Saturday, March 22, 2008

Magoo's Colonoscopy, Part 2

Magoo's Colonoscopy, Part 1


A Clip From The Greatest. "Kid". Show. Ever.

Even if this doesn't persuade you, just remember that I'm right on this one. And you. Are. Wrong.

A Cute Vintage Commercial

Beloved Leader -- Revealed!

Almost as good as the presidential portrait gracing this page. Link.

How To Read Fox Bidness Journal Online For Free

...if you absolutely must violate a billionaire's copyright (which, you know, is wrong).


The End Time$

First, a sort of update/overview at BoingBoing.

Robert Kuttner discusses it with Amy Goodman.

And somewhat related, how Big Wealth steals public money with Our Leaders' permission.

And guess who suffers disproportionately more.

The Saint's Love For America-Hating Extremists

The guy is an utter and complete panderer, amongst other failings. WIth all due respect take away five and a years' torture and abuse, and he is absolutely nothing.

Obama's pastor incidentally says stupid things: that's a problem.

The Saint solicits support from scumbags: That's okay.
In an interview that will appear in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, controversial televangelist Rev. John Hagee declares, "It's true that [John] McCain's campaign sought my endorsement."

McCain has attempted to distance himself from some of Hagee's views, much as Barack Obama is doing in relation to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But unlike McCain, Obama has not stood on stage with Wright and accepted his accolades this year.

The Wingnuts' Hubris Remains Unabated


A Wright Problem. Three Times Over. The Saint's

So when is the Saint (next Beloved Leader) going to come clean? Or his Big Media lovers make him come clean like they did Obama. Oh wait, Obama's black -- that's why they made him come clean....
Barack Obama has gone to considerable lengths to distance himself from the inflammatory remarks of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but some remarks are harder to dismiss. When Wright, for example, said the United States government has been complicit in facilitating black genocide, it was hard not to cringe and seek an explanation from the presidential candidate he’s associated with.

Oh, wait, did I say Jeremiah Wright? Actually, this is an argument peddled by the Rev. Rod Parsley, a man John McCain has praised as a “spiritual guide.”
In speeches that have gone largely unnoticed, Parsley (who is white) compares Planned Parenthood, the reproductive care and family planning group, to the Klu Klux Klan and Nazis, and describes the American government as enablers of murder for supporting the organization.

“If I were call for the sterilization or the elimination of an entire segment of society, I’d be labeled a racists or a murderer, or at very best a Nazi,” says Parsley. “That every single year, millions of our tax dollars are funding a national organization built upon that very goal — their target: African Americans. That’s right, the death toll: nearly fifteen hundred African Americans a day. The shocking truth of black genocide.”

He goes on.

“Right now our own government is allowing organizations like Planned Parenthood to legally take the innocent lives of precious baby girls and baby boys and even footing the bill for it all with our tax dollars, turning every single one of us into accessories to murder,” he says.
This comes on the heels of a report from David Corn who noted that the televangelist “called upon Christians to wage a ‘war’ against the ‘false religion’ of Islam with the aim of destroying it.”

Better yet, our old friend John Hagee is back in the news, too.

Greg Mitchell has the story:
In an interview that will appear in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, controversial televangelist Rev. John Hagee declares, “It’s true that [John] McCain’s campaign sought my endorsement.”

McCain has attempted to distance himself from some of Hagee’s views, much as Barack Obama is doing in relation to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But unlike McCain, Obama has not stood on stage with Wright and accepted his accolades this year.

Interviewed by Deborah Solomon, Hagee refused to discuss his statement that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for a gay rights parade in New Orleans, calling it “so far off-base.”
It may seem like a bit of a tangent, but it’s worth noting that the NYT thought to interview Hagee for the Sunday magazine — presumably because of his notoriety as an anti-Catholic, anti-gay, anti-Muslim televangelist — but the New York Times never ran so much as one article about McCain’s controversial association with Hagee. Not one.

Which brings me to the broader point. Obama’s presidential campaign has been undermined, possibly permanently, thanks to the media’s unrelenting fascination with Wright’s controversial sermons. But John McCain has close ties to high-profile evangelical leaders who, among other things, blamed 9/11 on Americans. As a result, McCain has faced no political consequences whatsoever.

I can appreciate the significant differences. Obama has a personal connection to Wright that goes back many years; McCain began sucking up to radical right-wing preachers fairly recently for partisan gain. McCain wasn’t a member of Jerry Falwell’s or Rod Parsley’s congregation, he just sought them out, sang their praises, and refused to denounce any of their scandalous public remarks.

But if major news outlets could at least give McCain’s religious associations some attention — say, one tenth the amount given to Wright — I suspect Americans would be interested to know more about the religious figures McCain chooses to associate with, and the fact that he’s done next to nothing to condemn remarks that most reasonable people would find deeply offensive.

One tenth. That’s all I ask.

Tibet Update

Scoop! The Secret Of Happiness, Revealed Here Now!

Entertainment: A Foreign Viddie

Friday, March 21, 2008

Keep Big Brother From Listening To Your VOIP Calls

In 1991, Philip Zimmermann developed a humble-sounding electronic encryption technology known as Pretty Good Privacy. In fact, it was very good--so good that not even the federal government has been able to crack it, a fact that has made Zimmermann a folk hero to privacy advocates and a headache to law enforcement.

Now Zimmermann, a fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, has found himself back in the fiery debate between federal investigators and those who oppose their snooping--this time thanks to ZRTP, a technology for encrypting Internet telephone calls. ZRTP throws a wrench in the Bush administration's controversial warrant-free wiretapping program and its proposed legal immunity for the telecommunications companies. So far, not even teams of supercomputers and cyberspies at the National Security Agency have cracked ZRTP. That means anyone who uses Zimmermann's Zfone software, a ZRTP-enabled voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) program available for free on his Web site, can skirt the feds' wiretapping altogether. spoke with Zimmermann about how his small company has been able to produce an encryption product that not even the U.S. government can break, what ZRTP means for national security, and why cutting off the government's access to our phones is necessary to keep out the truly malicious spies.

Forbes: From a security and espionage perspective, what's the difference between traditional telephony and VoIP?

Zimmermann: In the traditional telephone system, Alice and Bob are connected by a single path. The simple thing is to wiretap that path in the middle at the phone company's switch. With VoIP, the packets take many paths through the cloud to get to their destination, so traditional wiretapping isn't nearly as easy. Instead, it's easiest to tap it near the endpoints. That, in fact, is very easy to do--almost trivial.

So unencrypted VoIP is less secure than traditional telephony?

Vastly less secure. The traditional public telephone system that we've been using for the last hundred years is fairly well protected. It's easy for the government to wiretap it by going to the phone company, but not easy for anyone else to wiretap it. If anyone else wanted to wiretap someone's conversations, they'd have to find a place close to his or her office, get some alligator clips, and try to find the right wire out of thousands to clip them onto, and hope that nobody spots you doing it.

With VoIP, it's not nearly so hard. All you just need is to take over a computer on the same network as the VoIP traffic with some spyware. That computer intercepts the VoIP conversations and stores them on a hard disk as .wav files that can be browsed later. A wiretapper could even choose to target the phone calls of a company's general counsel talking to an outside law firm, or the CEO talking to his counterpart at another company.

It's much easier because you don't have to physically be there. You can be in China or Russia and target a company without obtaining a visa or entering the country you're trying to infiltrate.

So unencrypted VoIP is vulnerable not just to government wiretapping but also to cyber-criminal spying.

With traditional telephony, our threat model was mostly government wiretapping. With VoIP, anyone can wiretap us: the Russian mafia, foreign governments, hackers, disgruntled former employees. Anyone.

Historically, there's been an asymmetry between government wiretapping and everyone else wiretapping that's been in the government's favor. As we migrate to VoIP, that differential collapses. The government itself is just as vulnerable. Wiretappers can reveal details of ongoing investigations, names and personal details of informants, conversations between officials and their wives about what time they pick up their kids at school.

So you’re arguing that we have to encrypt VoIP to protect our calls from criminals, regardless of whether it defeats government wiretapping?

We have no choice. If we had the luxury of continuing to use the traditional phone system and not VoIP, we wouldn't be compelled to encrypt calls. The traditional phone system is well-protected enough that, although the government can wiretap it, organized criminals can't.

Everyone thinks that VoIP is the future of telephony. It's cheaper, more versatile, more feature-rich. So technological pressure herds us towards VoIP; we'll have to encrypt it. Wiretapping will become so easy that the criminals--not just governments--will be able to do it routinely. There will be insider trading, blackmail, organized crime spying on judges and prosecutors, key witnesses killed before they can testify.

What exactly are ZRTP and Zfone, and how do they work?

ZRTP is a protocol that defines how VoIP phones talk to each other in an encrypted way. Zfone is a program that we've developed for end users that employs ZTRP. They both use strong cryptographic algorithms to negotiate cryptographic keys between two parties without the participation of any phone company. The keys are strings of bits, and without them, you can't decrypt the conversation. They're automatically created at the start of the call, and destroyed at the end. Only the two parties know the keys, and the phone company isn't in a position where it can give the keys to a third party.

And that negotiation can't be intercepted?

It could be intercepted, but it wouldn't be useful. The keys are negotiated between the two parties using an algorithm known as the Diffie-Hellman algorithm, which makes it computationally infeasible for a third party to reconstruct the keys by intercepting the key negotiations. That's the beauty of public key cryptography. Your opponent can intercept all the packets of data in the negotiation, and yet he can't figure out what the keys are, unless he has nearly infinite computing resources. He'd need more computing resources than the human race currently has and the entire lifetime of the universe to work on it.

And with these shared keys, you can encrypt communication in a way that can't be unscrambled?

Once the two parties have keys, they can use the advanced encryption standard, which is in wide use today. It's a cipher that's very difficult to reverse without knowing the keys. And when I say "very difficult," again I mean that the computations would take millions of times the age of the universe.

So you've created a protocol that not even thousands of NSA agents working for years could unscramble?

Well, they're using computers, not people. In fact, they're using supercomputers that attempt every possible key. But they wouldn't be able to guess the key to decrypt a ZRTP-encrypted conversation.

In fact, they're using the same kind of encryption for their own classified data. If they knew how to break it, they probably wouldn't trust it enough to use it themselves.

Plenty of Americans believe that government wiretapping--even without a warrant--is legitimate. But encrypted VoIP calls could mean the end of that kind of wiretapping as well.

Yes, it would. But if you think about how intelligence agencies fight al-Qaida: they get almost as much information from traffic pattern analysis as they do from the content. There'll be a phone call from Pakistan to a cellphone in New York, and that phone will call six other cellphones. And so they're interested in who's calling whom. They look for the patterns, which will still be visible even if the content is encrypted.

Those patterns often tell them more than the contents of the call. The contents might be "The wedding cake will be ready on Saturday." Well, it's probably not a wedding cake, and it's probably not really Saturday either.

From the point of view of law enforcement, traffic analysis can be quite useful. But for a criminal trying to get information for insider training, he's only interested in the content. So encryption actually hits criminals harder than it hits law enforcement agencies.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) mandates that telecommunications equipment provide a backdoor for interception by law enforcement. Does that mean that ZTRP is illegal?

CALEA imposes requirements on service providers like phone companies. But Zfone negotiates the keys between end users, where CALEA doesn't apply. The phone company doesn't have access to the keys--only the users do. CALEA is rendered moot.

What's your take on the debate over the Bush Administration's program of warrant-free wiretapping and what it means for civil liberties?

If the government has a court-ordered wiretap against someone who they believe has probable cause, there's still a legal place for that. The driftnet fishing approach, where anyone can be wiretapped at any time, however, raises some constitutional questions.

The objective of ZRTP is not to stop the NSA from doing its job. It's to protect society from organized crime and foreign governments. We have to encrypt VoIP to do that. That may have effects on lawful interception of telecommunications, but those effects have to be weighed against the terrible effects of not doing it.

The government claims it only wants to wiretap a tiny fraction of a percent of all phone calls. To let the government keep wiretapping those phones, we'd have to expose all of our phone calls to organized crime.

As the debate heats up over immunity for telecommunications companies that have enabled government wiretapping, is interest in your products growing?

Interest is growing, but it will be mainly driven by the growth of VoIP. For now, VoIP isn't the dominant way that people make phone calls, but in a few years it will surpass traditional telephony. And when VoIP grows big enough to hold an attraction for organized crime, they're going to be all over it--just like they're all over the rest of the Internet today.

Our Leaders' Gift To Iraqi

I guess they consider this liberation and freedom....

MacBook Air Porn From An Unexpected Source

Does nothing for me, actually (although if I had the money it might be a different story)....


iPhone Porn

You know it turns you on and fills you with lust....

Big Media's Blind Love For The Saint

Greenwald makes the case.

Life In These Freedom-Hating United States

Thank you, George W. Bush.
One man went into a Glen Burnie, Md., Toyota dealership to buy a car, only to be told that a name check revealed he was on a U.S. Treasury Department watchlist of suspected terrorists and drug dealers. He had to be "checked for tattoos," he said, to make sure he wasn't the suspect.

An 18-year-old found he could not open an account to accept credit card payments for his fledgling technology consulting business because his name was similar to that of a Libyan official on the watchlist.

A former U.S. Navy officer who served in the Persian Gulf and whose father was killed in the Korean War when he was a child, found himself locked out of his PayPal account because his name was similar to one on the watchlist.

"What do I need to do to remove my name from this list?" the officer wrote to Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which compiles the list. He signed off, "An EXTREMELY insulted veteran of the U.S. Navy."

More American consumers have gotten caught up in a special brand of watchlist purgatory because their names are similar to ones on OFAC's list of "specially designated nationals," according to e-mails and other documents released under court order yesterday. By law, businesses are barred from conducting transactions with anyone on the list. Yesterday's court-ordered release of documents to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, offers a window into the kinds of disruptions suffered by those ensnared in the process, as well as the difficulty of clearing their names.

More businesses are seeking, as part of a credit check, to know whether a person is also on the OFAC list. Failure to do so can bring a stiff penalty. Often a person whose name is similar to a name on the watchlist will be flagged by credit bureaus, which produce the reports businesses use to decide who is eligible for a car or home loan or to rent an apartment.

The Lawyers Committee sued the Treasury Department last year under the Freedom of Information Act for records of complaints relating to OFAC's list. Last year, the group documented the cases of at least a dozen people denied services, including being blocked from buying exercise equipment. Yesterday's partial release of records raised at least 30 new cases in which people sought OFAC help.

"OFAC's list of designated individuals and entities is a powerful tool that disrupts financial flows to terrorists, narcotics traffickers and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction," Treasury spokesman John Rankin said. "This vigilance has an important deterrent effect and shines a light on illicit conduct.''

But Thomas R. Burke, lead counsel in the group's FOIA case, said he suspected the watchlist is causing problems for many more people than revealed by the cases so far. Moreover, he asserted, "There isn't a program [of redress]. There isn't an ombudsman. There isn't a procedure to help consumers clear their names."

The Glen Burnie auto customer -- whose name was redacted by the government to protect his privacy -- began his quest for relief with the car dealer, according to the documents. The dealer referred him to the credit-reporting agencies, Experian and Equifax, but he was left in electronic voice-directory limbo, he said. That was only the beginning of "a revolving-door nightmare," he said.

He called the credit-check company, and a tech-support supervisor told him he would look into it. He checked with the FBI because there was some suggestion he was on the "Ten Most Wanted" list. The FBI told him he was not on any FBI list and suggested he check with the Treasury.

According to the documents, the man said he then left a message at OFAC, followed by an e-mail. He said he also contacted the Federal Trade Commission.

When an OFAC representative called back, he was told that he should contact the three major credit bureaus and request they remove his name from the list. The documents do not reveal whether he succeeded in removing it.

"I am not a criminal," he wrote in an e-mail aimed at the director of OFAC compliance, according to the documents obtained by the Lawyers Committee. "I spent my entire career as a police officer fighting crime."

Stuart Pratt, president and chief executive of a credit-reporting trade group, the Consumer Data Industry Association, said OFAC does not give adequate guidance on how to determine a watchlist match. "Do you match just on the last name, on the first name, on the first name and middle initial?" Pratt said. "OFAC doesn't really give much guidance."

He also said he thinks the biggest problem is lenders who do not know how to respond to an alert. "Clearly OFAC would say, you don't stop the transaction," he said. "You just look for a way to validate the consumer's identity."

Rankin said people with concerns could call the OFAC hot line at 800-540-6322. Many callers have their issues immediately resolved, he said.

"The Treasury Department takes this problem seriously and recognizes the frustration of law-abiding citizens whose names and identities have been confused with names on the OFAC list," he said.

E-Voting's Destruction Of Free Elections In New Jersey

First, the proof.

Next, the manufacturer's lies in defense of it's crap vote-destroying equipment. (Remember: in the corporatist state, the corporation is always right even, or especially, when it's wrong.)

Then, the proof that the manufacturer's explanation is a load of crap.

And this is why the corporatist state is a danger to democracy: a company like this doesn't care about honest elections, just its profit. And it ensures its profitability by corrupting the system by buying off the greedy, unprincipled pols. Speaking of which, why aren't the Christofascists screaming for public finance? (Real public finance, not the Saint's version.)

The Danger Of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

For real.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Incredible News Story!

According to witnesses, a loud black man approached a crowd of some 4,000 strangers in downtown Chicago Tuesday and made repeated demands for change.

Entertainment! Tom Cruise, Part 1; Get Down!

Jamaican 70s Pot-Smuggling Viddie

How The Sub-Prime Crap Trashed The Entire System

The Times:
Raise your hand if you don’t quite understand this whole financial crisis.

It has been going on for seven months now, and many people probably feel as if they should understand it. But they don’t, not really. The part about the housing crash seems simple enough. With banks whispering sweet encouragement, people bought homes they couldn’t afford, and now they are falling behind on their mortgages.

But the overwhelming majority of homeowners are doing just fine. So how is it that a mess concentrated in one part of the mortgage business — subprime loans — has frozen the credit markets, sent stock markets gyrating, caused the collapse of Bear Stearns, left the economy on the brink of the worst recession in a generation and forced the Federal Reserve to take its boldest action since the Depression?

I’m here to urge you not to feel sheepish. This may not be entirely comforting, but your confusion is shared by many people who are in the middle of the crisis.

“We’re exposing parts of the capital markets that most of us had never heard of,” Ethan Harris, a top Lehman Brothers economist, said last week. Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive, has said that he hadn’t heard of “liquidity puts,” an obscure kind of financial contract, until they started causing big problems for Citigroup.

I spent a good part of the last few days calling people on Wall Street and in the government to ask one question, “Can you try to explain this to me?” When they finished, I often had a highly sophisticated follow-up question: “Can you try again?”

I emerged thinking that all the uncertainty has created a panic that is partly unfounded. That said, the crisis isn’t close to ending, either. Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, won’t be able to wave a magic wand and make everything better, no matter how many more times he cuts rates. As Mr. Bernanke himself has suggested, the only thing that will end the crisis is the end of the housing bust.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the boom.

It really started in 1998, when large numbers of people decided that real estate, which still hadn’t recovered from the early 1990s slump, had become a bargain. At the same time, Wall Street was making it easier for buyers to get loans. It was transforming the mortgage business from a local one, centered around banks, to a global one, in which investors from almost anywhere could pool money to lend.

The new competition brought down mortgage fees and spurred some useful innovation. Why, after all, should someone who knows that she’s going to move after just a few years have no choice but to take out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage?

As is often the case with innovations, though, there was soon too much of a good thing. Those same global investors, flush with cash from Asia’s boom or rising oil prices, demanded good returns. Wall Street had an answer: subprime mortgages.

Because these loans go to people stretching to afford a house, they come with higher interest rates — even if they’re disguised by low initial rates — and thus higher returns. The mortgages were then sliced into pieces and bundled into investments, often known as collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s (a term that appeared in this newspaper only three times before 2005, but almost every week since last summer). Once bundled, different types of mortgages could be sold to different groups of investors.

Investors then goosed their returns through leverage, the oldest strategy around. They made $100 million bets with only $1 million of their own money and $99 million in debt. If the value of the investment rose to just $101 million, the investors would double their money. Home buyers did the same thing, by putting little money down on new houses, notes Mark Zandi of Moody’s The Fed under Alan Greenspan helped make it all possible, sharply reducing interest rates, to prevent a double-dip recession after the technology bust of 2000, and then keeping them low for several years.

All these investments, of course, were highly risky. Higher returns almost always come with greater risk. But people — by “people,” I’m referring here to Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Bernanke, the top executives of almost every Wall Street firm and a majority of American homeowners — decided that the usual rules didn’t apply because home prices nationwide had never fallen before. Based on that idea, prices rose ever higher — so high, says Robert Barbera of ITG, an investment firm, that they were destined to fall. It was a self-defeating prophecy.

And it largely explains why the mortgage mess has had such ripple effects. The American home seemed like such a sure bet that a huge portion of the global financial system ended up owning a piece of it. Last summer, many policy makers were hoping that the crisis wouldn’t spread to traditional banks, like Citibank, because they had sold off the underlying mortgages to investors. But it turned out that many banks had also sold complex insurance policies on the mortgage debt. That left them on the hook when homeowners who had taken out a wishful-thinking mortgage could no longer get out of it by flipping their house for a profit.

Many of these bets were not huge, but were so highly leveraged that any losses became magnified. If that $100 million investment I described above were to lose just $1 million of its value, the investor who put up only $1 million would lose everything. That’s why a hedge fund associated with the prestigious Carlyle Group collapsed last week.

“If anything goes awry, these dominos fall very fast,” said Charles R. Morris, a former banker who tells the story of the crisis in a new book, “The Trillion Dollar Meltdown.”

This toxic combination — the ubiquity of bad investments and their potential to mushroom — has shocked Wall Street into a state of deep conservatism. The soundness of any investment firm depends largely on other firms having confidence that it has real assets standing behind its bets. So firms are now hoarding cash instead of lending it, until they understand how bad the housing crash will become and how exposed to it they are. Any institution that seems to have a high-risk portfolio, regardless of whether it has enough assets to support the portfolio, faces the double whammy of investors demanding their money back and lenders shutting the door in their face. Goodbye, Bear Stearns.

The conservatism has gone so far that it’s affecting many solid would-be borrowers, which, in turn, is hurting the broader economy and aggravating Wall Streets fears. A recession could cause credit card loans and other forms of debt, some of which were also based on overexuberance, to start going bad as well.

Many economists, on the right and the left, now argue that the only solution is for the federal government to step in and buy some of the unwanted debt, as the Fed began doing last weekend. This is called a bailout, and there is no doubt that giving a handout to Wall Street lenders or foolish home buyers — as opposed to, say, laid-off factory workers — is deeply distasteful. At this point, though, the alternative may be worse.

Bubbles lead to busts. Busts lead to panics. And panics can lead to long, deep economic downturns, which is why the Fed has been taking unprecedented actions to restore confidence.

“You say, my go
odness, how could subprime mortgage loans take out the whole global financial system?” Mr. Zandi said. “That’s how.”

The Thais No Longer Like Dollars (Another Ally Who ABuses Us)

These are tailors. What about the internationally-renowned sex workers?

The Mendacity Of The MSM

Greenwald has an example.

Clinton Had Monica, Our leaders Have The Dollar

That's the answer to the question: What does each of the last two administrations have that go seriously down?

The Dutch explain the problem for us:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Election Problems In Ohio

Is there any place anymore where anyone can vote with confidence?


Iraq: Some Who Got It Right


What We Think: Not Good

More than three in four Americans think the United States is in a recession according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll released on Tuesday.

Not since September 1992, two months before President George H.W. Bush lost his re-election bid, have so many Americans said the economy was in such bad shape, USA Today reported.

Seventy-six percent of to those polled said the economy is in recession, compared to 22 percent who said it is not, USA Today said.

Asked if the United States could slip into a depression lasting several years, 59 percent said it was likely and 79 percent said they were worried about it, the newspaper reported.

Vietnam Doesn't Like Dollars Either


The News On Local TV? Fake!

Late in the holiday shopping season of 2005, Robin Raskin began to worry about a hidden danger posed by the world's most popular gadget: Pornography was popping up on the iPod. Raskin, a pert middle-aged woman with short brown hair and a deep, authoritative voice, considered herself an expert on how kids use technology (she'd once written a magazine column called "Internet Mom"). She approached local TV news broadcasts across the country with her iPod worries. They bit.

"There's scores of 'iPorn' everywhere," Raskin warned in an appearance on KGUN, an ABC affiliate in Tucson, Ariz. The iPod had become "a pedophile's playground," she said, and Apple was doing little to stem the smut. On Pittsburgh's Fox affiliate, WPGH Channel 53, Raskin called the iPod one of the "scariest" gifts of the season. The ABC station in Columbus, Ohio, featured Raskin's warnings as part of a report by Kent Justice, a correspondent who produces a regular segment called "On Your Side." Justice told viewers, "If you didn't know it, now prepare for it: Hundreds of Web sites are selling iPorn."
Nine stations aired Raskin's warnings. Her segments had the look and feel of ordinary local news: Super-coifed anchors offer alarmist assessments of everyday objects, story at 11.
But something here was amiss. In addition to panning the iPod, Raskin used her time on TV to push "safer" holiday tech gifts, including products made by Panasonic, Namco and Techno Source. These weren't unbiased reviews. The local stations that featured Raskin were fully aware that the three companies had hired her to pimp their products during news appearances.
I learned of Raskin's ulterior motives from the Center for Media and Democracy, a group based in Madison, Wis., that monitors the public relations industry. Over several years, CMD has investigated an insidious public relations practice that's neither especially new nor uncommon, but is still relatively unknown beyond the cloistered world of television news production. In the trade, they're called VNRs, or video news releases.
A VNR is a short clip of marketing propaganda produced in the language and style of real news. P.R. firms send news stations thousands of such videos every year, the most sophisticated of which are virtually indistinguishable from honest news, featuring interviews with (paid) experts and voice-overs by (fake) reporters who subtly pitch products during their narratives. Surprisingly often, news channels broadcast these videos as real news; many times, CMD has found, the only edits that a station will make to a paid clip is to cut off the disclosure noting that the video was sponsored by a corporation.
VNRs first gained notoriety early in 2005, when the New York Times reported that many local stations aired prepackaged segments produced by federal agencies under the Bush administration. The VNRs cheered the war in Iraq, the Bush Medicare plan and various small-time programs. But Diane Farsetta, a researcher at CMD, says that private VNRs far outnumber federal videos -- and once you start looking for them, they seem to pop up everywhere.
On CMD's Web site, you can watch dozens of local news segments lifted directly from VNRs. The effect would be comical -- four stations ran a piece on how to incorporate Bisquick into your plans for National Pancake Week, to take one example -- if the lying weren't so determined.
A segment may appear to be an in-depth look at the travails of travelers during cold and flu season, but all its experts refer to Zicam nasal spray as a preferred treatment. A consumer-safety piece warns viewers about scam artists who dress up flood-damaged cars and sell them as if they're perfect -- an announcement drenched in irony, considering that the news segment is actually a dressed-up ad for A Halloween report delves into the origins of the jack-o'-lantern, but the reporter -- who's not actually a reporter but a P.R. man -- ends the story by suggesting holiday recipes from Betty Crocker. All of these pieces made it to news broadcasts near you.
Marketers began creating VNRs in the 1980s, but the practice had a slow start. Producing attractive video was expensive, and VNRs rarely looked slick enough to fit in with a broadcast program. Distribution was also a problem: P.R. firms sent out VNRs by mail on videotape, a system too clumsy for fast-paced newsrooms to work with.
The digital revolution, of course, has changed all that; marketers can now produce and distribute video that looks just as good as anything a TV station can make, and for almost no money.
At the same time, technology has upended how television stations produce news. In many American newsrooms, now, you'll now find computer terminals belonging to a system called Pathfire, which hooks stations into a cloud of video coming in from all over the world -- clips from syndicates such as the Associated Press, from other local stations and from the large broadcast networks.
For producers, Pathfire is a palette from which to create full stories at extremely low cost. Now images of overseas wars, out-of-state disasters, nearby sports victories, freakish weather events, adorable zoo animals and gripping celebrity goings-on are quickly pulled down and cut up into digestible bits of news, with the producer never having to leave the studio. Stations increasingly lean on this third-party footage to pad their broadcasts. According to one study, more than a quarter of the video you see on a typical local newscast isn't at all local, and was collected, instead, from video coming in on the cloud.
But when a producer logs into a system like Pathfire looking for footage for the 11 o'clock broadcast, she doesn't only see videos from legitimate outfits. Such systems also include a smorgasbord of VNRs, which marketers upload into the database daily. P.R. companies don't pay television channels to run the sponsored segments -- that would run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission's "payola" rules -- but the footage is free. For the stations, the offer is sometimes too attractive to refuse.
Although it's subject to tremendous (and, evidently, often justified) ridicule, local TV news has long been -- and remains -- America's first choice for information. Directors of local news stations are uneasy about disclosures that newscasts have routinely aired VNRs; many refused to comment when I asked them about their broadcasts.
The Radio and Television News Directors Association sharply criticized CMD's study, claiming that the findings did not represent typical practices at stations (the group did not respond to my inquiries). Farsetta points out that in surveys, more than 90 percent of news directors have admitted using VNRs -- or parts of VNRs -- in their broadcasts.
Late last year, the FCC began cracking down on the practice, levying fines against Comcast, which owns CN8, a Philadelphia station that has aired VNRs. But CMD, which continues to monitor stations, found that the practice continues.
Robin Raskin, the iPorn-wary tech journalist, told me that between 2002 and 2006, she appeared in almost three dozen TV marketing opportunities -- roughly eight a year, each of which was sponsored by three to five companies and was built around a holiday or news event. Raskin, who no longer does marketing work, says she regrets her decision to promote products on TV. She did it only to make some extra money during a low period in her life, and she says she didn't fully consider how the job would affect her journalistic credibility.
But Raskin adds another line, partly in defense of her actions: Public life is already so commercialized, so suffused with salesmanship, that it seemed nearly naive to recuse herself on mere ethical grounds. Fakery abounds. What's one more on the pile?
"I actually joked with my own colleagues that, 'Hey, I'm off to go do Whore TV," she says. "I was fully aware that that's what it was. And yet it's such a commonplace thing. I mean, there are people hawking drugs, guns, war. The worst that could happen to someone watching my segment is that you might buy a game you don't like."

Yet Another Sign Of A Tanking Economy

Someone tell Beloved Leader: Dollars not wanted in Amsterdam.

How To Perform Brain Surgery; First, Get The Drill From The Workbench....


The Wit And Wisdom Of One Of The Great Assholes Of Modern Times, Prince Philip

To a driving instructor in Scotland: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?"

To a Nigerian diplomat in traditional Nigerian garb: "You look as if you’re ready for bed."

On seeing a fuse box filled with wires, during a visit to an electronics company: "This looks like it was put in by an Indian."

To a chubby 13-year-old boy at a space exploration exhibit, pointing to a space capsule: "You’ll have to lose weight if you want to go in that."

To a smoke-detector activist who lost two of her children in a house fire: "My smoke alarm is a damn nuisance. Every time I run my bath, the steam sets it off and I’ve got firefighters at my door."

To members of the British Deaf Association, while pointing to a loudspeaker playing Caribbean music: "No wonder you are deaf."

To a tourist, during a state visit to Hungary: "You can’t have been here long, you’ve not potbelly."

Speaking to British students studying in China: "If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed."

On the "key problem" facing Brazil: "Brazilians live there."

On his daughter Princess Anne: "If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested."

On seeing a picture once owned by England’s King Charles I in the Louvre in Paris: "So I said to the Queen, ‘Shall we take it back?’"

Free Elections Take A Big Hit in Jersey

Union County has backed off a plan to let a Princeton University computer scientist examine voting machines where errors occurred in the presidential primary tallies, after the manufacturer of the machines threatened to sue, officials said today.

A Sequoia executive, Edwin Smith, put Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi on notice that an independent analysis would violate the licensing agreement between his firm and the county. In a terse two-page letter Smith also argued the voting machine software is a Sequoia trade secret and cannot be handed over to any third party.

Last week Rajoppi persuaded the statewide clerk's association to have an independent study of the machines done by Edward Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University. The Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey called for the independent review to ensure the integrity of the election process.

Sequoia maintains the errors, which were documented in at least five counties, occurred due to mistakes by poll workers. The firm, which is based in Colorado, examined machines in Middlesex Count, and concluded that poll workers had pushed the wrong buttons on the control panels, resulting in errors in the numbers of ballots cast.

But officials found it odd that such an error never occurred before and the clerk's association wanted further testing.

On the advice of county's attorneys, however, Rajoppi said today she must forego all plans for independent analysis.

That upset Penny Venetis, a Rutgers University law professor representing a group of activists trying to have electronic voting machines scrapped.

"We shouldn't have a corporation dictating how elections are run in the state," Venetis said. "If an elected official believes there was an anomaly and the matter has to be investigated, then the official should be able to consult with computer experts without interference."

The Union County clerk said she intends to write to the state Attorney General's Office again in hopes of convincing the state to call for an independent study. The attorney general oversees the election process.

Time Wonders Whether Americans Are Bothered Living In A State Of Decreased Freedoms

Why the surprise?

If any significant number were concerned, there would have been mass assassinations now, virtually no "Republicans" in Congress and no one would be reading or watching Big Media journalism because all the pandering lies.

So yes, obviously, there is much apathy.

And a tanking economy -- excuse me -- the greatest economic meltdown since the Depression -- is a bit of a distraction, maybe.

Great Moments In Political Advertising

Not an endorsement, of course; just posting for entertainment value.

And more info on the candidate here.

JP Morgan Shows The Wealthy How To Break The Law And Get Away With It

Start here.

Then see an actual example here.

Top 5: Another Collection Of Our Leaders' Lies About Iraq

Each year of George W. Bush's war in Iraq has been represented by a thematic falsehood. That Iraq is now calm or more stable is only the latest in a series of such whoppers, which the mainstream press eagerly repeats. The fifth anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq will be the last he presides over. Sen. John McCain, in turn, has now taken to dangling the bait of total victory before the American public, and some opinion polls suggest that Americans are swallowing it, hook, line and sinker.

The most famous falsehoods connected to the war were those deployed by the president and his close advisors to justify the invasion. But each of the subsequent years since U.S. troops barreled toward Baghdad in March 2003 has been marked by propaganda campaigns just as mendacious. Here are five big lies from the Bush administration that have shaped perceptions of the Iraq war.

Year 1's big lie was that the rising violence in Iraq was nothing out of the ordinary. The social turmoil kicked off by the invasion was repeatedly denied by Bush officials. When Iraqis massively looted government ministries and even private shops, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld joked that U.S. media had videotape of one man carrying off a vase and that they kept looping it over and over again. The first year of the war saw the rise of a Sunni Arab guerrilla movement that repeatedly struck at U.S. troops and at members and leaders of the Shiite-dominated Interim Governing Council appointed by the American government.

After dozens of U.S. and British military deaths, Rumsfeld actually came out before the cameras and denied, in July of 2003, that there was a building guerrilla war. When CNN's Jamie McIntyre quoted to him the Department of Defense definition of a guerrilla war -- "military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by an irregular predominantly indigenous forces" -- and said it appeared to fit Iraq, Rumsfeld replied, "It really doesn't." Bush was so little concerned by the challenge of an insurgency that he cavalierly taunted the Sunni Arab guerrillas, "Bring 'em on!" regardless of whether it might recklessly endanger U.S. soldiers. The guerrillas brought it on.

In Year 2 the falsehood was that Iraq was becoming a shining model of democracy under America's caring ministrations. In actuality, Bush had planned to impose on Iraq what he called "caucus-based" elections, in which the electorate would be restricted to the provincial and some municipal council members backed by Bush-related institutions. That plan was thwarted by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who demanded one-person, one-vote open elections, and brought tens of thousands of protesters out onto the streets of Baghdad and Basra.

The elections were deeply flawed, both with regard to execution and outcome. The U.S. campaign against Fallujah in November 2004, marked by more petulant rhetoric from Bush, had angered Sunni Arabs -- who feared U.S. strategy favored Shiite ascendancy -- and led to their boycotting the elections. The electoral system chosen by the United Nations and the U.S. would guarantee that if they boycotted, they would be without representation in parliament. Candidates could not campaign, and voters did not know for which individuals they were voting.

Much of the American public, egged on by White House propaganda, was sanguine when elections were held at the end of January 2005, mistaking process for substance. Why the disenfranchisement of the Sunni Arabs, who were becoming more and more violent, was a good thing, or why the victory of Shiite fundamentalists tied to Iran was a triumph for the U.S., remains difficult to discern. Nobody in the Middle East thought such flawed elections, held under foreign military occupation, were any sort of model for the region.

In Year 3, the Bush administration blamed almost everything that was going wrong on one shadowy figure: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bush set the tone for Year 3 with a speech at Fort Bragg on July 28, 2005, in which he said, "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11 ... if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi .. and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden." The previous week, Bush had said that the U.S. was in Iraq "because we were attacked." Zarqawi was the perfect plot device for an administration who wanted to perpetuate the falsehood that the Iraq war was directly connected with Sept. 11 and al-Qaida.

In spring of 2006, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch came out and attributed 90 percent of suicide bombings in Iraq to Zarqawi and his organization, which he had rebranded as "al-Qaida in Iraq," but which had begun in Afghanistan as an alternative to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization. Meanwhile, security analysts discerned 50 distinct Sunni Arab guerrilla cells in Iraq. Some were Baathists and some were Arab nationalists; some were Salafi Sunni fundamentalists while others were tribally based. To attribute so many attacks all over central, western and northern Iraq to a single entity suggested an enormous, centrally directed organization in Iraq called "al-Qaida." But there was never any evidence for such a conclusion, and when Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in May of 2006, the insurgent violence continued without any change in pattern.

In Year 4, as major sectors of Iraq descended into hell, Bush's big lie consisted of denying that the country had fallen into civil war. In late February 2006, Sunni guerrillas blew up the golden-domed Askariya shrine of the Shiites in Samarra. In the aftermath, the Shiites, who had shown some restraint until that point, targeted the Sunni Arabs in Baghdad and its hinterlands for ethnic cleansing. After May 2006, the death toll of victims of sectarian violence rose at times to an official figure of 2,500 or more per month, and it fluctuated around that level for the subsequent year. The Baghdad police had to form a new unit, the Corpse Patrol, to collect dozens of bodies every morning in the streets of the capital.

On Sept. 1, 2006, Sunni guerrillas slaughtered 34 Asian and Iraqi Shiite pilgrims passing near Ramadi on their way to the Shiite holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad. In his weekly radio address the next day Bush said, "Our commanders and diplomats on the ground believe that Iraq has not descended into a civil war." Many lesser conflicts have been dubbed civil wars by journalists, academics and policy thinkers alike. But Bush continued with the fantastic spin: "The people of Baghdad are seeing their security forces in the streets, dealing a blow to criminals and terrorists."

Year 5, the past year, has been one of troop escalation, or the "surge." (Calling the policy a "surge" rather than an "escalation" is emblematic of the administration's propganda.) The big lie is that Iraq is now calm, that the surge has worked, and that victory is within reach.

In early 2007, the U.S. made several risky bargains. It pledged to the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that it would disarm the Sunni Arab guerrillas in Baghdad first, before demanding that the Shiites lay down their arms. It thus induced Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a freeze on the paramilitary activities of his Mahdi army militia. The Americans would go on to destroy some of his Sunni Arab enemies for him. U.S. military leaders in Iraq began paying Sunni Arab Iraqi guerrillas and others in provinces such as al-Anbar to side with the United States and to turn on the foreign jihadis, most of them from Saudi Arabia and North Africa. U.S. troops also began a new counterinsurgency strategy, focused on taking control of Sunni Arab neighborhoods, clearing them of armed guerrillas, and then staying in them on patrol to ensure that the guerrillas did not reestablish themselves.

The strategy of disarming the Sunni Arabs of Baghdad -- who in 2003 constituted nearly half the capital's inhabitants -- had enormous consequences. Shiite militias took advantage of the Sunnis' helplessness to invade their neighborhoods at night, kill some as an object lesson, and chase the Sunnis out. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents were ethnically cleansed in the course of 2007, during the surge, and some two-thirds of the more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees who ended up in Syria were Sunni Arabs. Baghdad, a symbol of past Arab glory and of the Iraqi nation, became at least 75 percent Shiite, perhaps more.

That outcome has set the stage for further Sunni-Shiite conflict to come. Much of the reduction in the civilian death toll is explained by this simple equation: A formerly mixed neighborhood like Shaab, east of the capital, now has no Sunnis to speak of, and so therefore there are no longer Sunni bodies in the street each morning.

But the troop escalation has failed to stop bombings in Baghdad, and the frequency and deadliness of attacks increased in February and March, after falling in January. In the first 10 days of March, official figures showed 39 deaths a day from political violence, up from 29 a day in February, and 20 in January. Assassinations, attacks on police, and bombings continue in Sunni Arab cities such as Baquba, Samarra and Mosul, as well as in Kirkuk and its hinterlands in the north. On Monday, a horrific bombing in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala killed 52 and wounded 75, ruining the timing of Vice President Cheney's and Sen. McCain's visit to Iraq to further declare victory.

Moreover, Turkey made a major incursion into Iraq to punish the guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party from eastern Anatolia, who have in the past seven months killed dozens of Turkish troops. The U.S. media was speaking of "calm" and "a lull" in Iraq violence even while destructive bombs were going off in Baghdad, and Turkey's incursion was resulting in over a hundred deaths. The surge was "succeeding," according to the administration, and therefore no mere attacks by a third country, or bombings by insurgents, could challenge the White House story line.

Bush's five big lies about Iraq powerfully shaped press coverage of the war and have kept the mess there going at least long enough to turn it over to the next president. As he campaigns for the White House, John McCain, Bush's heir apparent in the Iraq propaganda department, has been signaling that "complete victory" in Iraq will be his talking point of choice for Year 6. If the mainstream media and the American public don't wake up to the truth about how the war has gone, they'll find themselves buying into an even longer and deeper tragedy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Reason Why There Is No Need For The America- And Reality-Hating Christofascists

The Inherent Dishonesty Of The Saint

Summary: The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and Reuters reported Sen. John McCain's claim that his trip overseas is unrelated to his presidential campaign without noting that McCain's trip includes a fundraiser in London or that McCain campaign representatives have reportedly acknowledged the political strategy behind the trip.

In articles noting Sen. John McCain's weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe, The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and Reuters reported McCain's claim that the trip is unrelated to his presidential campaign without noting that McCain's trip includes a fundraiser in London or that McCain campaign representatives have reportedly acknowledged the political strategy behind the trip. By contrast, reports by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post juxtaposed McCain's claim that his trip was not a campaign event with the fact that he will be holding the London fundraiser.

In a March 15 "The Week Ahead" article, The Wall Street Journal reported that McCain is "tak[ing] an overseas detour from the campaign trail this weekend to the Middle East and Europe. The Arizona senator says he is doing it as a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He insists this isn't a campaign trip." While the article then asked, "How could it not be?" it went on to state: "Sen. McCain is adamant that he will keep the focus on national security and won't talk politics but 'understands the charge' that some people will still see this as a campaign trip."

Similarly, a March 16 Reuters report stated that McCain is visiting Iraq "as a member of a fact-finding mission for the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee" and noted that "McCain, who will be the Republican choice in November's presidential election, and Senate allies Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham will also visit Israel, Britain and France." The report also stated: "While acknowledging that leaders like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy might see the trip as a chance to size him up as a potential president, McCain has said he is not travelling as a candidate."

A March 16 AP report on McCain's arrival in Baghdad likewise uncritically reported McCain's denial that his weeklong trip was campaign-related: "Before leaving, McCain said the trip to the Middle East and Europe was a fact-finding venture, not a campaign photo opportunity."

By contrast, in a March 15 article, the Los Angeles Times noted McCain's plans to hold a fundraiser:

McCain has stressed that it will be a routine Senate trip focused on military and security issues and that he will not discuss presidential politics during his travels.

The campaign, however, will hold a luncheon fundraiser for McCain at London's Spencer House on Thursday.

The Washington Post also reported March 15 that "McCain plans to hold a fundraiser in London on Thursday, and costs associated with it will be paid for by the campaign, a spokeswoman said."

Also, on the March 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, congressional correspondent Dana Bash reported that McCain "advisers tell CNN" that the purpose of McCain's overseas trip is to "stay[] in the headlines" and promote the "imagery of a leader comfortable on the world stage":

BASH: McCain's biggest challenge now is staying in the headlines. Knowing that, his advisers tell CNN they have a series of events planned to try.

First, travel abroad. Later this month, McCain will go to Europe and meet with key allies and also go to the Middle East.

McCAIN: I've spent my entire life addressing national security issues.

BASH: The goal: not just words, but imagery of a leader comfortable on the world stage, hoping it provides a contrast to the Democrats' political brawl.

From the March 15 Wall Street Journal article, headlined "McCain Trip May Enhance Perceived Foreign-Policy Edge":

John McCain takes an overseas detour from the campaign trail this weekend to the Middle East and Europe. The Arizona senator says he is doing it as a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He insists this isn't a campaign trip.

How could it not be?

With the Democratic nomination still hotly contested, most of the media attention these days goes to Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Sen. McCain's trip, including a stop in Iraq, puts him back in the limelight. And in precisely the mode he wants.


Sen. McCain is adamant that he will keep the focus on national security and won't talk politics but "understands the charge" that some people will still see this as a campaign trip. He points to his regular trips overseas, including seven other visits to Iraq, as proof that this is only more of the same. Even so, this will be Sen. McCain's first trip as a general-election contender and will likely be received differently by world leaders and U.S. allies.

From the March 16 Reuters report:

McCain, who will be the Republican choice in November's presidential election, and Senate allies Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham will also visit Israel, Britain and France.

Analysts see the trip as a chance for McCain to show off his knowledge of foreign policy and military affairs while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight out a bitter Democratic nomination process at home.

While acknowledging that leaders like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy might see the trip as a chance to size him up as a potential president, McCain has said he is not travelling as a candidate.

From the March 16 AP report:

McCain, a strong supporter of the U.S. military mission in Iraq, is believed to be staying in the country for about 24 hours.

"Senator McCain is in Iraq and will be meeting with Iraqi and U.S. officials," said Mirembe Nantongo, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

This is the senator's eighth visit to Iraq. He's accompanied by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Before leaving, McCain said the trip to the Middle East and Europe was a fact-finding venture, not a campaign photo opportunity.

The senator last met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the Thanksgiving holiday.


McCain's weeklong trip also includes stops in Israel, Jordan, Britain and France.

He is expected to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the first time, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the third time. He met and corresponded with Sarkozy both before and after the French president was elected. They last saw each other last summer.

Something To Ponder

That is, I'm running this, but I don't know that I, um, buy it....
Spitzer's lynching and the bankers' enriching are intimately tied.

How? Follow the money.

The press has swallowed Wall Street's line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn't afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That's blaming the victim.

Here's what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the 'sub-prime' mortgage and it's variants including loans with teeny "introductory" interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called 'Countrywide' became America's top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chuck of these 'sub-prime.'

Here's how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 a month payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain't worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the "discount" they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is 'sub-prime.' Guess. No peeking. Here's a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren't stupid – they had no choice. They were 'steered' as it's called in the mortgage sharking business.

'Steering,' sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called 'fraudulent conveyance' or 'predatory lending' under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hardy – it was OK now to steer'm, fake'm, charge'm and take'm.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush's regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of "federal pre-emption," Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer's investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush's banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup's Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called "securitization."

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinnings, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into "tranches" of bonds which were stamped "AAA" - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide's top man, Angelo Mozilo, will 'earn' a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide's stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That's Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning's house. There was no 'quid' of a foreclosure moratorium for the 'pro quo' of public bail-out. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo's Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company's stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, 'The Sheriff of Wall Street' was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, "Take him down today!" Naw, that's not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was "Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer" - made clear to Bush's enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn't Bin Laden.

It was the night of February 13 when Spitzer made the bone-headed choice to order take-out in his Washington Hotel room. He had just finished signing these words for the Washington Post about predatory loans:

"Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which he federal government was turning a blind eye."

Bush, said Spitzer right in the headline, was the "Predator Lenders' Partner in Crime." The President, said Spitzer, was a fugitive from justice. And Spitzer was in Washington to launch a campaign to take on the Bush regime and the biggest financial powers on the planet.

Spitzer wrote, "When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners the Bush administration will not be judged favorably."

But now, the Administration can rest assured that this love story – of Bush and his bankers - will not be told by history at all – now that the Sheriff of Wall Street has fallen on his own gun.

A note on "Prosecutorial Indiscretion."

Back in the day when I was an investigator of racketeers for government, the federal prosecutor I was assisting was deciding whether to launch a case based on his negotiations for airtime with 60 Minutes. I'm not allowed to tell you the prosecutor's name, but I want to mention he was recently seen shouting, "Florida is Rudi country! Florida is Rudi country!"

Not all crimes lead to federal bust or even public exposure. It's up to something called "prosecutorial discretion."

Funny thing, this 'discretion.' For example, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, paid Washington DC prostitutes to put him diapers (ewww!), yet the Senator was not exposed by the US prosecutors busting the pimp-ring that pampered him.
Naming and shaming and ruining Spitzer – rarely done in these cases - was made at the 'discretion' of Bush's Justice Department.

Or maybe we should say, 'indiscretion.'

Weird Viddie

Life In These Corporatist United States

The freedom of intellectual investigation and knowledge....
Sender: Smith, Ed [address redacted]
Subject: Sequoia Advantage voting machines from New Jersey
Date: Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 6:16 PM

Dear Professors Felten and Appel:

As you have likely read in the news media, certain New Jersey election officials have stated that they plan to send to you one or more Sequoia Advantage voting machines for analysis. I want to make you aware that if the County does so, it violates their established Sequoia licensing Agreement for use of the voting system. Sequoia has also retained counsel to stop any infringement of our intellectual properties, including any non-compliant analysis. We will also take appropriate steps to protect against any publication of Sequoia software, its behavior, reports regarding same or any other infringement of our intellectual property.

Very truly yours,
Edwin Smith
VP, Compliance/Quality/Certification
Sequoia Voting Systems

More here.

Enough With Bear Stearns; Here's The Sub-Prime Homeless In L.A.

Even At The End Of Their Regime, Our Leaders Can't Stop With Their Delusional Lies

Speaking at a press conference in Baghdad he held after a meeting with Iraqi leaders, Cheney told the assembled reporters, "If you look back on those five years it has been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor ... and it has been well worth the effort."

Also on Monday, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a crowd of Shiite Iraqis at a mosque near Karbala. At least 32 people were killed and an additional 51 were wounded, according to one report. Four attacks in Baghdad killed a total of four people and wounded 13.

Mickey Mouse Attacks Japan

In 1934.

The Genius Of Our Leaders; How They Do It: They Wing It

Yes, why plan, when (like Beloved Leader), you can act impetuously?
When President Bush convened a meeting of his National Security Council on May 22, 2003, his special envoy in Iraq made a statement that caught many of the participants by surprise. In a video presentation from Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III informed the president and his aides that he was about to issue an order formally dissolving Iraq’s Army.

The decree was issued the next day.

The broad outlines of the decision are now widely known, defended by proponents as necessary to ensure that Saddam Hussein’s influence did not outlive his ouster from power.

But with the fifth anniversary of the start of the war approaching, some participants have provided in interviews their first detailed, on-the-record accounts of a decision that is widely seen as one of the most momentous and contentious of the war, assailed by critics as all but ensuring that American forces would face a growing insurgency led by embittered Sunnis who led much of the army.

The account that emerges from those interviews, and from access to previously unpublished documents, makes clear that Mr. Bremer’s decree reversed an earlier plan — one that would have relied on the Iraqi military to help secure and rebuild the country, and had been approved at a White House meeting that Mr. Bush convened just 10 weeks earlier.

The interviews show that while Mr. Bush endorsed Mr. Bremer’s plan in the May 22 meeting, the decision was made without thorough consultations within government, and without the counsel of the secretary of state or the senior American commander in Iraq, said the commander, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan. The decree by Mr. Bremer, who is known as Jerry, prompted bitter infighting within the government and the military, with recriminations continuing to this day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

More On Iraq's DPs

The Journal again:
Five years ago, Enas Abood exulted over Saddam Hussein's overthrow from her comfortable three-story home. Her husband found a job with the U.S. military and started bringing home a handsome paycheck, along with American candy for their son.

"We started to see a light at the end of tunnel," says Ms. Abood. "But this light did not last for long."

As the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion approaches this Wednesday, she and her three children live in a shabby rental in a Baghdad slum. Ms. Abood often goes hungry to feed her kids and survives on handouts. Her husband, unhappy and unemployed, took off two months ago. She hasn't seen him since.

America's decision to topple Saddam Hussein has left Iraqis a people uprooted. Iraq's Ministry of Health estimates that 180,000 Iraqis have been killed; other estimates put the numbers much higher.

But far more common still is Ms. Abood's journey from middle-class prosperity to transient poverty, reflecting the life-shattering disappointment that many Iraqis now see as the legacy of the war. An estimated four million Iraqis -- over 14% of the country's population -- have been displaced inside Iraq or to neighboring countries, largely due to the chaotic aftermath of the American-led invasion that began on March 19, 2003.

Prior to the invasion, about one million Iraqis were internally displaced by conflicts and by policies of Saddam Hussein to move certain ethnic groups. But aid agencies say more than two million citizens are now displaced inside the country, largely because of sectarian violence -- infighting between the Sunni and Shia Muslim sects -- or fighting between insurgents and U.S. troops. About 60% of the displaced are children.

Others have fled the country altogether, with some two million refugees living in neighboring Jordan and Syria alone. As foreign governments face mounting social pressures from the influx, they are tightening visa rules and sending many back to Iraq, where many refugees no longer have homes.

Everything Old Is Indeed New Again

More Manson family killings??

Tibet Now

Far too long a post to do anything more with than to give you the link. So click and go!

Xeni's on it like the Big Media isn't (they are noting it but somewhat casually).

And read the note so what Our Leaders have done to help (hint: Give Beijing a pass).

Freedom In Our Closest Ally, The U.K.

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

But it should OK with the poorly-fed Brits 'cause they've already been fingerprinting the little buggers, wot?
Junior education minister Lord Adonis defended some schools' use of biometric data for the attendance register, and access to meals and libraries.

He said fingerprints were destroyed once pupils left the school, and were only taken with parents' consent.

But Lib Dem, Tory and crossbench peers criticised the practice as intrusive, alarming and "completely astonishing".

For the Lib Dems, Baroness Walmsley said: "The practice of fingerprinting in schools has been banned in China as being too intrusive and an infringement of children's rights. Yet here it is widespread."


Crossbencher Baroness Howe said: "Most people would be somewhat alarmed by the idea of having fingerprints taken and would have connected it with criminal offences."

A Tory peer, Baroness Carnegy, asked Lord Adonis: "Are you not concerned that the impression children are going to get of what it is to live in a free country and what it is to be British if, in order to get the right school meals, they can have fingerprints taken? It seems to me completely astonishing."

Another SIgn Of Our Leaders' (Lack Of) Success In Iraq: A Nation Of Homeless, Displaced People

Via The Wall Street Journal (so important, I'm abusing its copyright):

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Homeland Security

There was a heavy police presence surrounding the site of the hearings -- the campus of a local college in Silver Springs, Maryland. Snipers watched from rooftops, a mobile command post was set up and cops outnumbered protesters 2-1.

And who was all this protection for, what was the grave threat to the "homeland"?

Iraqi vets giving testimony about abuses.

Obviously, there was a need for a chilling effect on the speakers. A little reminder, perhaps, of what they had been over there fighting for.

Freedom of speech: it was great while it lasted.

American Justice

On February 25th, I posted a notice about my friend Kevin, a prison inmate. (

Kevin is very interested in trying to better himself. A while back, I sent him a few books, including a dictionary and a grammar book, from (I've been sending prisoners books via Amazon for years.) I couldn't find the grammar book I use (it's out of print), so I took a chance on one called Painless Grammar. He loved it! They also sent Kevin one of their brochures, which listed some of the other books in the Painless series. There were three that especially interested him: Painless Writing, Painless Reading Comprehension, and Painless Poetry.

I got a call from Kevin tonight. He told me that the prison authorities had declared the books contraband. They refused to give him any reason why they considered these books so dangerous and subversive.

Fair. Balanced. Faux News Is Not The Only Sinner. Try All Of Big Journalism

Can't hit an easy target if you make no effort to.
Media ignore McCain's finances after obsessing over Dems'

If you've been watching MSNBC lately, you've probably heard that Hillary Clinton hasn't made her tax returns public.

Here's Andrea Mitchell: "I mean, where are the tax returns?" And Dan Abrams: "Not releasing tax returns does beg the question, 'Is there something to hide?' " Chris Matthews: "Will you commit ... to release her tax returns before the election in Pennsylvania which is so pivotal for you? ... So we'll get the results before we vote." And Tucker Carlson: "I'm still baffled as to why Senator Clinton hasn't released her tax returns."

Carlson, the soon-to-be-former host of the eponymous (and, as of tomorrow morning, defunct) show Tucker, has not only been baffled, he has been positively obsessed:

CARLSON, MARCH 6: "Senator Clinton claims she's too busy to release her tax returns. ... The reality is she wants to keep this information hidden from the voters of Wyoming, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. And they ought to wonder why."
CARLSON, FEBRUARY 25: "Frank Rich makes the point, if we are that biased against Hillary Clinton, we'd be asking to see her tax returns."
CARLSON, FEBRUARY 22: "It has never made sense to me why Mrs. Clinton doesn't release her tax returns."
CARLSON, FEBRUARY 13: "I want to see her tax returns. I want specific tax returns. ... I want to see specific tax returns. ... And we always see them. Why can't we see her[s]? ... I want to see her tax return. ... Is there a reason she's not -- we're not seeing it? ... [I]n order to know where the money is coming from, I think it's fair to see her tax return. That's why Obama has released his. That's why every candidate has and she hasn't."
Tucker's assertion that "every candidate" other than Clinton has released his tax returns isn't quite right. John McCain hasn't released his tax returns, either.

Not that you would know that from watching MSNBC. According to Nexis, there hasn't been a single mention on MSNBC this year of the fact that McCain hasn't released his tax returns. No indication that McCain might even pay taxes, much less that he hasn't released his returns.

Even when Republican strategists appear as guests on MSNBC, they get asked about the fact that Clinton hasn't released her returns -- but not about the fact that McCain hasn't, either.

On March 1, Tim Russert asked Mary Matalin about Clinton: "Mary Matalin, I asked Hillary Clinton about her $5 million loan to her campaign. And I said because of that, would she release her tax returns? She and her husband have a joint return. He's had a lot of overseas dealings. And isn't it fair for voters to know exactly where he got his money from? So, I mean, she said, well, we're going to put them out if I'm the nominee, maybe before. But clearly doesn't want to release her tax return." Matalin -- quite predictably -- responded by saying that Clinton "will not be able to get away with this" and that "it is emblematic of her candidacy and what people don't like about her and what they are done with. They want transparency."

Now, keep in mind: Mary Matalin is a Republican strategist, and Tim Russert just invited her to attack Hillary Clinton. That's bad enough; given Tim Russert's well-cultivated reputation for tough questioning, you might have expected him to challenge Matalin's criticism of Democrats rather than encouraging them.

But Russert had a chance to redeem himself, and failed. Given that Republican strategist Mary Matalin had just said that Clinton's failure to release her tax returns conflicts with the public's desire for "transparency," Tim Russert could have followed up by asking her why that isn't also true of de facto Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Russert could have done that -- it would have been the most obvious thing in the world to do -- but he didn't. Mary Matalin was spared the difficulty of having to explain why Hillary Clinton's lack of disclosure of her tax returns reflects badly on her, but the same is not true of John McCain. And MSNBC viewers were kept blissfully unaware that McCain hasn't released his returns.

MSNBC has by no means been unique in keeping secret the fact that John McCain hasn't released his tax returns. Media Matters has repeatedly documented media raising Clinton's lack of disclosure without mentioning McCain's -- see here, here, here, and here for examples. During a March 5 online discussion, Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman wrote, "I think McCain has" released his tax returns. Weisman was wrong. Not only hasn't McCain released his taxes, he hasn't even promised to do so in the future, as Clinton has. But it's hard to blame Weisman for not knowing this, given that the rest of the news media were all but ignoring the subject.

What makes the media's silence about John McCain's tax returns all the more glaring is that those returns are directly relevant to one of McCain's central campaign messages. We'll come back to that in a moment.

Remember how reporters justified their obsession with John Edwards' expensive haircut and house last year, back when they were reminding us of these things at every opportunity -- and, all too often, inventing opportunities to do so? Edwards' haircut was important, reporters gravely told us, because it demonstrated hypocrisy, given the presidential candidate's focus on things like expanding access to health care and fighting poverty. This was a transparently silly argument -- Edwards would, indeed, have been a hypocrite if he had been saying people should not be rich while being rich himself. But that wasn't what he was saying; he wasn't saying people shouldn't be rich, he was saying people shouldn't be poor.

Nevertheless, journalists insisted over and over again that Edwards was guilty of hypocrisy for taking a policy position that was (allegedly, but not really) inconsistent with his personal wealth.

In doing so, they set a clear (if inanely applied, in Edwards' case) standard: Candidates' finances are relevant in assessing their policy proposals.

Ok, then -- back to John McCain.

In 2001, John McCain voted against President Bush's tax cuts, noting that they were skewed toward the wealthy. In a Senate floor statement, McCain explained that he could not "in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief."

But now, John McCain supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent rather than allowing them to expire, as they are scheduled to do under current law. Now, John McCain runs around saying things like, "The Democrats have already ... told us they will increase our taxes."

Who do you think McCain means when he says "our"?

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both made clear that they would roll back the Bush tax cuts only for the super-wealthy; Obama has said only "the top 1 percent" would be affected, and Clinton has said she would roll back the tax cuts only for "people making more than $250,000 a year."

So, for the overwhelming majority of Americans -- those making less than about $250,000 per year -- Clinton and Obama would not roll back the Bush tax cuts.

Indeed, McCain himself has previously acknowledged that the Bush tax cuts unfairly benefited the wealthy. So, when he says the Democrats would "increase our taxes," maybe that's who he is referring to. Indeed, Money magazine estimates John McCain's net worth at $40 million.

If the media were to apply the same standards to John McCain that they applied to John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, they would report (endlessly) that John McCain, a very rich man, is embracing tax cuts that even John McCain has said unfairly benefit the very rich. And they would be demanding that he release his tax returns so voters could see how much money John McCain would personally save under McCain's tax plan.

Where once we saw articles comparing the cost of John Edwards' haircut with those available at small-town barbershops, we would see news reports comparing the amount the typical family saved under the Bush tax cuts with John McCain's savings.

John McCain has acknowledged that the Bush tax cuts he now wants to extend unfairly line the pockets of superrich people like ... John McCain. Under the rules the news media applied to John Edwards, that kind of self-enriching flip-flop would be big news, and would be repeated over and over again.

But the news media -- McCain's "base" -- don't treat him the way they treat other (particularly Democratic) candidates. And so you probably haven't heard or read a word -- not a single word -- about John McCain's wealth during a news report about his tax policies. Indeed, you probably haven't heard or read a word about his wealth during any news report.

Certainly not during the recent wave of reporters gushing over McCain after he hosted them for a March 2 barbeque at his Arizona "cabin."

The Arizona Republic described it as a "rustic cabin"; National Public Radio described it as a "weekend cabin"; The New York Times called it McCain's "cabin near Sedona, Ariz."; the Associated Press called it a "cabin"; and The Washington Post -- which devoted two articles to the barbeque -- agreed that it is a "rustic cabin."

If a presidential candidate cooking outdoors at his "rustic cabin" conjures images of Abraham Lincoln and a modest log cabin, that is no doubt fine with McCain.

But McCain's "cabin" isn't quite like what you might imagine a "rustic cabin" to be. For one thing, there's a pool. For another, the cabin has a guest house and has been featured in Architectural Digest.

Now, there's nothing wrong with the fact that John McCain's cabin is so luxurious that it has a guest house out by the pool. Good for John McCain. But given the media mockery of John Edwards and John Kerry for their expensive homes, it's a little odd to see McCain's lavish home described so modestly as a "rustic cabin." Edwards and Kerry were lambasted as out-of-touch elites in part because of their houses; McCain's is described in the most favorable possible terms.

Kerry, of course, wasn't just mocked for living in a large house; journalists went out of their way to point out that his wife owns the house. There was Tucker Carlson on CNN saying "Kerry wants to mortgage his wife's house in Boston for a campaign loan." And The New York Times emphasized that Kerry was scheduled "to fly to his wife's house in western Pennsylvania." And Fox's Carl Cameron: "Kerry mortgaged the Beacon Hill mansion his wife purchased for them 10 years ago and loaned his campaign $6 million."

Well, guess who owns John McCain's "rustic cabin" -- the one with the guest house and the pool? Cindy McCain, the wealthy and politically connected Arizona beer heiress McCain married shortly after leaving his first wife, and just in time to move to Arizona to run for Congress.

If the media applied to John McCain the standards they have applied to Democratic presidential candidates over the years, they would report constantly on his personal financial interest in the tax plan he now advocates and once denounced as skewed toward the wealthy. They would clamor for the release of his tax returns. They would mock him for living in an estate with a pool and a guest house -- and then mock him some more for having married into money.

But, as has long been clear, the media do not cover John McCain the way they have covered countless Democratic presidential candidates. And so they don't say a word about his personal wealth. They remain silent about his tax returns. And they refer to his "rustic cabin."

Rumors of the "end of the affair" between McCain and the press have been greatly exaggerated. As Joe Scarborough, the conservative host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, has said of the national press corps, "I think every last one of them would move to Massachusetts and marry John McCain if they could."

But for the curious, insight into the Saint family's wealth in 2006 is here.