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Monday, August 31, 2009

Tell Verizon Wireless: Get out of bed with anti-environment extremists.

Tell Verizon Wireless: Get out of bed with anti-environment extremists.

Why is Verizon Wireless co-sponsoring a pro-coal, anti-environment rally on Labor Day?

It's called the Friends of America Rally and over 25,000 people have already RSVPed to attend a political event to promote climate change denial and mountaintop removal mining.

Massey Energy, a dirty coal company and the most egregious violator of the Clean Water Act in history, is the moving force behind the event.

The rally features speeches by prominent global warming denier Lord Christopher Monckton and conservative pundit Sean Hannity. Ted Nugent will provide musical entertainment.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, issued his invitation to the rally via a video onYouTube. In it he says:

"Hello I'm Don Blankenship and I'd like to invite you to a Labor Day rally in West Virginia. We're going to have Hank Williams and have a good time but we're also going to learn how environmental extremists and corporate America are both trying to destroy your jobs."

We are not making this up. For more information read check out this blog post from our friends at The Nation.

Companies like Verizon Wireless may say they are not making a political statement when they participate in events like these. But it's never just about marketing. After all this is the same company that made a decision to block NARAL Pro-Choice America's text messages from its network. Verizon Wireless has choices. And once again, it's made a very poor one.

Tell Lowell McAdam, President and CEO of Verizon Wireless to issue a public apology and immediately withdraw all support from this extremist, anti-environmental rally.

Sign the petition

Bill Moyers says Obama Must Fight, Not Finesse

Bill Moyers says Obama Must Fight, Not Finesse

"This is a party that has told its progressives — who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform — to sit down and shut up. That's what Rahm Emanuel, in effect, the chief of staff of the White House, told progressives when they stood up as a unit in Congress and said, no public insurance option, no health care reforms."

Award-Winning Journalist Disses Dems as 'Spineless'

by Patrick Gavin

PBS's Bill Moyers issued a tough critique of the Democratic Party on Friday night on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

[Bill Moyers has been a frequent critic of the Republican Party over the years, making his critique of the Democratic Party on 'Real Time' more exceptional.  (Photo: AP) ]Bill Moyers has been a frequent critic of the Republican Party over the years, making his critique of the Democratic Party on 'Real Time' more exceptional. (Photo: AP)
Moyers, whose comments focused on the recent health care debate, said that "too many Democrats have had their spines surgically removed."

Moyers, a White House press secretary during the Johnson administration who went on to win over 30 Emmys and countless other awards during his subsequent journalism career, has been a frequent critic of the Republican Party over the years, making his critique of the Democratic Party on "Real Time" more exceptional.

"The problem is the Democratic Party," said Moyers. "This is a party that has told its progressives — who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform — to sit down and shut up. That's what Rahm Emanuel, in effect, the chief of staff of the White House, told progressives when they stood up as a unit in Congress and said, no public insurance option, no health care reforms."

Moyers said that, over the years, the Democratic Party "has become like the Republican party — deeply influenced by corporate money."

"I think Rahm Emanuel, who is a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama's reelection would come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry and Wall Street, and so he is a corporate Democrat who is destined, determined that there would be something in this legislation — if we get it — that will turn off those powerful interests."

Moyers had some advice for President Barack Obama, as well.

"There's a fear that Barack Obama will become the Grover Cleveland of this era," said Moyers. Grover Cleveland was a good man, but he became a conservative Democratic president because he didn't fight the interests. ... I would much rather see Barack Obama be Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt loved to fight. He came into office and railed against the malefactors of great wealth, and he was glad to take them on. ...

"I think if Obama fought, instead of finessed so much, he stood up and declared for what is really the right thing to do and what is really needed instead of negotiating the corners away, instead of talking about bending the curve, and talking about actuarial rates, if he were to stand up and say, 'We need this because we're a decent country', I think it would change the atmosphere."

Moyers said that conservatives have dominated the debate over health care lately. "In the last few weeks, the right wing has been winning the debate. How [Obama] lost control of the narrative, I don't understand. Well, yes, I do. He didn't find the right metaphors, as you were just saying, and he didn't speak in simple powerful moral language. He was speaking like a policy wonk to the world of Washington, not a country of people who are hurting. ...

"Here's the party that lost and the conservative movement that was discredited over the last eight years .... They're setting the agenda for a Democratic Party that controls the White House, the Senate and the House. Something's wrong in that."

Pure Methane Is Bubbling Up in Far North

Climate Trouble May Be Bubbling Up in Far North

Pure methane, gas bubbling up from underwater vents, escaping into northern skies, adds to the global-warming gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And pure methane escaping in the massive amounts known to be locked in the Arctic permafrost and seabed would spell a climate catastrophe.

MACKENZIE RIVER DELTA, Northwest Territories — Only a squawk from a sandhill crane broke the Arctic silence — and a low gurgle of bubbles, a watery whisper of trouble repeated in countless spots around the polar world.

"On a calm day, you can see 20 or more `seeps' out across this lake," said Canadian researcher Rob Bowen, sidling his small rubber boat up beside one of them. A tossed match would have set it ablaze.

"It's essentially pure methane."

Pure methane, gas bubbling up from underwater vents, escaping into northern skies, adds to the global-warming gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And pure methane escaping in the massive amounts known to be locked in the Arctic permafrost and seabed would spell a climate catastrophe.

Is such an unlocking under way?

Researchers say air temperatures here in northwest Canada, in Siberia and elsewhere in the Arctic have risen more than 2.5 C (4.5 F) since 1970 — much faster than the global average. The summer thaw is reaching deeper into frozen soil, at a rate of 4 centimeters (1.5 inches) a year, and a further 7 C (13 F) temperature rise is possible this century, says the authoritative, U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In 2007, air monitors detected a rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere, apparently from far northern sources. Russian researchers in Siberia expressed alarm, warning of a potential surge in the powerful greenhouse gas, additional warming of several degrees, and unpredictable consequences for Earth's climate.

Others say massive seeps of methane might take centuries. But the Russian scenario is disturbing enough to have led six U.S. national laboratories last year to launch a joint investigation of rapid methane release. And IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri in July asked his scientific network to focus on "abrupt, irreversible climate change" from thawing permafrost.

The data will come from teams like one led by Scott Dallimore, who with Bowen and others pitched tents here on the remote, boggy fringe of North America, 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) from the North Pole, to learn more about seeps in the 25,000 lakes of this vast river delta.

A "puzzle," Dallimore calls it.

"Many factors are poorly studied, so we're really doing frontier science here," the Geological Survey of Canada scientist said. "There is a very large storehouse of greenhouse gases within the permafrost, and if that storehouse of greenhouse gases is fluxing to the surface, that's important to know. And it's important to know if that flux will change with time."

Permafrost, tundra soil frozen year-round and covering almost one-fifth of Earth's land surface, runs anywhere from 50 to 600 meters (160 to 2,000 feet) deep in this region. Entombed in that freezer is carbon — plant and animal matter accumulated through millennia.

As the soil thaws, these ancient deposits finally decompose, attacked by microbes, producing carbon dioxide and — if in water — methane. Both are greenhouse gases, but methane is many times more powerful in warming the atmosphere.

Researchers led by the University of Florida's Ted Schuur last year calculated that the top 3 meters (10 feet) of permafrost alone contain more carbon than is currently in the atmosphere.

"It's safe to say the surface permafrost, 3 to 5 meters, is at risk of thawing in the next 100 years," Schuur said by telephone from an Alaska research site. "It can't stay intact."

Methane also is present in another form, as hydrates — ice-like formations deep underground and under the seabed in which methane molecules are trapped within crystals of frozen water. If warmed, the methane will escape.

Dallimore, who has long researched hydrates as energy sources, believes a breakdown of such huge undersea formations may have produced conical "hills" found offshore in the Beaufort Sea bed, some of them 40 meters (more than 100 feet) high.

With underwater robots, he detected methane gas leaking from these seabed features, which resemble the strange hills ashore here that the Inuvialuit, or Eskimos, call "pingos." And because the coastal plain is subsiding and seas are rising from warming, more permafrost is being inundated, exposed to water warmer than the air.

The methane seeps that the Canadians were studying in the Mackenzie Delta, amid grassy islands, steel-gray lakes and summertime temperatures well above freezing, are saucer-like indentations just 10 meters (30 feet) or so down on the lake bed.

The ultimate source of that gas — hydrates, decomposition or older natural gas deposits — is unclear, but Dallimore's immediate goal is quantifying the known emissions and finding the unknown.

With tent-like, instrument-laden enclosures they positioned over two seeps, each several meters (yards) wide, the researchers have determined they are emitting methane at a rate of up to 0.6 cubic meters (almost 1 cubic yard) per minute.

Dallimore's team is also monitoring the seeps with underwater listening devices, to assess whether seasonal change — warming — affects the emissions rate.

Even if the lake seeps are centuries old, Bowen said, the question is, "Will they be accelerated by recent changes?"

A second question: Are more seeps developing?

To begin answering that, Dallimore is working with German and Canadian specialists in aerial surveying, teams that will fly over swaths of Arctic terrain to detect methane "hot spots" via spectrometric imagery, instruments identifying chemicals by their signatures on the light spectrum.

Research crews are hard at work elsewhere, too, to get a handle on this possible planetary threat.

"I and others are trying to take field observations and get it scaled up to global models," said Alaska researcher Schuur. From some 400 boreholes drilled deep into the tundra worldwide, "we see historic warming of permafrost. Much of it is now around 2 below zero (28 F)," Schuur said.

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft is overflying Alaska this summer with instruments sampling the air for methane and carbon dioxide. In parts of Alaska, scientists believe the number of "thermokarst" lakes — formed when terrain collapses over thawing permafrost and fills with meltwater — may have doubled in the past three decades. Those lakes then expand, thawing more permafrost on their edges, exposing more carbon.

Off Norway's Arctic archipelago of Svalbard last September, British scientists reported finding 250 methane plumes rising from the shallow seabed. They're probably old, scientists said, but only further research can assess whether they're stable. In March, Norwegian officials did say methane levels had risen on Svalbard.

Afloat above the huge, shallow continental shelf north of Siberia, Russian researchers have detected seabed "methane chimneys" sending gas bubbling up to the surface, possibly from hydrates.

Reporting to the European Geophysical Union last year, the scientists, affiliated with the University of Alaska and the Russian Academy of Sciences, cited "extreme" saturation of methane in surface waters and in the air above. They said up to 10 percent of the undersea permafrost area had melted, and it was "highly possible" that this would open the way to abrupt release of an estimated 50 billion tons of methane.

Depending on how much dissolved in the sea, that might multiply methane in the atmosphere several-fold, boosting temperatures enough to cause "catastrophic greenhouse warming," as the Russians called it. It would be self-perpetuating, melting more permafrost, emitting more methane.

Some might label that alarmism. And Stockholm University researcher Orjan Gustafsson, a partner in the Russians' field work, acknowledged that "the scientific community is quite split on how fast the permafrost can thaw."

But there's no doubt the north contains enough potential methane and carbon dioxide to cause abrupt climate change, Gustafsson said by telephone from Sweden.

Canada's pre-eminent permafrost expert, Chris Burn, has trekked to lonely locations in these high latitudes for almost three decades, meticulously chronicling the changes in the tundra.

On a stopover at the Aurora Research Institute in the Mackenzie Delta town of Inuvik, the Carleton University scientist agreed "we need many, many more field observations." But his teams have found the frozen ground warming down to about 80 meters, and he believes the world is courting disaster in failing to curb warming by curbing greenhouse emissions.

"If we lost just 1 percent of the carbon in permafrost today, we'd be close to a year's contributions from industrial sources," he said. "I don't think policymakers have woken up to this. It's not in their risk assessments."

How likely is a major release?

"I don't think it's a case of likelihood," he said. "I think we are playing with fire."

Afghanistan Strategy Not Working, US Commander McChrystal to Tell Obama

Afghanistan Strategy Not Working, US Commander McChrystal to Tell Obama

by Mark Tran

The current US military strategy in Afghanistan is not working, America's top commander is expected to admit in a review to be presented to Barack Obama in the next few days.

[Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal. McCrystal's report does not mention increasing troop numbers, but the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy.(Photograph: Dennis Cook/AP)]Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal. McCrystal's report does not mention increasing troop numbers, but the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy.(Photograph: Dennis Cook/AP)
According to reports leaked to the BBC, General Stanley McChrystal will liken the US military to a bull charging at the matador-like Taliban and slightly weakened with each "cut" it receives. The review is also expected to confirm that protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban must be the top priority.

US officials have spoken openly about the failing war effort in Afghanistan and McChrystal's report will be a distillation of their strong misgivings. He says the aim should be for Afghan forces to take the lead, but that the Afghan army will not be ready for three years and the police will need longer.

The report does not mention increasing troop numbers, but the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy. Officers in Afghanistan consider much of the effort of the last eight years wasted, with too few troops deployed and many of them placed in the wrong regions and given the wrong orders.

Any recommendation of a troop increase would come against a background of growing scepticism about the war, with the latest Washington Post-ABC news poll showing that 49% of Americans now think the fight in Afghanistan is worthwhile. Obama appointed McChrystal to turn around a war that is sucking in more and more western troops with litte discernible progress against the Taliban, which has proven to be much more resilient and organised than expected.

"Over the next 12 to 15 months, among the things you absolutely, positively have to do is persuade a sceptical American public that this can work, that you have a plan and a strategy that is feasible," Stephen Biddle, a military expert who advises the US-led command in Afghanistan, told the McClatchy-Tribune news service.

Another leading counter-insurgency expert said Afghanistan's government must fight corruption and deliver services to Afghans quickly, because Taliban militants were filling gaps and winning support. The Taliban were already running courts, hospitals and even an ombudsman in parallel to the government, making a real difference to local people, said David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to McChrystal.

"A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being out-governed. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Kilcullen told Australia's National Press Club.

Afghanistan has been in political limbo since the presidential election on 20 August, with partial results so far placing President Hamid Karzai in the lead, but not by enough to avoid a second round against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. The election, which the Taliban failed to disrupt with rocket attacks, has been marred by allegations of fraud with around a third of the votes counted.

Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert covering the elections for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington thinktank, said the Taliban controlled the countryside and had a strong presence even inside cities such as Kandahar and Ghazni.

"Outside the major cities, Afghan administration is non-existent. As President Obama must realise, whether Afghanistan is led by Hamid Karzai or anyone else, the problem for the international coalition is not one of insufficient force; it is insufficient government," Dorronsoro said.

Obama has already sent nearly 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, raising the total of US troops to about 68,000 by the end of the year. In all, Nato has committed about 100,000 troops to the war effort. McChrystal is widely expected to ask for even more forces, as he tries to implement the kind of counter-insurgency strategy that prevented Iraq from descending into all-out civil war two years ago.

While Obama has to wrestle with Afghanistan, there is also renewed concern about Iraq, where suicide bombers have stepped up attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis as political tension mounts ahead of January's elections.

Fires, Floods, and Fahrenheit: A Climate Changing World

Early Warning Systems for the Coming Storm

by Stephen Leahy

GENEVA - Climate change is here. The challenge in Geneva this week is to find ways to help the world cope with a climate that will have more and worse extremes in terms of temperatures, floods, and storms.

[Los Angeles County firefighters battle flames during the Station fire in the Acton area of Los Angeles, California August 30, 2009. More than 2,500 experts and policy-makers from 150 countries are attending the Aug. 31-Sep. 4 World Climate Conference to discuss how to improve weather forecasting and long-range seasonal weather projections, especially to help poor nations in areas such as agriculture. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)]Los Angeles County firefighters battle flames during the Station fire in the Acton area of Los Angeles, California August 30, 2009. More than 2,500 experts and policy-makers from 150 countries are attending the Aug. 31-Sep. 4 World Climate Conference to discuss how to improve weather forecasting and long-range seasonal weather projections, especially to help poor nations in areas such as agriculture. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)
More than 2,500 experts and policy-makers from 150 countries are attending the Aug. 31-Sep. 4 World Climate Conference to discuss how to improve weather forecasting and long-range seasonal weather projections, especially to help poor nations in areas such as agriculture.

"Until now, the way that we deliver climate information to some sectors has been ad hoc. What we need is a formal system that all people can trust to access vital information that can save their lives and protect property and economies," said Michel Jarraud, secretary- general of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which is convening the World Climate Conference this week in Geneva.

The WMO has proposed that a global climate services system be created to boost observations and research for monitoring the climate and new information tools that will provide sector- and regional-specific products and services, Jarraud told IPS.

The first two "World Climate Conferences" in 1979 and 1990 were organised by the WMO and played the key roles in the creation of the U.N. climate secretariat, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This "Global Framework" system could help reduce losses caused by extreme weather and climate events such as heat waves, sandstorms, cyclones, drought and floods which will become more frequent and more intense as the climate continues to warm, he said.

"Extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions affect all of us, frequently resulting in humanitarian disasters and heavy losses," said Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz.

Better precipitation forecasts, hazard maps and early warning systems are crucial to reduce impacts and assist "decision-makers in their respective sectors like food security, water management, health care and tourism", he told delegates at the conference opening.

While people in developed countries take weather forecasting for granted, many regions do not have even basic three-day forecasts.

"All of Africa has fewer working weather stations than tiny Switzerland," said Walter Fust of the Global Humanitarian Forum, a Geneva-based NGO focused on collaborations to overcome key humanitarian challenges.

With more than 70 percent of Africans working in agriculture, access to good weather information is the most important way to help Africa cope with climate change, Fust told IPS.

"The climate has changed, the local people can no longer rely on their traditional knowledge," he stressed.

To overcome this, the Forum has created a Weather Info for All private- public partnership that uses the existing mobile telephone network as weather stations and to SMS the information to farmers. "Africa has at least 60 percent mobile coverage," Fust said.

Launched in June, they plan to install 5,000 automatic weather stations at cell phone tower sites across Africa. The first 19 stations have been deployed in the Lake Victoria region where 5,000 people die every year due to storms and accidents.

"It will only cost 30 million dollars to cover all of Africa," he said. Mobile companies Ericsson and Zain, along with Google, are participants and Fust is hopeful the money will be found to complete the network quickly.

"We often forget the significant human consequences of climate change," he said.

Kofi Annan, president of the Forum, told delegates that it is crucial to recognise that "weather ignores national borders and we need to work together to understand its complexities and challenges".

Coping or adapting to climate change requires high-quality early warning systems because by 2020, up to 250 million people in Africa will face growing shortages of water due to climate change, Gro Harlem Brundtland, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general on climate change, told the conference.

The challenge is to communicate information about what to expect in a more efficient manner to decision makers at all levels, Brundtland said.

In reference to the "other climate conference" later this year in Copenhagen, where the world community hopes to forge an agreement to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change, Brundtland warned that politics was pushing science aside. "Political leaders must be guided by the best available scientific knowledge," she stressed.

"We must mobilise political will at the highest level to act on what the science is telling us," she concluded. And "the science demands that we act boldly".

We Need a Special Prosecutor for Blackwater and Other CIA "Contractors"

Blackwater’s web of connections includes a Who’s Who of former Bush-era CIA officials. And that’s just one company in a sea of “private contractors”

By Jeremy Scahill

Some parts of Blackwater’s clandestine work for the CIA have begun to leak out from behind the iron curtain of secrecy. The company’s role in the secret assassination program and its continued involvement in the CIA drone attacks that occur regularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan have become front page material in the Washington Post and New York Times. There is much more to this story than has been reported publicly and details will continue to emerge, particularly about Blackwater’s aviation division(s).

Now we learn (unsurprisingly) that Blackwater offered “foreign” operatives to work on the CIA assassination program. Blackwater told the CIA that it “could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support — all of the things you need to conduct an operation,” a former senior CIA official familiar with the secret program told The Associated Press. If that’s true, those foreign individuals would appear to have been privy to information that vice president Cheney and other US officials deemed not appropriate for Congressional ears, not to mention oversight.

In light of all of these developments, it is important to remember how Erik Prince essentially hired George W Bush’s top people from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations to create his own private CIA, Total Intelligence Solutions. He also offered Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the former number 3 man at the CIA, a paid position on Blackwater’s board. Buzzy was the guy who got Blackwater its first known CIA contract back in 2002 in Afghanistan. Buzzy is also the one whining about the CIA’s “morale” problem, in light of the recent scandals, in the Washington Post. “Morale at the agency is down to minus 50,” he told the paper.

When you hear reports that a “private” company was hired to do clandestine work, remember that this particular “private” company, Blackwater, is, in part, being run by Agency veterans, including several of the top people running the torture and assassination programs under Bush. At the end of the day, using Blackwater and/or other companies represents taking covert, lethal operations even further away from anything vaguely resembling oversight by the Congress. By using ex-Agency people instead of “current” Agency personnel, yet another barrier is thrown up and the case for “plausible deniability” becomes stronger. When you are dealing with a billionaire like Erik Prince who apparently viewed himself as a crusader tasked with eliminating muslims and Islam globally, as has been alleged by a former Blackwater official, it is not difficult to imagine how all of this could remain—at least in part— off the books. Would it be a great shock if we learn that Prince volunteered some of his men or his company’s time to lethal missions for the CIA free of charge? “I’m not a financially driven guy,” Prince told Congress in October 2007. Take that with a grain of salt, but it is probably not flat out false. He was a believer in the crusade.

That is why it is essential that Congress dig deep into all aspects of the CIA assassination program and Blackwater’s total involvement. But it is important to remember that it is so much bigger than this one company and certainly bigger than one clandestine program.

Also, it is very important to remember this: Blackwater is hardly alone.Salon’s Tim Shorrock obtained documents in 2007 from the office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $17.5 billion in 2000. That means 70 percent of the US intelligence budget is going to private companies. “This is the magnet now. Everything is being attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community,” former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman told me a year ago. “My major concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The entire industry is essentially out of control. It’s outrageous.”

Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a special prosecutor just to examine the role that Blackwater and other “private contractors” have played—from the jump—in the torture program, the extraordinary rendition program and the assassination program to name a few. And it should not be just about the operatives in the field. Who hired Erik Prince’s men? Who authorized these contracts? Who “managed” their operations in the field? What exactly did they do? At Guantanamo, there were contractors involved with torture. Same at Abu Ghraib. Same at Bagram. This all needs to be dismantled and investigated.

Blackwater’s Private Spies: A Bush-era CIA Who’s Who

As for Blackwater’s role, I wrote about Prince’s private CIA last summer for The Nation in a piece called “Blackwater’s Private Spies,” but thought it would be relevant to repost some of what I laid out then because it is extremely relevant to what is happening right now. [One note: Robert Richer recently left Prince’s employ…]. Excerpt:

Total Intelligence, which opened for business in February 2007, is a fusion of three entities bought up by Prince: the Terrorism Research Center, Technical Defense and The Black Group—Blackwater vice chair Cofer Black’s consulting agency. The company’s leadership reads like a Who’s Who of the CIA’s “war on terror” operations after 9/11. In addition to the twenty-eight-year CIA veteran Black, who is chair of Total Intelligence, the company’s executives include CEO Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the agency’s Directorate of Operations and the second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations. From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia Division, where he ran clandestine operations throughout the Middle East and South Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA liaison with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally and Blackwater client, and briefed George W. Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.

Total Intelligence’s chief operating officer is Enrique “Ric” Prado, a twenty-four-year CIA veteran and former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. He spent more than a decade working in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and ten years with the CIA’s “paramilitary” Special Operations Group. Prado and Black worked closely at the CIA. Prado also served in Latin America with Jose Rodriguez, who gained infamy late last year after it was revealed that as director of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA he was allegedly responsible for destroying videotapes of interrogations of prisoners, during which “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, were reportedly used. Richer told the New York Times he recalled many conversations with Rodriguez, about the tapes. “He would always say, ‘I’m not going to let my people get nailed for something they were ordered to do,’” Richer said of his former boss. Before the scandal, there were reports that Blackwater had been “aggressively recruiting” Rodriguez. He has since retired from the CIA.

The leadership of Total Intelligence also includes Craig Johnson, a twenty-seven-year CIA officer who specialized in Central and South America, and Caleb “Cal” Temple, who joined the company straight out of the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he served from 2004 to ‘06 as chief of the Office of Intelligence Operations in the Joint Intelligence Task Force—Combating Terrorism. According to his Total Intelligence bio, Temple directed the “DIA’s 24/7 analytic terrorism target development and other counterterrorism intelligence activities in support of military operations worldwide. He also oversaw 24/7 global counterterrorism indications and warning analysis for the U.S. Defense Department.” The company also boasts officials drawn from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI.

Total Intelligence is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia. Its “Global Fusion Center,” complete with large-screen TVs broadcasting international news channels and computer stations staffed by analysts surfing the web, “operates around the clock every day of the year” and is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorist center, once run by Black. The firm employs at least sixty-five full-time staff—some estimates say it’s closer to 100. “Total Intel brings the…skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room,” Black said when the company launched. “With a service like this, CEOs and their security personnel will be able to respond to threats quickly and confidently—whether it’s determining which city is safest to open a new plant in or working to keep employees out of harm’s way after a terrorist attack.”

Black insists, “This is a completely legal enterprise. We break no laws. We don’t go anywhere near breaking laws. We don’t have to.” But what services Total Intelligence is providing, and to whom, is shrouded in secrecy. It is clear, though, that the company is leveraging the reputations and inside connections of its executives. “Cofer can open doors,” Richer told the Washington Post in 2007. “I can open doors. We can generally get in to see who we need to see. We don’t help pay bribes. We do everything within the law, but we can deal with the right minister or person.” Black told the paper he and Richer spend a lot of their time traveling. “I am discreet in where I go and who I see. I spend most of my time dealing with senior people in governments, making connections.” But it is clear that the existing connections from the former spooks’ time at the agency have brought business to Total Intelligence.

Take the case of Jordan. For years, Richer worked closely with King Abdullah, as his CIA liaison. As journalist Ken Silverstein reported, “The CIA has lavishly subsidized Jordan’s intelligence service, and has sent millions of dollars in recent years for intelligence training. After Richer retired, sources say, he helped Blackwater land a lucrative deal with the Jordanian government to provide the same sort of training offered by the CIA. Millions of dollars that the CIA ‘invested’ in Jordan walked out the door with Richer—if this were a movie, it would be a cross between Jerry Maguire and Syriana. ‘People [at the agency] are pissed off,’ said one source. ‘Abdullah still speaks with Richer regularly, and he thinks that’s the same thing as talking to us. He thinks Richer is still the man.’ Except in this case it’s Richer, not his client, yelling ‘show me the money.’”

In a 2007 interview on the cable business network CNBC, Black was brought on as an analyst to discuss “investing in Jordan.” At no point in the interview was Black identified as working for the Jordanian government. Total Intelligence was described as “a corporate consulting firm that includes investment strategy,” while “Ambassador Black” was introduced as “a twenty-eight-year veteran of the CIA,” the “top counterterror guy” and “a key planner for the breathtakingly rapid victory of American forces that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan.” Black heaped lavish praise on Jordan and its monarchy. “You have leadership, King Abdullah, His Majesty King Abdullah, who is certainly kind towards investors, very protective,” Black said. “Jordan is, in our view, a very good investment. There are some exceptional values there.” He said Jordan is in a region where there are “numerous commodities that are being produced and doing well.”

With no hint of the brutality behind the exodus, Black argued that the flood of Iraqi refugees fleeing the violence of the US occupation was good for potential investors in Jordan. “We get something like 600, 700,000 Iraqis that have moved from Iraq into Jordan that require cement, furniture, housing and the like. So it is a—it is an island of growth and potential, certainly in that immediate area. So it looks good,” he said. “There are opportunities for investment. It is not all bad. Sometimes Americans need to watch a little less TV…. But there is—there is opportunity in everything. That’s why you need situation awareness, and that’s one of the things that our company does. It provides the kinds of intelligence and insight to provide situational awareness so you can make the best investments.”

Black and other Total Intelligence executives have turned their CIA careers, reputations, contacts and connections into business opportunities. What they once did for the US government, they now do for private interests. It is not difficult to imagine clients feeling as though they are essentially hiring the US government to serve their own interests. In 2007 Richer told the Post that now that he is in the private sector, foreign military officials and others are more willing to give him information than they were when he was with the CIA. Richer recalled a conversation with a foreign general during which he was surprised at the potentially “classified” information the general revealed. When Richer asked why the general was giving him the information, he said the general responded, “If I tell it to an embassy official I’ve created espionage. You’re a business partner.”

Seven Points About Dick Cheney and Torture

Seven Points About Dick Cheney and Torture

A response to Cheney’s pro-torture media blitz.

By Jeremy Scahill

First of all, Dick Cheney has all sorts of nerve purporting to speak in defense of the CIA. His administration outed a senior CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in retaliation for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, exercising his freedom of speech (because he exercised it to criticize the Bush administration’s lie-filled, one-way propaganda train to the Iraq war).

Second, CIA interrogators themselves have said that they believed that Cheney’s torture policy put individual CIA personnel in legal jeopardy. As Greg Sargent has pointed out, on page 94 of the recently released Inspector General’s report, we learn the following:

“During the course of this Review, a number of Agency officers expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action resulting from their participation in the CTC program….One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some “wanted list” to appear before the World Court for war crimes…”

This is not even to mention, in a broader sense, the risk to any US personnel that possibly ended up in “enemy” hands where captors of US prisoners could justify their own acts of torture by pointing to US tactics.

Third, Dick Cheney showed utter contempt for the CIA when he went not once, not twice, but more than a dozen times to Langley to pressure analysts to fit intelligence to his political agenda. He and his top aide Scooter Libby were “attempting to pressure analysts on the subject of weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, according to Vincent Cannistraro, a former counterterrorism chief at the CIA. So when Cheney talks about being “offended as hell,” let’s remember how much faith Cheney had in the CIA in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. I’m sure the CIA analysts who he tried to manipulate were “offended as hell” by Cheney’s actions. “The visits were, in fact, unprecedented,” wrote Ray McGovern, who was vice president George HW Bush’s national security briefer. “During my 27-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, no vice president ever came to us for a working visit.” Those personal visits were in addition to the ones Cheney received at home. “I enjoyed having the CIA show up on my doorstep every morning, six days a week, with the latest intelligence,” Cheney said on Fox News Sunday.

Fourth, the tactics Cheney apparently loves were a violation of US law, international law and conventions that the US has ratified—including the Convention Against Torture ratified under the militant leftist regime of Ronald Reagan. That dovish draft-dodger who wouldn’t know torture if he endured it for several years, John McCain, pointed out the lawless aspects of Cheney’s torture program on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I think the interrogations were in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the convention against torture that we ratified under President Reagan,” said McCain. “I think these interrogations, once publicized, helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq… I think that the ability of us to work with our allies was harmed. And I believe that information, according go the FBI and others, could have been gained through other members.”

Fifth, there is no evidence—none—to suggest any of this torture produced any actionable intelligence. “I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” Cheney told Sean Hannity back in April on Fox News. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.”

Well, those documents were released last week. Cheney, clearly knowing that many “journalists” apparently wouldn’t bother reading them, was all over the media claiming the documents absolve him and that torture worked. The problem is, they showed nothing of the sort and actually—upon a close read—indicate that techniques that did not involve torture produced better results. Some portions “actually suggest the opposite of Cheney’s contention: that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA’s interrogations,” as Spencer Ackerman observed in the Washington Independent.

Let’s remember: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a blowhard braggart long before he was taken prisoner by the US in March 2003, as Jane Mayer has pointed out. Al Jazeera did not need to waterboard him or put a drill to his head or threaten to rape his wife before he bragged about being the mastermind of 9/11 on the network before being captured. “[T]here’s no evidence that I see in [the declassified documents] that these things were necessary,” observed Mayer. “I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an adviser to them who conceded to me that ‘We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets.’”

Also, Mohammed told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he gave misinformation to US interrogators as well. “During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop,” Mohammed told the ICRC. “I later told the interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order tomake the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.” This raises an unanswerable question: Who knows how many US lives were put at risk because of bad intelligence obtained from torture?

One of the few people that had actually seen the documents to which Cheney was referring before they were released and had the courage to speak up was Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. In May, he said: “I am a member of the Intelligence Committee, and I can tell you that nothing I have seen, including the two documents to which [Cheney] has repeatedly referred, indicates that the torture techniques authorized by the last administration were necessary or that they were the best way to get information out of detainees.” Now that the public has had access to these documents, it is clear, as Feingold said months ago, that Cheney was “misleading the American people.” And, with the cooperation of a lazy and pliant media, Cheney continues to run his own televised miseducation camp. And let’s be honest: It ain’t just Fox News. The Washington Post now appears to be a private little Pravda for Cheney and his tiny group of minions formerly employed by the CIA. “The Post management, it seems, is determined to return to its past practice of acting as stenographers for the CIA’s PR machine,” McGovern, the former CIA analyst, recently wrote.

The role that the media should actually play in all of this was summed up well by Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who rightly points out that the tactics were not limited to waterboarding, but included “threats of rape, of killing children, of blowing cigar smoke into detainee’s faces until they retch, in addition to the power drills and mock executions:”

“We’ve long said that if you televise an execution that will be the end of public support for the death penalty. In a similar way, one hopes that the more the reality of torture is put before the American public, the less support there will be for it. When the issue is presented — as in the earliest leaked torture memos — as a legal abstraction, it’s easier for the public to rationalize the idea that nothing wrong is taking place.”

Sixth, at the end of the day, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the debate about whether torture actually worked is not the central point here:

The debate over whether torture extracted valuable information is, in my view, a total sideshow, both because (a) it inherently begs the question of whether legal interrogation means would have extracted the same information as efficiently if not more so (exactly the same way that claims that warrantless eavesdropping uncovered valuable intelligence begs the question of whether legal eavesdropping would have done so); and (b) torture is a felony and a war crime, and we don’t actually have a country (at least we’re not supposed to) where political leaders are free to commit serious crimes and then claim afterwards that it produced good outcomes. If we want to be a country that uses torture, then we should repeal our laws which criminalize it, withdraw from treaties which ban it, and announce to the world (not that they don’t already know) that, as a country, we believe torture is justifiable and just. Let’s at least be honest about what we are. Let’s explicitly repudiate Ronald Reagan’s affirmation that ”[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever … may be invoked as a justification of torture” and that “[e]ach State Party is required [] to prosecute torturers.”

Seventh, one last point about Dick Cheney and his little toadie Chris Wallace when they talk about how there hasn’t been another attack since 9-11. Remember toadie’s sarcastic words: “I just want to point out to the audience that it is purely coincidental that this country has not been attacked since 9/11.” How about the more than 4,300 US troops that have been killed in Iraq as a result of the Bush-Cheney lie factory? That is more American dead than perished on 9/11. Those young men and women would not have died in Iraq had it not been for the policies of Bush and Cheney.

The Democrats' Selective Amnesia on Assassination: Clinton Did It and Obama Does It Too

The Democrats' Selective Amnesia on Assassination: Clinton Did It and Obama Does It Too

While the focus is on Dick Cheney’s role, the U.S. has long had a bi-partisan assassination program.

By Jeremy Scahill

Members of Congress have expressed outrage over the “secret” CIA assassination program that former vice president Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. But this program—and the media descriptions of it—sounds a lot like the assassination policy implemented by President Bill Clinton, particularly during his second term in office.

Partisan politics often require selective amnesia. Over the past decade, we have seen this amnesia take hold when it comes to many of President Bush’s most vile policies. And we are now seeing a pretty severe case overtake several leading Democrats. It makes for good speechifying to act as though all criminality began with Bush and—particularly these days—Cheney, but that is extreme intellectual dishonesty. The fact is that many of Bush’s worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping.

Regarding the Bush-era assassination program, there is great reason to be skeptical that the program CIA Director Leon Panetta alleges was concealed from Congress is actually the program the public is currently being led to believe it is. Why would the CIA need to conceal a program that never was implemented and, if it never was implemented, why did Panetta need to shut it down? Moreover, who was running this inactive program from the minute Obama was sworn in until June 24 when Panetta supposedly announced its cancellation? This program—as it is currently being described— should hardly be a major scandal to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as some are now treating it. As they well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting “high value targets.” As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, “The CIA runs drones and targets al Qaeda safe houses all the time.” Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and “assassinations” with a gun or a knife.

Now, if it turns out that the actual plan Cheney allegedly concealed is something other than what has been publicly described, that will be a different matter. For instance, if the CIA had a secret post-9/11 program planning assassinations on US soil or of US citizens and it was ordered concealed by Cheney. Or, if it was a plan to target in other ways “enemies of the state” within the U.S. as Seymour Hersh has suggested: “The Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state,” Hersh said in March. “Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.”

Let’s look at the program the Democrats claim was kept secret. The Bush administration reportedly authorized the CIA to use small paramilitary teams to hunt down and assassinate “al Qaeda” leaders around the world. It is currently being reported that this plan was never implemented and was born after 9/11. Both of these assertions are very, very doubtful.

The plan, as currently described in the press and by Democrats, is one that continues to exist under the Obama administration right now. In fact, this program has been part of official U.S. policy—under Democratic and Republican administrations—for decades.

By way of background, there is technically a U.S. ban on assassination that dates back to President Ford in 1976. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states Executive Order 11905. That was then updated by President Carter who dropped the term “political” simply prohibiting “assassination.” The current Executive Order, 12333, was signed by president Reagan in 1981 and has remained on the books through every administration since. What is brutally ironic about Reagan signing this ban was that he authorized repeated assassinations, notably the 1986 attempt on Col. Moammar Gadhafi, which failed to kill Gadhafi but instead killed his infant daughter. But in that brutal apparent contradiction is the truth: the U.S. does not have a ban on assassinations as long as government lawyers can figure out some legal acrobats for the president to use in sidelining the ban. Every president from Reagan to Obama has reserved the right to assassinate kill “terrorists” by claiming it as a military operation or a preemptive strike.

It is pretty clear that when the Bush administration took over, it picked up the Clinton administration’s policy on assassination and ran with it—albeit with more of a missionary zeal for killing and a removal of some of the layers of lawyering. In short, the Bush team expanded and streamlined the longstanding U.S. government assassination program.

Throughout the 1990s, the question of covert assassinations was a source of major discussion within the Clinton White House and it is clear assassinations were attempted with presidential approval. Newsweek magazine reported on how, in 1995, U.S. Special Forces facilitated the assassination of a Libyan “terrorist” in Bosnia, saying, “American authorities justified the assassination under a little-known 1993 ‘lethal finding’ signed by President Bill Clinton that gave permission to target terrorists.” A former senior Clinton official speaking shortly after 9/11 called on the Bush administration not to escalate the U.S. assassination program, saying “We have a war on drugs, too, but we don’t kill drug lords.” But then, with no apparent sense of contradiction, the official added, “we have proxies who do.”

Clinton-era officials’ attempt to hide behind “proxies” is a stunning trampling of the assassination ban as it currently exists. Not only does it ban U.S. government personnel from engaging in or conspiring to engage in “assassination,” it also bans “Indirect Participation,” stating: “No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

The truth is, under Clinton, it wasn’t just proxies authorized to do the assassinations.

The Clinton White House worked for years with the CIA to craft an assassination policy—specifically relating to “al Qaeda” in general and Osama bin-Laden and his top deputies specifically. CIA operatives like Billy Waugh complained in the early and middle years of the Clinton presidencies that they were lawyered to death by Clinton’s attorneys in their attempts to get the green light to kill bin Laden in Sudan. “[I]n the early 1990s we were forced to adhere to the sanctimonious legal counsel and the do-gooders,” recalled Waugh. Among Waugh’s rejected ideas was an alleged plot to kill bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan and dump his body at the Iranian Eembassy in an effort to pin the blame on Tehran. Eventually, however, Clinton did authorize what amounted to assassination squads to hunt down and kill bin Laden and other “al Qaeda leaders.” That happened officially in 1998 with Clinton’s signing of a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to carry out covert assassinations. George W Bush was not the president and Dick Cheney was not the vice president. Of course, current CIA Director Leon Panetta was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1997 and would have been party to years worth of discussion on this issue when Clinton was president.

Under Clinton, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued secret rulings stating that the Ford/Reagan ban on assassinations did not apply to “military targets or “to attacks carried out in preemptive self-defense,” according to Steve Coll, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Ghost Wars.

Shortly after 9/11, Clinton stated this position publicly, supporting the Bush administration’s “war on terror” targeted assassination policy, saying on NBC News, “The ban that was put in effect under President Ford only applies to heads of state. It doesn’t apply to terrorists.” That is a stunning statement that is a true legal stretch given the explicit language of the ban. Moreover, Clinton did, in fact, try to kill a head of state on April 22, 1999, when he ordered a NATO airstrike on the home of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clark also authorized an assassination attempt on Serbian Information Minister, Aleksander Vucic, bombing Radio Television Serbia when Vucic was scheduled to appear via satellite on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” Vucic was not killed, but 16 media workers were.

Clinton also publicly acknowledged his own administration’s attempt to assassinate bin Laden. “I worked hard to try to kill him,” Clinton said. “I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.” Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said after Clinton issued his 1998 “lethal finding,” U.S. operatives worked with Afghan rebels for two years in an attempt to kill Bin Laden. “There were a few points when the pulse quickened, when we thought we were close,” Berger later recalled. Among the alleged attempts on bin Laden’s life taken by Clinton was the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan (which was coupled with a massive strike on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan).

As Coll observed of the Clinton policy: “Clinton had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest.”

After 9/11, the CIA, which had been frustrated by some of the hurdles to assassination posed by the Clinton administration’s legal team, now had the conditions and the commander-in-chief it needed to take its assassination program to the next level. The main operations were run out of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) headed by J. Cofer Black, who had served as Clinton’s CIA station chief in Sudan when bin Laden was there in the 1990s. After 9/11, Black’s division at the CIA was authorized by President Bush —with the consent of Congress—to hunt down bin Laden and others alleged to be responsible for 9/11. As I describe in my book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army:

Before the core CIA team, Jawbreaker, deployed [to Afghanistan] on September 27, 2001, Black gave his men direct and macabre directions. “Gentlemen, I want to give you your marching orders, and I want to make them very clear. I have discussed this with the President, and he is in full agreement,” Black told covert CIA operative Gary Schroen. “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead… . They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the President. I promised him I would do that.” Schroen said it was the first time in his thirty-year career he had been ordered to assassinate an adversary rather than attempting a capture. Black asked if he had made himself clear. “Perfectly clear, Cofer,” Schroen told him. “I don’t know where we’ll find dry ice out there in Afghanistan, but I think we can certainly manufacture pikes in the field.” Black later explained why this would be necessary. “You’d need some DNA,” Black said. “There’s a good way to do it. Take a machete, and whack off his head, and you’ll get a bucketful of DNA, so you can see it and test it. It beats lugging the whole body back!”

The actions of the teams run by Cofer Black were certainly known to Congress. In fact, Black himself testified in front of Congress in 2002 about what he called the new “operational flexibility” being employed in the “war on terror.” “This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11,” Black said. “After 9/11 the gloves come off.” By 2004, Black claimed that “over 70 percent” of Al Qaeda’s leadership had been arrested, detained, or killed, and “more than 3,400 of their operatives and supporters have also been detained and put out of an action.” The existence of this program is not secret. It has been documented in books by former CIA operatives, is discussed in public speeches by former officials and is a reflected extensively in the Congressional record.

Obviously, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees should investigate the assassination policy under the Bush administration. Cheney’s role is central to that. Prosecutors should also be authorized to do the same. If there is a nefarious program that the public is unaware of and was unlawfully concealed, it should be brought out into the light. But, the truth is that a real investigation—one that actually seeks to get to the broader truths of these matters— would require investigating the current assassination program under Obama and the roots of the program that preceded the day when George W Bush took power. That means looking at the Clinton White House and further back. It means looking at both Democratic and Republican assassination teams. The sad fact is that nobody on Capitol Hill has demonstrated in any way that they have the political courage to do that.

Democrats poised to lose 20 to 50 seats in House: analysts

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Democrats poised to lose 20 to 50 seats in House: analysts

Democrats are in hot water, according to political analysts quoted in Monday's Politico.

According to two key observers, Charlie Cook and 538.com's Nate Silver, Democrats are poised to lose "double-digit" seats in the House amid an increasingly bitter political climate.

Silver apparently stunned a liberal audience at the blogger convention Netroots Nation earlier this month, saying that the Republicans have a 25 to 33 percent chance of retaking the House. For both observers, such a happenstance seems unlikely, though first- and second-term Democrats appear particularly vulnerable.

Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”

"Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.

...Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website 538.com a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.

“A lot of Democratic freshmen and sophomores will be running in a much tougher environment than in 2006 and 2008 and some will adapt to it, but a lot of others will inevitably freak out and end up losing,” Silver told POLITICO. “Complacency is another factor: We have volunteers who worked really hard in 2006 and in 2008 for Obama but it’s less compelling [for them] to preserve the majority.”

-John Byrne

Billionaires for WealthCare mocks healthcare protesters in California

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Published: August 31, 2009
Updated 8 hours ago

“If God loved the poor people, he wouldn’t let them get sick.”

“Healthcare rationing, that’s our job!”

“We love BlueDogs. A solid investment in healthcare profiteering.”

Carrying signs with irreverent messages praising the status quo of the American healthcare system, a farcical anti-healthcare reform group, Billionaires for Wealthcare, paraded outside a Democratic town hall meeting in Spring Valley, California Sunday.

Dressed in business suits and cocktail dresses, and occasionally sporting champagne, the motley crew of “billionaires” cheered on anti-healthcare protesters. They carried signs with messages including “Survival of the RICHEST!” “IT’S A CLASS WAR AND WE’RE WINNING” and “Keep WEALTHCARE alive / NO on HealthCare reform.”

The cavalcade descended on protesters on both side of President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposals outside a townhall event for Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). They mocked those in opposition to healthcare reform, positing that their opposition was a boon for the private insurance industry — and for the superrich in general.

In a YouTube video the group posted, one top-hatted “billionaire” is quoted as endorsing the privatization of other public services, as well.

“Along with privatized police, [we should have a] privatized fire department,” the gentleman quips. “I mean, because if my cat’s stuck in a tree, I don’t want the fire department taking ten extra minutes because of a silly fire going on somewhere else in my neighborhood. Because if I have the money, I get the first priority.”

The event received treatment in East County Magazine.

The article quotes Spring Valley resident Barbara Cummings, who strutted in black attire and pearls, “because sometimes street theater can have an impact where just yelling at one another accomplishes nothing.”

The group’s website, BillionairesforWealthcare.com, carries the follow message and YouTube video.

Bloggers Impact: Pentagon backpedals on reporter screening, cancels contract

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Pentagon backpedals on reporter screening, cancels contract

By Daniel Tencer

Published: August 31, 2009
Updated 7 hours ago

Saying the issue has become “a distraction from our main mission,” the US military says it has canceled its contract with The Rendon Group, the PR firm revealed last week to be screening prospective embedded reporters.

“The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the media analyst contract … for the convenience of the US government,” military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker told Reuters.

The military newspaper Stars & Stripes first reported last week that The Rendon Group had been given a contract — now known to be worth $1.5 million — to develop profiles on journalists and rank their coverage of military issues as “postivie,” “negative” or “neutral.” The PR firm also offered advice on how to neutralize bad press from embedded reporters.

That resulted in an outcry from media advocacy groups, who said the attempt to “filter” which journalists get access to the military amounts to censorship and promotion of propaganda.

Military spokespeople argued last week that the profiles were rarely used.

“For me, a tool like this serves no purpose, and it doesn’t serve me with any value,” Stars & Stripes quoted Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “I haven’t seen anything that violates any policies, but again, I’m learning about aspects of this as I question our folks in Afghanistan.”

But “a public affairs officer with the 101st Airborne Division said that when his unit was in Afghanistan and in charge of the Rendon contract, he had used the conclusions contained in Rendon profiles in part to reject at least two journalists’ applications for embeds,” Stars & Stripes reported Monday.

Last week, Kabul-based journalist P.J. Tobia published on his blog a copy of the Rendon Group’s profile of his work, a document he described as “creepy … like perusing the diary of your stalker.”

“Based on his previous embed and past reporting, it is unlikely that [Tobia] will miss an opportunity to report on US military missteps,” his Rendon Group profile states. “However, if following previous trends, he will remain sympathetic to US troops and may acknowledge a learning curve in Afghanistan.”

For his part, Tobia appeared to be sympathetic to the notion of monitoring journalists’ activities in relation to the military.

“I don’t really think the reports are some kind of violation, in fact, I think the military is smart to look into the background’s of people who will be writing about them,” he blogged. “Rating the coverage that reporters give the military–”positive,” “neutral,” “negative”–seems a bit silly and slightly Orwellian, but if thousands of reporters were covering my organization, I would want a simple shorthand to identify them as well.”

As RAW STORY reported last week, The Rendon Group has allegedly been involved in a number of controversial public relations efforts for the military. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the group was reportedly part of an effort to create an “office of disinformation” inside the Pentagon, which would spread falsehoods through the media for strategic purposes.

The Rendon Group is also said to have been active in the development of the Iraqi National Congress, a dummy parliament composed of opponents of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Bloggers accuse Washington Post of aiding, abetting Cheney

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Published: August 30, 2009

Update: Cheney says he may not speak with special prosecutor

Former Vice President Dick Cheney led a counter-attack in the media against Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigation of CIA torture practices Sunday, with Fox News devoting half an hour to the former vice president’s views.

The Bush administration official continued to defend his policies and the authorization of torture, adding that he may skirt speaking to the Justice Department’s special prosecutor altogether.

“It will depend on the circumstances and what I think their activities are really involved in,” he said. “I’ve been very outspoken in my views on this matter.”

Meanwhile, the blogosphere is up in arms by what some see as a concerted effort by the Washington Post to “provide cover” to Cheney by running stories defending CIA torture.

On Friday, RAW STORY reported on Cheney’s pre-recorded Fox News interview, in which the vice president said he was “okay” with even the most extreme cases of torture during interrogations — those that went beyond the guidelines set out by the Bush administration.

Cheney told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that politics are driving a decision to investigate the possible torture of detainees. “I think it’s a terrible decision,” he said. “It’s clearly a political move. I mean, there’s no other rationale for why they’re doing this.”

A full transcript of Cheney’s interview is available here.

The Washington Post ran an article Sunday stating that “morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of … an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators.”

The article also cited John L. Helgerson, author of the CIA report released last week, who told the Post that the documents’ release, “though painful, would ensure that the agency confronts difficult issues head on, instead of ignoring or trying to bury them.”

Helgerson added that it would be “very difficult” to prosecute any of the individuals involved in torture practices because the program had been approved by the Justice Department at the time.

“There would be no jury appeal, and I do not believe there was any criminal intent among those involved,” Helgerson said.

That story followed an earlier Washington Post piece, published Saturday, that stated Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, became the CIA’s prime source of information about al Qaeda, effectively “lecturing” the CIA about the group.

“This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques,” the Post reported.

Some bloggers are now accusing the Post of effectively running a political campaign against the Justice Department’s decision to investigate torture.

“There have been no documents supporting Cheney’s claim that torture was essential to saving American lives,” writes Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress. “Even CIA memos from 2004 and 2005, which Cheney claimed would back him up, have been released and have no evidence linking torture to valuable intelligence. In fact, these memos show that ‘non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information’.”

John Amato at Crooks and Liars writes that the Post’s reporting “is rife with anonymous sources … clearly there to provide cover for Cheney as he takes up his cause of justifying his horrific torture regime once again to the American people, but this time with a brand spanking new piece of propaganda from the elite media.”

Glenn Greenwald at Salon was even less charitable.

“I defy anyone to identify a single way the article would be different if the Post had let Dick Cheney write it himself,” Greenwald wrote. “The next time someone laments the economic collapse of the modern American newspaper, one might point out that an industry which pays three separate reporters (Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate) and numerous editors to churn out mindless, inane tripe like this has brought about its own demise.”

This video is from Fox’s Fox News Sunday, broadcast Aug. 30, 2009.

Download video via RawReplay.com

After the Transistor, a Leap Into the Microcosm

IBM: TINY MUSHROOMS A crop of silicon nanowires growing under a transmission electron microscope. The gray columns are the wires, and the black, liquid droplet on top of each catalyzes the growth.

CAPTAIN MINIATURE Frances Ross, a scientist at I.B.M. Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., operating an electron microscope, which allows her to study nanowires, about one one-thousandth the width of a human hair, as they grow.

Published: August 31, 2009

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — Gaze into the electron microscope display in Frances Ross’s laboratory here and it is possible to persuade yourself that Dr. Ross, a 21st-century materials scientist, is actually a farmer in some Lilliputian silicon world.

Dr. Ross, an I.B.M. researcher, is growing a crop of mushroom-shaped silicon nanowires that may one day become a basic building block for a new kind of electronics. Nanowires are just one example, although one of the most promising, of a transformation now taking place in the material sciences as researchers push to create the next generation of switching devices smaller, faster and more powerful than today’s transistors.

The reason that many computer scientists are pursuing this goal is that the shrinking of the transistor has approached fundamental physical limits. Increasingly, transistor manufacturers grapple with subatomic effects, like the tendency for electrons to “leak” across material boundaries. The leaking electrons make it more difficult to know when a transistor is in an on or off state, the information that makes electronic computing possible. They have also led to excess heat, the bane of the fastest computer chips.

The transistor is not just another element of the electronic world. It is the invention that made the computer revolution possible. In essence it is an on-off switch controlled by the flow of electricity. For the purposes of computing, when the switch is on it represents a one. When it is off it represents a zero. These zeros and ones are the most basic language of computers.

For more than half a century, transistors have gotten smaller and cheaper, following something called Moore’s Law, which states that circuit density doubles roughly every two years. This was predicted by the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart in 1959, and then described by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, in a now-legendary 1965 article in Electronics, the source of Moore’s Law.

Today’s transistors are used by the billions to form microprocessors and memory chips. Often called planar transistors, they are built on the surface (or plane) of a silicon wafer by using a manufacturing process that precisely deposits and then etches away different insulating, conducting and semiconducting materials with such precision that the industry is now approaching the ability to place individual molecules.

A typical high-end Intel microprocessor is today based on roughly one billion transistors or more, each capable of switching on and off about 300 billion times a second and packed densely enough that two million transistors would fit comfortably in the period at the end of this sentence.

In fact, this year, the chip industry is preparing to begin the transition from a generation of microprocessor chips based on a minimum feature size of 45 nanometers (a human hair is roughly 80,000 nanometers in width) to one of 32 nanometers — the next step down into the microcosm. But the end of this particular staircase may be near.

“Fundamentally the planar transistor is running out of steam,” said John E. Kelly III, I.B.M.’s senior vice president and director of research.

“We’re at an inflection point, you better believe it, and most of the world is in denial about it,” said Mark Horowitz, a Stanford University electrical engineer who spoke last week at a chip design conference in Palo Alto, Calif. “The physics constraints are getting more and more serious.”

Many computer scientists have been warning for years that this time would come, that Moore’s Law would cease to be valid because of increasing technical difficulties and the expense of overcoming them. Last week at Stanford University, during a panel on the future of scaling (of which the shrinking of transistors is one example), several panelists said the end was near.

“We’re done scaling. We’ve been playing tricks since 90 nanometers,” said Brad McCredie, an I.B.M. fellow and one of the company’s leading chip designers, in a reference to the increasingly arcane techniques the industry has been using to make circuits smaller.

For example, for the past three technology generations Intel has used a material known as “strained silicon” in which a layer of silicon atoms are stretched beyond their normal atomic distance by depositing them on top of another material like silicon germanium. This results in lower energy consumption and faster switching speeds.

Other researchers and business executives believe the shrinking of the transistor can continue, at least for a while, that the current industry standard Mosfet (for Metal-Oxide-Silicon Field-Effect-Transistor) can be effectively harnessed for several more technology generations.

Technology executives at the Intel Corporation, the world’s largest chipmaker, say they believe that by coupling more advanced photolithographic techniques with new kinds of materials and by changing the design of the transistor, it will be possible to continue to scale down to sizes as small as five nanometers — effectively taking the industry forward until the end of the next decade.

“Silicon will probably continue longer than we expect,” said Michael C. Mayberry, an Intel vice president and the director of the company’s component research program.

Both Intel and I.B.M. are publicly committed to a new class of transistors known as FinFETs that may be used as early as the 22-nanometer technology generation beginning in 2011 or 2012. Named for a portion of the switch that resembles a fish fin, these transistors have the dual advantage of offering greater density because they are tipped vertically out of the plane of the silicon wafer, as well as better insulating properties, making it easier to control the switching from a 1 to a 0 state.

But sooner or later, new materials and new manufacturing processes will be necessary to keep making computer technology ever cheaper. In the long term, new switches might be based on magnetic, quantum or even nanomechanical switching principles. One possibility would be to use changes in the spin of an individual electron to represent a 1 or a 0.

“If you look out into the future, there is a branching tree and there are many possible paths we might take,” Dr. Mayberry said.

In Dr. Ross’s laboratory at I.B.M., researchers are concentrating on more near-term technology. They are exploring the idea of constructing FinFET switches in a radical new process that breaks away from photo etching. It is a kind of nanofarming. Dr. Ross sprinkles gold particles as small as 10 nanometers in diameter on a substrate and then suffuses them in a silicon gas at a temperature of about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the particles to become “supersaturated” with silicon from the gas, which will then precipitate into a solid, forming a wire that grows vertically.

I.B.M. is pressing aggressively to develop this technology, which could be available commercially by 2012, she said. At the same time she acknowledged that significant challenges remain in perfecting nanowire technology. The mushroom-shaped wires in her laboratory now look a little bit like bonsai trees. To offer the kind of switching performances chipmakers require, the researchers must learn to make them so that their surfaces are perfectly regular. Moreover, techniques must be developed to make them behave like semiconductors.

I.B.M. is also exploring higher-risk ideas like “DNA origami,” a process developed by Paul W. K. Rothemund, a computer scientist at the California Institute of Technology.

The technique involves creating arbitrary two- and three-dimensional shapes by controlling the folding of a long single strand of viral DNA with multiple smaller “staple” strands. It is possible to form everything from nanometer-scale triangles and squares to more elaborate shapes like smiley faces and a rough map of North America. That could one day lead to an application in which such DNA shapes could be used to create a scaffolding just as wooden molds are now used to create concrete structures. The DNA shapes, for example, could be used to more precisely locate the gold nanoparticles that would then be used to grow nanowires. The DNA would be used only to align the circuits and would be destroyed by the high temperatures used by the chip-making processes.

At Intel there is great interest in building FinFET switches but also in finding ways to integrate promising III-V materials on top of silicon as well as exploring materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes, from which the company has now made prototype switches as small as 1.5 nanometers in diameter, according to Dr. Mayberry. The new materials have properties like increased electron mobility that might make transistors that are smaller and faster than those that can be made with silicon.

“At that very small dimension you have the problem of how do you make the connection into the tube in the first place,” he said. “It’s not just how well does this nanotube itself work, but how do you integrate it into a system.”

Given all the challenges that each new chip-making technology faces, as well as the industry’s sharp decline in investment, it is tempting to suggest that the smaller, faster, cheaper trend may indeed be on the brink of slowing if not halting.

Then again, as Dr. Mayberry suggests, the industry has a way of surprising its skeptics.