a nuclear warhead.
The idea is not new: President George W. Bush and his staff promoted the technology, imagining that this new generation of conventional weapons would replace nuclear warheads on submarines.
In face-to-face meetings with President Bush, Russian leaders complained that the technology could increase the risk of a nuclear war, because Russia would not know if the missiles carried nuclear warheads or conventional ones. Mr. Bush and his aides concluded that the Russians were right.
Partly as a result, the idea “really hadn’t gone anywhere in the Bush administration,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has served both presidents, said recently on ABC’s “This Week.” But he added that it was “embraced by the new administration.”
Mr. Obama himself alluded to the concept in a recent interview with The New York Times, saying it was part of an effort “to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons” while insuring “that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”
The Obama national security team scrapped the idea of putting the new conventional weapon on submarines. Instead, the White House has asked Congress for about $250 million next year to explore a new alternative, one that uses some of the most advanced technology in the military today as well as some not yet even invented.
The final price of the system remains unknown. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing on Thursday that Prompt Global Strike would be “essential and critical, but also costly.”
It would be based, at least initially, on the West Coast, probably at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Under the Obama plan, the Prompt Global Strike warhead would be mounted on a long-range missile to start its journey toward a target. It would travel through the atmosphere at several times the speed of sound, generating so much heat that it would have to be shielded with special materials to avoid melting. (In that regard, it is akin to the problem that confronted designers of the space shuttle decades ago.)
But since the vehicle would remain within the atmosphere rather than going into space, it would be far more maneuverable than a ballistic missile, capable of avoiding the airspace of neutral countries, for example, or steering clear of hostile territory. Its designers note that it could fly straight up the middle of the Persian Gulf before making a sharp turn toward a target.
The Pentagon hopes to deploy an early version of the system by 2014 or 2015. But even under optimistic timetables, a complete array of missiles, warheads, sensors and control systems is not expected to enter the arsenal until 2017 to 2020, long after Mr. Obama will have left office, even if he is elected to a second term.
The planning for Prompt Global Strike is being headed by Gen. Kevin P. Chilton of the Air Force, the top officer of the military’s Strategic Command and the man in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. In the Obama era — where every administration discussion of nuclear weapons takes note of Mr. Obama’s commitment to moving toward “Global Zero,” the elimination of the nuclear arsenal — the new part of General Chilton’s job is to talk about conventional alternatives.
In an interview at his headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, General Chilton described how the conventional capability offered by the proposed system would give the president more choices.
“Today, we can present some conventional options to the president to strike a target anywhere on the globe that range from 96 hours, to several hours maybe, 4, 5, 6 hours,” General Chilton said.
That would simply not be fast enough, he noted, if intelligence arrived about a movement by Al Qaeda terrorists or the imminent launching of a missile. “If the president wants to act on a particular target faster than that, the only thing we have that goes faster is a nuclear response,” he said.
But the key to filling that gap is to make sure that Russia and China, among other nuclear powers, understand that the missile launching they see on their radar screens does not signal the start of a nuclear attack, officials said.
Under the administration’s new concept, Russia or other nations would regularly inspect the Prompt Global Strike silos to assure themselves that the weapons were nonnuclear. And they would be placed in locations far from the strategic nuclear force.
“Who knows if we would ever deploy it?” Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s top adviser on unconventional weapons, said at a conference in Washington on Wednesday. But he noted that Russia was already so focused on the possibility that it insisted that any conventional weapon mounted on a missile that could reach it counted against the new limit on the American arsenal in the treaty.
In a follow-on treaty, he said, the Russians would certainly want to negotiate on Prompt Global Strike and ballistic missile defenses.
If Mr. Obama does decide to deploy the system, Mr. Samore said, the number of weapons would be small enough that Russia and China would not fear that they could take out their nuclear arsenals.”
Straight from Yahoo News: “President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.
Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, “I want to get a better picture of what our options are.”
After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution that calls the such a tax “a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.”
For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.
“I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn’t something that the president had under consideration,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.
After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is “not considering” a VAT.
Many European countries impose a VAT, which taxes the value that is added at each stage of production of certain commodities. It could apply, for instance, to raw products delivered to a mill, the mill’s production work and so on up the line to the retailer.
In the CNBC interview, Obama said he was waiting for recommendations from a bipartisan fiscal advisory commission on ways to tackle the deficit and other problems.
When asked if he could see a potential VAT in this nation, the president said: “I know that there’s been a lot of talk around town lately about the value-added tax. That is something that has worked for some countries. It’s something that would be novel for the United States.”
“And before, you know, I start saying ‘this makes sense or that makes sense,’ I want to get a better picture of what our options are,” Obama said.
He said his first priority “is to figure out how can we reduce wasteful spending so that, you know, we have a baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide. And then we decide how do we pay for that.”
Volcker has said taxes might have to be raised to slow the deficit’s growth. He said a value-added tax “was not as toxic an idea” as it had been in the past.
Since then, some GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators have said the Obama administration is edging toward a VAT.”
Straight from Gizmodo: “It’s mind blowin’ time! According to a new theory, every black hole contains a smaller alternate universe. And our universe might just exist inside a black hole in a much larger universe. Ah-whaaaaaa?
According to Indiana University physicist Nikodem Poplawski, the matter that black holes absorb don’t condense into singularities. Instead, they pop out the other side and become the building blocks for whole other universes in another reality.
This would explain what happened before our Big Bang: it popped out of a black hole from another, much larger universe. Everything came out of a “white hole,” if you will.
Gamma ray bursts occur at the fringes of the known universe. They appear to be associated with supernovae, or star explosions, in faraway galaxies, but their exact sources are a mystery. (Related: “Gamma-Ray Burst Caused Mass Extinction?”)
Poplawski proposes that the bursts may be discharges of matter from alternate universes. The matter, he says, might be escaping into our universe through supermassive black holes-wormholes-at the hearts of those galaxies, though it’s not clear how that would be possible.
“It’s kind of a crazy idea, but who knows?” he said.”
The video in question, posted by WikiLeaks on April 5th, 2010, is available in both short and long versions on their site, Collateral Murder.
Straight from Wired: “Ethan McCord had just returned from dropping his children at school earlier this month, when he turned on the TV news to see grainy black-and-white video footage of a soldier running from a bombed-out van with a child in his arms. It was a scene that had played repeatedly in his mind the last three years, and he knew exactly who the soldier was.
In July 2007, McCord, a 33-year-old Army specialist, was engaged in a firefight with insurgents in an Iraqi suburb when his platoon, part of Bravo Company, 2-16 Infantry, got orders to investigate a nearby street. When they arrived, they found a scene of fresh carnage – the scattered remains of a group of men, believed to be armed, who had just been gunned down by Apache attack helicopters. They also found 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his five-year-old sister Doaha covered in blood in a van. Their 43-year-old father, Saleh, had been driving them to a class when he spotted one of the wounded men moving in the street and drove over to help him, only to become a victim of the Apache guns.
McCord was captured in a video shot from one helicopter as he ran frantically to a military vehicle with Sajad in his arms seeking medical care. That classified video created its own firestorm when the whistleblower site Wikileaks posted it April 5 on a website titled “Collateral Murder” and asserted that the attack was unprovoked. More than a dozen people were killed in three attacks captured in the video, including two Reuters journalists, one carrying a camera that was apparently mistaken for a weapon.
McCord, who served seven years in the military before leaving in the summer of 2009 due to injuries, recently posted an apologetic letter online with fellow soldier Josh Steiber supporting the release of the video and asking the family’s forgiveness. McCord is the father of three children.
Wired’s Kim Zetter reached McCord at his home in Kansas. This is his account of what he saw.
Wired.com: At the time you arrived on the scene, you didn’t know what had happened, is that right?
Ethan McCord: Right. We were engaged in our own conflict roughly about three or four blocks away. We heard the gunships open up. [Then] we were just told … to move to this [other] location. It was pretty much a shock when we got there to see what had happened, the carnage and everything else.
Wired.com: But you had been in combat before. It shouldn’t have surprised you what you saw.
McCord: I have never seen anybody being shot by a 30-millimeter round before. It didn’t seem real, in the sense that it didn’t look like human beings. They were destroyed.
Wired.com: Was anyone moving when you got there other than the two children?
McCord: There were approximately two to three other people who were moving who were still somewhat alive, and the medics were attending to them.
Wired.com: The first thing you saw was the little girl in the van. She had a stomach wound?
McCord: She had a stomach wound and she had glass in her eyes and in her hair. She was crying. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I went to the van immediately, because I could hear her crying. It wasn’t like a cry of pain really. It was more of a child who was frightened out of her mind. And the next thing I saw was the boy…. He was kind of sitting on the floorboard of the van, but with his head laying on the bench seat in the front. And then the father, who I’m assuming was the father, in the driver’s seat slumped over on his side. Just from looking into the van, and the amount of blood that was on the boy and the father, I immediately figured they were dead.
So, the first thing I did was grab the girl. I grabbed the medic and we went into the back. There’s houses behind where the van was. We took her in there and we’re checking to see if there were any other wounds. You can hear the medic saying on the video, “There’s nothing I can do here, she needs to be evac’d.” He runs the girl to the Bradley. I went back outside to the van, and that’s when the boy took, like, a labored, breath. That’s when I started screaming, “The boy’s alive! The boy’s alive!” And I picked him up and started running with him over to the Bradley. He opened his eyes when I was carrying him. I just kept telling him, “Don’t die; don’t die.” He looked at me, then his eyes rolled back into this head.
Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security…. I was told to go pull security on a rooftop. When we were on that roof, we were still taking fire. There were some people taking pot shots, sniper shots, at us on the rooftop. We were probably there on the roof for another four to five hours.
Wired.com: How much sniper fire were you getting?
McCord: It was random sporadic spurts. I did see a guy … moving from a rooftop from one position to another with an AK-47, who was firing at us. He was shot and killed.
After the incident, we went back to the FOB [forward operating base] and that’s when I was in my room. I had blood all down the front of me from the children. I was trying to wash it off in my room. I was pretty distraught over the whole situation with the children. So I went to a sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things. I was also told that there would be repercussions if I was to go to mental health.
Wired.com: What did you understand that to mean?
McCord: I would be smoked. Smoked is basically like you’re doing pushups a lot, you’re doing sit-ups … crunches and flutter kicks. They’re smoking you, they’re making you tired. I was told that I needed to get the sand out of my vagina…. So I just sucked it up and tried to move on with everything.
I’ve lived with seeing the children that way since the incident happened. I’ve had nightmares. I was diagnosed with chronic, severe PTSD. [But] I was actually starting to get kind of better. … I wasn’t thinking about it as much. [Then I] took my children to school one day and I came home and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV with my coffee, and on the news I’m running across the screen with a child. The flood of emotions came back. I know the scene by heart; it’s burned into my head. I know the van, I know the faces of everybody that was there that day.
Wired.com: Did you try to get information about the two children after the shooting?
McCord: My platoon sergeant knew that I was having a hard time with it and that same night … he came into the room and he told me, hey, just so you know, both of the children survived, so you can suck it up now. I didn’t know if he was telling me that just to get me to shut up and to do my job or if he really found something out. I always questioned it in the back of my mind.
I did see a video on YouTube after the Wikileaks came out, of the children being interviewed. … When I saw their faces, I was relieved, but I was just heartbroken. I have a huge place in my heart for children, having some of my own. Knowing that I was part of the system that took their father away from them and made them lose their house … it’s heartbreaking. And that in turn is what helped me and Josh write the letter, hoping that it would find its way to them to let them know that we’re sorry. We’re sorry for the system that we were involved in that took their father’s life and injured them. If there’s anything I can to do help, I would be more than happy to.
Wired.com: Wikileaks presented the incident as though there was no engagement from insurgents. But you guys did have a firefight a couple of blocks away. Was it reasonable for the Apache soldiers to think that maybe the people they attacked were part of that insurgent firefight?
McCord: I doubt that they were a part of that firefight. However, when I did come up on the scene, there was an RPG as well as AK-47s there…. You just don’t walk around with an RPG in Iraq, especially three blocks away from a firefight…. Personally, I believe the first attack on the group standing by the wall was appropriate, was warranted by the rules of engagement. They did have weapons there. However, I don’t feel that the attack on the [rescue] van was necessary.
Now, as far as rules of engagement, [Iraqis] are not supposed to pick up the wounded. But they could have been easily deterred from doing what they were doing by just firing simply a few warning shots in the direction…. Instead, the Apaches decided to completely obliterate everybody in the van. That’s the hard part to swallow.
And where the soldier said [in the video], “Well, you shouldn’t take your kids to battle.” Well in all actuality, we brought the battle to your kids. There’s no front lines here. This is urban combat and we’re taking the war to children and women and innocents.
There were plenty of times in the past where other insurgents would come by and pick up the bodies, and then we’d have no evidence or anything to what happened, so in looking at it from the Apache’s point of view, they were thinking that [someone was] picking up the weapons and bodies; when, in hindsight, clearly they were picking up the wounded man. But you’re not supposed to do that in Iraq.
Wired.com: Civilians are supposed to know that they’re not supposed to pick up a wounded person crawling in the road?
McCord: Yeah. This is the problem that we’re speaking out on as far as the rules of engagement. How is this guy supposed to [decide] should I stop and pick them up, or is the military going to shoot me? If you or I saw someone wounded on the ground what is your first inkling? I’m going to help that person.
Wired.com: There was another attack depicted in the video that has received little attention, involving a Hellfire and a building that was fired on.
McCord: I wasn’t around that building when it happened. I was up on a rooftop at that time. However, I do know some soldiers went in to clear that building afterwards and there were some people with weapons in there, but there was also a family of four that was killed.
I think that a Hellfire missile is a little much to put into a building…. They’re trained as soldiers to go into a building and clear a building. I do know that there was a teenage girl [in there], just because I saw the pictures when I was there, that one of the soldiers took.
Wired.com: Have you heard from any other soldiers since the video came out?
McCord: I’ve spoken with one of the medics who was there. He’s no longer in the Army. When this video first came out, there was a lot of outrage by the soldiers, just because it depicted us as being callous, cruel, heartless people, and we’re not that way. The majority of us aren’t. And so he was pretty upset about the whole thing…. He kept saying, we were there, we know the truth, they’re saying there was no weapons, there was.
I’ve spoken with other soldiers who were there. Some of them [say] I don’t care what anybody says … they’re not there. … There’s also some soldiers who joke about it [as a] coping mechanism. They’re like, oh yeah, we’re the “collateral murder” company. I don’t think that [the] big picture is whether or not [the Iraqis who were killed] had weapons. I think that the bigger picture is what are we doing there? We’ve been there for so long now and it seems like nothing is being accomplished whatsoever, except for we’re making more people hate us.
Wired.com: Do you support Wikileaks in releasing this video?
McCord: When it was first released I don’t think it was done in the best manner that it could have been. They were stating that these people had no weapons whatsoever, that they were just carrying cameras. In the video, you can clearly see that they did have weapons … to the trained eye. You can make out in the video [someone] carrying an AK-47, swinging it down by his legs….
And as far as the way that the soldiers are speaking in the video, which is pretty callous and joking about what’s happened … that’s a coping mechanism. I’m guilty of it, too, myself. You joke about the situations and what’s happened to push away your true feelings of the matter.
There’s no easy way to kill somebody. You don’t just take somebody’s life and then go on about your business for the rest of the day. That stays with you. And cracking jokes is a way of pushing that stuff down. That’s why so many soldiers come back home and they’re no longer in the situations where they have other things to think about or other people to joke about what happened … and they explode.
I don’t say that Wikileaks did a bad thing, because they didn’t…. I think it is good that they’re putting this stuff out there. I don’t think that people really want to see this, though, because this is war…. It’s very disturbing.”
Straight from Fox News: “”With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” says a new 12 page unclassified report prepared by the Department of Defense on the Iran Military Threat.
The report says Iran’s military strategy is designed to defend against external or “hard” threats from the United States and Israel. “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility to develop nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy,” according to the report.
Iran continues being a disruptive force inside Iraq, it alleges.
“Iran continues to provide money, weapons and training to select Iraqi Shia militants despite pledges by senior Iranian officials to stop such support,” the report says. “Iran also offers strategic and operational guidance to militias and terrorist groups to target U.S. Forces in Iraq and undermine U.S. interests.”
It also outlines what Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called Tehran playing a “double game” inside Afghanistan.
The regime makes big promises to the Afghan government
trying to appear to be a good neighbor, and is also sending weapons into the country, and backing a wide range of groups so “it will have a positive relationship with the eventual leaders.”
Regarding the effectiveness of Iranian Conventional Forces, “Iran maintains very sizeable military forces, but they would be relatively ineffective against a direct assault by well trained, sophisticated military such as that of the United States or its allies.”
It does judge Iran’s unconventional forces, which include paramilitary forces, “would present a formidable force on Iranian territory.”
The report outlines Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities and developments saying it is “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” which is consistent with what we’ve heard from a wide range of U.S. officials. It says the Iranians have gone to great lengths to protect its nuclear infrastructure from physical destruction including using buried and hardened facilities.
The final aspects of the report review the regime’s efforts to improve ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.
The secretary of defense is required as part of the National Defense Authorization Act to submit a classified and unclassified report on the current and future military strategy of Iran.”
Straight from Fox News: “As Iran gets closer to fulfilling its nuclear ambitions, Republican lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to stop whistling past the graveyard and get tough with the Islamic Republic.
Sen. John McCain said Wednesday the United States has been backing away from a brewing fight with Iran, while U.S. officials admitted that that country’s accelerated nuclear program is roughly a year away from producing a weapon.
McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the U.S. acts more boldly. The Arizona Republican said the U.S. keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran, but it is failing to “pull the trigger.”
The U.S. government has prepared a new, classified assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability and intent, but it has not released it yet. Military and intelligence officials who testified before Congress Wednesday would not publicly address whether the U.S. has changed its 4-year-old assessment that Iran isn’t actively seeking to make a bomb.
Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran could have a deliverable nuclear weapon in three to five years, going a step further than Defense Secretary Gates, who told reporters Tuesday that Iran could make a nuclear weapon within a year.
Iran maintains it does not plan to build a nuclear weapon and that its nuclear fuel enrichment is for power production only.
Cartwright, the nation’s second highest-ranking military officer, said that historically, it takes a country three to five years to make a deliverable bomb from this point. But the timeline he cited could be shortened if Iran pursues ways to deliver a weapon at the same time it works on building one.
Republican pressure on the Obama administration to act more aggressively against Iran comes in the same week that the president held a 47-nation summit to focus attention on the threat of nuclear terrorism. Iran was not invited to attend the session.
In a news conference at the end of the summit, Obama said he was confident China would join other nations in pressing for tough new sanctions on Iran for continuing to defy the international community in seeking such weapons.
“Words have to mean something. There have to be some consequences,” Obama said.
But Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican critic of Obama’s nuclear policies, said the conference was a disappointment.
“The summit’s purported accomplishment is a nonbinding communique that largely restates current policy and makes no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats or the ticking clock represented by Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Kyl said.
For its part, Iran has not backed down from a confrontation with the U.S. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mocked Obama’s new nuclear strategy last week, dismissing it as a “cowboy” policy by a political newcomer that is doomed to fail.
Obama’s new strategy includes a vow not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them. Iran and North Korea were pointedly excepted from that pledge because Washington accuses them of not cooperating with the international community on nonproliferation standards.
“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in Iran last week.
“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer. Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.
He said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists,” and he vowed Iran will not be pushed around.
“(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.
On Wednesday, Bill Burns, the No. 3 person at the State Department, said the United States is working as fast as it can to win new international sanctions on Iran.
Burns predicted that a resolution will emerge from the United Nations Security Council this spring, and he called the case for new penalties urgent, saying he expects China will agree to some form of sanctions.”
General James Cartwright: The only way to keep Iran from getting the bomb is to invade and occupy the country
Straight from BBC News: “If Iran decides to go for nuclear weapons, the US may not be able to permanently stop this from happening unless it is willing to occupy the country.
This is the candid conclusion of one US general testifying in front of the Senate but one that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed amid a flurry of statements on Iran over the past few days in Washington.
Gen James Cartwright, one of America’s top uniformed officers, slowly edged towards that conclusion during a Senate testimony last week, underscoring the difficult choices facing the Obama administration as it weighs what do about Iran.
Since the US would probably be extremely apprehensive about even considering putting boots on the ground in Iran, the statement raises a key question – while the Obama administration publicly maintains that it will not allow Iran’s current leaders to acquire nuclear weapons, is it privately discussing how to live with a nuclear Iran?
The military is averse to any action against Iran and Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a military strike would be ‘his last option” and has warned of the unintended consequences of such a strike.
If Iran comes under attack from the outside, Iranians will likely rally around their leaders or be forced to do so.
This would put an end to any internal dissent and delay the prospect of internal pressure for change. After all, a different Iranian leadership that cooperates more with the international community is another way of allaying concerns about Iranian nuclear ambitions.
But during the Senate testimony, which also featured the state department’s No 3 official, William Burns, the senators questioning the panel also established that UN sanctions would probably not be tough enough to really have an impact on Tehran.
Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, then asked Gen Cartwright whether the “military approach was a magic wand”.
Gen Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged it was not, adding that military action alone was unlikely to be decisive.
Senator Reed prodded further, getting the general to agree that a military strike would only delay Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon if Tehran decided to go nuclear.
The senator then went further, asking whether the only way to absolutely end any potential Iranian nuclear weapon programme “was to physically occupy their country and disestablish their nuclear facilities?”
The general answered: “Absent some other unknown calculus that would go on, that’s a fair conclusion.”
Graham Allison from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School said it was very difficult to stop a state determined to get the nuclear bomb if they decided they wanted it.
“Iran has lost its nuclear virginity, and it’s a fact that can’t be erased,” said Mr Allison.
A lot of the focus in recent days has been on a leaked memo sent by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, which apparently lays out what steps to take against Iran’s nuclear programme if it ignores international sanctions.
The memo was described by the New York Times as a wake up call for the administration, but Mr Gates said it was meant “to contribute to an orderly and timely decision process making”.
Either way, the Obama administration is considering the options it has if sanctions do not have the intended impact. But critics say that is not enough.
‘So far, no action’
“We have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr Gates to ascertain that,” said Republican Senator John McCain on Fox News over the weekend.
Senator McCain was also on the Senate armed services committee questioning Gen Cartwright.
“The list goes on and on of the threats that we have made to the Iranians and so far no action” said Senator McCain.
“George Schultz, my favourite secretary of state in all the world, once said his marine drill instructor told him, never point a gun at somebody unless you’re ready to pull the trigger. We keep pointing the gun. We haven’t pulled a single trigger yet, and it’s about time that we did.”
Senator McCain was probably also speaking figuratively about crippling sanctions.
“The ripple effects in the region of a military strike against Iran would be ugly,” said one senior US official speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
But he added that the longer it took to put sanctions in place, the more the risk of a military strike increased.
“The closer you get to the end of 2010, the temptation to act gets greater,” said the official, who seemed to implicitly indicate it was Israel that would mostly be tempted to act.
This would still only delay any Iranian plans to pursue nuclear weapons.
Ideally, the Obama administration would like to convince Tehran that a nuclear weapon will not make it more powerful or more secure.
But without a change inside Iran, that argument is unlikely to have much weight because Iran does believe that its nuclear ambitions give it added clout in the region.
“If the international community was prepared to impose crippling sanctions, embargoing imports of gasoline and exports of oil, if it strangles Iran – Iran might recalculate,” said Mr Allison from the Belfer Center.
“This is a regime that has survival at the top of its list. But imposing such sanctions without the support of Russia and China is impossible.”
So with the US neither able to impose crippling sanctions nor really eager to take the tough military action needed to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear facilities, Washington’s only options seem to be to either accept a nuclear Iran or find ways to continuously disrupt and slow down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
[Fark Headline] SEC regulators criticized for watching porn on their computers while the economy was tanking. Regulators deny guilt, claim that watching people get mercilessly screwed is their job description
Straight from ABC News: “So what was the Securities and Exchange Commission doing while the economy fell to pieces?
At least a few SEC employees were viewing pornography on their government-issued computers, according to media and government reports.
The Washington Times broke the story in February, but media blog Gawker reported Wednesday that it obtained 16 reports of investigations into SEC employees who spent as much as 1 1/2 hours a day accessing Internet sites such as skankwire.com, pokeoftheday.com and sexyavatars.com.
Gawker said that over the past two years, more than a dozen employees and contractors have tried to access porn on government computers at least 8,273 times.
According to a 2008 semiannual report to Congress from the SEC inspector general, the agency completed five porn-related investigations and inquiries between April and September of that year.
Report: SEC Supervisor Admitted Porn-Related Activities
In one case, the report said, an employee tried hundreds of times to access pornographic sites and was denied access. When he used a flash drive, he successfully bypassed the filter to visit a “significant number” of porn sites.
The employee also said he deliberately disabled a filter in Google to access inappropriate sites. After management informed him that he would lose his job, the employee resigned.
A similar SEC report for October 2008 to March 2009 said that a regional supervisor in Los Angeles accessed and attempted to access pornographic and sexually explicit Web sites up to twice a day from his SEC computer during work hours.
Over the course of 17 days, the report said, the supervisor received about 1,880 access denials for inappropriate Web sites. The supervisor also admitted to saving numerous pornographic images to his work hard drive and acknowledged that his porn-related activities may have interfered with his work. According to the SEC, the supervisor was reprimanded.
SEC: Agency Uses Sophisticated Surveillance Systems to Detect Internet Abuse
The reports said that in other cases, the employees faced suspensions or no disciplinary action at all.
In a statement, SEC spokesman John Nester said he couldn’t comment on the specific situations, but emphasized that the indiscretions were uncovered because the SEC has systems in place to prevent and address these kinds of Internet violations.
“We use sophisticated surveillance and filtering systems and constantly update them to detect indications of possible abuse,” he said. “Indeed, each of the cases investigated by the Inspector General was detected by our surveillance systems and referred to the Inspector General for investigation.”
He added that misusing government resources for inappropriate purposes is “a matter of serious concern.” In addition to Web-filtering systems, he said the SEC provides comprehensive training on the proper use of the Internet.
When SEC employees abuse Internet access, he said, supervisors look at each incident on a case-by-case basis and respond with sanctions ranging from counseling to dismissal.
Nielsen: Average Visit From Work Computer Is 13 Minutes
Human resources experts said that these examples at the SEC provide just a window into the larger, persistent problem of porn in the workplace.
In February 2010, about 28 percent of people who used a work computer to access the Internet visited an adult site, according to The Nielsen Company. The average visit from a work computer was about 13 minutes and the average work visitor spent one hour and 38 minutes on adult sites during the entire month of February, the research firm told ABCNews.com.
“It’s a problem across the board,” said Nancy Flynn, founder and executive director of The ePolicy Institute, an organization that helps companies reduce their electronic risk. “There have been countless stories not only in financial services but with government agencies, corporations, nonprofits. You name the type of business and industry and there have been cases of employees spending time viewing pornography.”
As businesses realize that electronic pornography and sexually-explicit content open them up to or exacerbate sexual harassment or discrimination claims, she said, they’ve increasingly adopted monitoring and blocking technology.
How Effective Is Web Site Blocking Tech?
Flynn said ePolicy and the American Management Association frequently partner on workplace surveys and between 2001 and 2007 saw a 27 percent increase in the number of companies that use Web site blocking technology.
But some of those familiar with the technology said that bypassing it can be child’s play.
“As soon as a kid is old enough to hook up to the Internet, [he] can figure out how to do it,” said Michael Leahy, a recovering sex addict and author of “Porn@ Work: Exposing the Office’s #1 Addiction.”
Some employees need only change browser settings to access porn sites, he said, while others can use Internet anonymizers that mask a user’s IP address.
HR Expert: Regulating Online Behavior Is ‘Balancing Act’
Leahy added that security programs can vary between devices, so that while a desktop computer may block inappropriate Web sites, a business-issued laptop, BlackBerry or iPhone may not. In other cases, he said, people could be using e-mail to transmit and receive porn they might have created.
“The bottom line is there is absolutely no 100 percent fail-safe technology to keep people from getting to this material,” he said.
When he talks to companies and organizations about how to address the problem, he said, he emphasizes accountability systems that let employees know they are being monitored and issuing regular reports to all interested parties.
Knowing that superiors and others will see a detailed list of their Internet visits can help keep employees clean, he said. (Leahy said his wife even receives regular reports of every Web site he visits.)
“The SEC, it’s a high-pressure workplace,” he said. “The big question I’d like to ask is: What is the accountability around there?”
Doug Dureau, a technology and human resources panelist for the Society for Human Resource Management, said that regulating Internet behavior in the workplace is “a balancing act.”
“There are so many Web sites out there, and if you lock it down too tight people aren’t able to go to any Web site,” he said.
For example, in the interest of blocking porn, some companies might inadvertently rope off sites on breast cancer or other health-related topics.
Risque Web Sites Often Security Threats
But some say the stakes in the public sector are different from those in the private sector.
Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the SEC investigations highlight poor management practices at government agencies.
“The agencies that sometimes complain about a lack of resources, they’re not doing such a wonderful job of managing their existing resources if this kind of activity is going on,” he said.
In the private sector, he said, this sort of violation wouldn’t be tolerated, but in the public sector it could be more tempting because it’s difficult to fire government employees.
“Apparently, this group of workers didn’t have enough to do to keep them busy,” he said.
Web security experts say that given the potentially sensitive data stored on government networks, visits to sexually-explicit sites can be especially dangerous.
Dave Meizlik, a spokesman for Websense, a company that provides Internet filtering and Web security systems, said security threats emerge with surfing more risque Web sites. Included on a number of those sites are malicious links embedded with data-stealing code, he said.
According to a 2009 Websense Web security study, 69 percent of all sites with adult, gambling or drug-related content served at least one malicious link and 50 percent of Web pages categorized as “Sex” served malicious content.
“Productivity is just one aspect of the issue. The bigger issue here and the real danger is security,” said Meizlik. “When they’re after data, it becomes even more of an issue when you’re talking about an organization like the SEC.”"
Straight from Dvorak Uncensored: “
The United Nations for earthquake-shattered Haiti to $732.4 million, with two-thirds of that amount going for the salary, perks and upkeep of its own personnel, not residents of the devastated island.
The world organization plans to spend the money on an expanded force of some 12,675 soldiers and police, plus some 479 international staffers, 669 international contract personnel, and 1,300 local workers, just for the 12 months ending June 30, 2010.
Some $495.8 million goes for salaries, benefits, hazard pay, mandatory R&R allowances and upkeep for the peacekeepers and their international staff support. Only about $33.9 million, or 4.6 percent, of that salary total is going to what the U.N. calls “national staff” attached to the peacekeeping effort.”
Straight from Dvorak Uncensored: “Anyone from the state, knows that this is par for the course. It’s been going on in schools for decades and now a few of these scams are being revealed. The entire state has always had a high personal income tax and huge sales taxes and is always broke. How does that work? Corruption of course.
Federal stimulus dollars intended for job creation in Oakland were spent instead on trips to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a Concord water park, rent, church repairs, bus passes, salaries and car allowances, according to a state review released Tuesday.
Oakland, which has struggled with a 17.7 percent unemployment rate, received $3 million last year for summer youth, adult and dislocated worker programs. But more than $830,000 of the money received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from February to December 2009 was not properly accounted for or was misspent, according to the state Office of the Inspector General.
In addition, state auditors found the city inflated the number of jobs created, claiming 35 when only about six jobs were created with the stimulus dollars.”
Straight from blogs.cnn.com: “The radical Islamic Web site Revolutionmuslim.com is going after the creators of the TV cartoon series “South Park” after an episode last week included an image of the Prophet Mohammed in disguise.
Revolutionmuslim.com, based in New York, was the subject of a CNN investigation last year for its radical rhetoric supporting “jihad” against the West and praising al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Its organizers insist they act within the law and seek to protect Islam.
On Sunday, Revolutionmuslim.com posted an entry that included a warning to South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they risk violent retribution – after the 200th episode last week included a satirical discussion about whether an image of the prophet could be shown. In the end, he is portrayed disguised in a bear suit.
The posting on Revolutionmuslim.com says: “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”
Theo van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004 after making a short documentary on violence against women in some Islamic societies. The posting on Revolutionmuslim.com features a graphic photograph of Van Gogh with his throat cut and a dagger in his chest.
The entry on Revolutionmuslim.com goes on to advise readers:
“You can contact them [the makers of South Park], or pay Comedy Central or their own company a visit at these addresses …” before listing Comedy Central’s New York address, and the Los Angeles, California, address of Parker and Sloane’s production company.
Contacted by CNN, the author of the post, Abu Talhah al Amrikee, said that providing the addresses was not intended as a threat to the creators of South Park but to give people the opportunity to protest.
Over still photographs of Parker, Stone, van Gogh and others, the Web site runs audio of a sermon by the radical U.S.-born preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who is now in hiding in Yemen. The sermon, recorded some time ago, talks about assassinating those who have “defamed” the Prophet Mohammed – citing one religious authority as saying “Harming Allah and his messenger is a reason to encourage Muslims to kill whoever does that.” U.S. officials say al-Awlaki is on a list of al Qaeda leaders targeted for capture or assassination.
The clip ends with a warning on a graphic directed at Parker and Stone, saying “The Dust Will Never Settle Down.”
Al Amrikee said the purpose of including the al-Awlaki sermon in his posting was to remind Muslims that insulting the prophet is a severe offense for which the punishment in Islam is death. He said RevolutionMuslim may hold protests about the show.
Calls to Comedy Central were not returned.”
Straight from the Telegraph: “Attractive women who snub traditional Islamic clothing to instead wear fashionable clothes and apply heavy make-up, caused youths in the country to “go astray” and have affairs, Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi said.
The hard-line cleric said as a result the country, bounded by several fault lines, experienced more “calamities” such as earthquakes, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper reported him saying.
Iran is prone to frequent quakes, many of which have been devastating for the country.
“Many women who dress inappropriately … cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes,” he told worshippers at a Tehran prayer service late last week.
“Calamities are the result of people’s deeds.
“We have no way but conform to Islam to ward off dangers.”
The Islamic dress code is mandatory in Iran, which has been under clerical rule for more than three decades.
Every post-pubescent woman regardless of her religion or nationality must cover her hair and bodily contours in public.
Offenders face punishment and fine.
But this has not stopped urban women from appearing in the streets wearing tight coats and flimsy headscarves and layers of skilfully applied make-up.
Experts have warned that a strong quake in Tehran, the Iranian capital, could kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Tehran province has nearly 14 million inhabitants, eight million of whom live in the city, which sits on several fault lines.
Earlier this month, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s president, warned at least five million Tehran residents that they should flee Iran’s capital because it is threatened by earthquakes.
Mr Ahmadinejad said that more than two thirds of Iran’s 74-million-strong population lived in urban areas.
“We cannot predict when an earthquake will happen. But if anything happens to Tehran province’s 13.8 million residents, how can we manage that?” he asked.
The worst in recent times hit the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing more than 31,000 people – about a quarter of the population – and destroying its ancient mud-built citadel.
Earlier this year the hardline cleric led rallies from Iranian government supporters who denounced opposition students who burned photos of the country’s supreme leader during protests in December.
“The issue has reached a point where the picture of Imam Khomeini is insulted,” he said.
“They questioned things that are sacred.”
He mocked opposition activists who “thought the revolution had been defeated”.”
From the “Hey, You Aren’t Already Paying Enough Taxes” department via the LA Times: “Leading voices in the Senate are considering a new tax on gasoline as part of an effort to win Republican and oil industry support for the energy and climate bill now idling in Congress.
The tax, which according to early estimates would be in the range of 15 cents a gallon, was conceived with the input of several oil companies, including Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips, and is being championed by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
It is shaping up as a critical but controversial piece in the efforts by Graham, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to write a climate bill that moderate Republicans could support. Along those lines, the bill will also include an expansion of offshore oil drilling and major new incentives for nuclear power plant construction.
Environmental groups have long advocated gasoline taxes to reduce fossil fuel consumption; the oil industry has spent heavily in recent years to fight taxes, which it says would harm consumers.
In this case, though, several oil companies like the tax because it figures to cost them far less than other proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including provisions in the climate bill the House passed last year.
The Senate bill’s sponsors appear to want the revenue raised from the tax to fund a variety of programs that would lower industrial emissions, including helping manufacturers reduce energy use or boosting wind and solar power installations by electric utilities.
But the tax has encountered stiff behind-the-scenes resistance from some Democrats, who fear the political specter of increasing gasoline prices as the national average cost of gasoline is expected to crest $3 a gallon this summer.
And no other Republicans have publicly announced support for the framework legislation that Graham and the others are circulating on Capitol Hill. Attracting significant Republican support for a bill featuring a tax increase would run counter to historical political trends and to the anti-tax outrage percolating among the “tea party” activists in the GOP base.
Sources say the resistance extends to some Obama administration officials. In a statement, White House spokesman Ben Labolt said only that President Obama was “encouraged by the work of Sens. Kerry, Lieberman and Graham to move forward bipartisan, comprehensive energy and climate legislation” and that “we look forward to reviewing the details of the legislation when they are finalized.”
Some industry analysts and environmentalists question how much a tax would do to reduce emissions from gasoline, particularly if the extra cost to motorists is measured in cents, not dollars.
Proponents call the tax approach under consideration a “linked fee,” because it links the extra cost for gasoline to the average cost of greenhouse gas emission permits created through a so-called cap-and-trade system for electric utilities. That system would set a declining limit on emissions from power plants and force utilities to buy permits, on a trading market, to emit heat-trapping gases. Under the linked-fee proposal, gasoline taxes would rise in tandem with the prices of industrial emission permits, or fall if the price of permits declines.
As negotiations build toward a scheduled unveiling of the bill next week, it’s still unclear whether major oil companies and their trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, will explicitly endorse the legislation or at least agree not to fund an ad campaign opposing it. Proponents of a climate bill say such backing would be a major coup.
“Getting major oil companies to truly and aggressively support a specific bill mandating greenhouse gas emissions limits and a carbon price would be a significant political accomplishment,” said Paul W. Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration official now with the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy.
Other analysts wonder whether increasingly populist Republicans would follow the industry and support the bill.
“It’s not clear that a linked fee creates a path to 60 votes” to overcome Senate procedural hurdles, said Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm in Washington who represents utilities and refiners on climate policy.
Unquestionably, Big Oil can be a formidable opponent: The petroleum institute recently spent millions on ads blasting an Obama proposal to end some industry tax breaks. The group is currently neutral on the linked-fee plan. It needs to see details on the full climate bill and an Energy Information Administration analysis of its effects before taking a position, said Lou Hayden, its senior director for federal relations.
If oil companies do back the bill, climate activists will find themselves joining forces with an industry they’ve long demonized. The tax could also put senators who vote for the bill at the mercy of election attacks if gas prices spike before November — even though the tax would probably not kick in for several years.”